Domaine Millet Sancerre 2016

Storied Sancerre, the spiritual home of sauvignon blanc, or so the story goes. If that story rests upon a glass of acid-driven, lime and limestone-y lemon and lemongrass-y wine, that’s it. That’s what comes from this bottle.

In the way that wine has of proffering multiple personality traits, here’s a great example. Herbal and yet fruit-based; acidic and chalky; vibrant and clearly of long heritage, there’s a geography, history and horticultural story in every sip.

Flinty by nature, refined by presentation, living up to reputation.

$21.99

Santa Ana Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Despite the point end of the pyramid taking all the attention, most wine consumed lies at the bottom of that pyramid.

That is as it should be. Pointy ends are only pointy by virtue of restriction of some kind, such as input – grapes, land on which to grow them – skill at winemaking or, the big one, price. On the other hand we have a wine like this, made and designed with a balance between all of those elements.

No, it’s not at the pointy end of the wine world. What it does represent is the fact that quality isn’t necessarily related to price. We can all make that calculation.  What does “quality” mean down here on the ground, and is price an input to that equation?

Simple but well made, this is a classic cool-climate New World sauvignon blanc. If we look, we can find all the characteristics we love in that variety: citrus and mildly herbal nose, delicious dry mouthfeel of subtle citrus fruit and surprising mineral notes verging on salty.

This would be a brilliant companion to any fish or a salad.

$7.29

Armani Foja Tonda DOC Terradeiforti 2011

If you find yourself offered a glass of casetta, take it. For one thing, this wine is made from a rare grape. For another, it’s full of surprises.

From the producer’s website:

The “Casetta”, called “ Foja Tonda” (round leaf) in local dialect, is an indigenous grape variety from the Adige Valley, cultivated since antiquity in the townships of Dolcè, Ala and Avio between the regions Veneto and Trentino. After having been abandoned, since the market favored other – sometimes more prolific – grape varieties, Foja Tonda was destined to extinction, until Albino Armani rediscovered it. In 2002 it was reinserted among the varieties admitted for cultivation These old grapevines, sometimes with their original roots, seem to tell the story of the age-old passion for wine shared by the inhabitants of our valley. Since 2007 it is recognized with the appellation “D.O.C. Terra dei Forti”.

Yet again geography and history find their way into a glass of wine. Can you not feel yourself transported to north-eastern Italy? Is the Adige River not tinkling in your ears? Is that the whiff of espresso?

Then there’s the drink itself. Over a 24 hour period, the nature of this glass changed completely. Initially it was forward biased, with dark fruit, freshly tanned leather, vanilla and licorice. With air more red-fruit and sneaky-big acids introduced themselves. In some sips I found even strawberry notes, in the vein of a pinot noir.  Vinous and wild with sticky tannins, the finish became lengthy and fascinating. Acids: yes.

Notes mention tobacco, and I sense that thread, but nothing like you’d imagine. For what’s billed as an agricultural grape – a relic from another age – the subtlety and chameleonic personality are worth the price of entry.

$24.99

Monticello Pinot Noir Estate Oak Knoll 2013

This, Hermione, is not your supermarket pinot noir. From the producers:

I find expressive and appealing aromas of strawberry, cola, cinnamon and hints of graham cracker on the nose. On the palate, the wine lunges onto the palate, conveying richness and a full-bodied texture. I find ripe red berry flavors balanced by light vanillin oak notes, transitioning into a bold finale of bright fruit.

No graham cracker for me (was that a MacGuffin to see if we’re paying attention?) however, the rest is accurate. The overwhelming feeling of this wine is that it is BIG. I’d say it might be somewhat too large to pair with a light white-protein dish – so much so that red meat dishes, or anything rich would be a better thought. As the producer opines:

Ham as well as duck and goose.

Which is all of academic interest. The fascinating thread through this glass is the boldness of the alcohol, to the point where there are some brandy-like characteristics. Yes, that and the dark licorice element help lend a zinfandel-like quality, which is quite some trick given the base fruit.

The more we taste, the more we find. After a day’s air, the structure remains with the addition of a woodsy earthy stratum, which is completely in keeping with the conceit of the glass. All of that leads us to the acids: they’re great. I find little to zero spice, but in light of all else that’s here, it’s hardly worth mention.

$29.99

Testarossa Pinot Noir Cuvee 107 2015

Contrasting Burgundian pinot noir with its cousin from California is akin to matching a billiards professional against a pool shark. The tools of the trade and the thought process is the same in both spheres is the same, but the way around the table is completely different.

That’s not a bad analogy. Making wine is making wine. Using a cue to punt an ivory ball is just that; calculate the angle, figure out where you want the shot to end, and execute. In the wine business, the goal is sales, pushed along by popularity and reputation, so winemaking cannot help but be influenced by those considerations.

This glass reflects much about where it’s made (Los Gatos) and the provenance of the fruit (Santa Lucia Highlands). Let’s think about this. The closest market is Silicon Valley. Who lives there? Right: Rich people used to achievement. Powerful people.

Which might explain the rich, powerful nature of this glass. Straight up, the nose is enticing, enveloping and altogether involving. There’s no doubt about the grape type, nor what the winemaking sought what to achieve. In the mouth, it’s a plain delight in the fruity, loud, indulgent way of Californian wine.

“Dark red color.  Dense aromas of orange zest, cherry, strawberry, nutmeg, vanilla bean, along with notes of boysenberry, anise and pomegranate catch your attention right away.  This pleasure-filled aroma profile only gets better and enjoyable on the palate.  With zesty acidity and full tannins, this Pinot Noir over-delivers, especially on the fresh, bright, and hedonistic finish.  Enjoy now through 2025.” ~Director of Winemaking, Bill Brosseau

Yep, pretty right, from the chief pool shark’s mouth. Put up your money and enjoy the game.

$19.99

Cardinal

Misunderstand me if you choose.

The cop procedural is a well-worn and perennial path to success. Malevolence and violence are as much a part of good people as bad. Exploring the line between those of us who choose not to indulge in those menu items and those who do is the ultimate hook; our dark side is mysterious, and all the more so for being a readily harvested forbidden fruit.

Writers and their subsidiary backers know the universal appeal of easily digestible television death. Fascination with dark motives and the worst side of our nature will never subside. An animal capable of species destruction and introspection about such an event will survive only if constantly faced with the horror of which we’re all capable.

Canadian television shows follow the predictable path of most nationally-based productions. They are held hostage to a political context – in the border-defined sense – with story falling to secondary rank. They’re Canadian detectives, investigating a Canadian murder, in Canada.

Fair enough. If you’re a state-run place like Ontario or Quebec, or Australia or the UK, government power speaks. Promoting statist values comes as a condition of access to the money.

Contrast that old-style tv-making philosophy with the first season of Cardinal on Hulu. Different from other Canuck cop dramas from the off, there’s no little magic running as a thread through this show. Who cares about the plot? Watching Billy Campbell whisper his way around ever more horrific violence he cannot control could be a simple case of excellent acting. But it’s not. Something special is at work here.

Also at play are the peripheral elements of quality tv. Introductory scenes, introductory and incidental music, lighting, photography, direction; every little thing adds up to something. Oh, and the story.

Horror emanates from the association we viewers can make with the psychopath murderer and his betwixt cipher. The awfulness is portrayed as being far too close to reasonableness.

Let’s not bypass the power of Karine Vanasse. A stillness in the malestrom of horror, she has lines from the gritty god of realism, but delivers them with silky ethereality.

Cardinal, on Hulu.

Atrevida Chardonnay Unoaked 2016

Chardonnay,  how I’ve missed  you. Unoaked chardonnay, like a girlfriend who morphed into a friendgirl,  it’s like we’ve taken up where we left off.

Yes, I’ve been dating some Spanish ladies. Okay, and there have been a few trysts with a couple of dark beauties from northern Italy. But you are so reliable, so welcoming whenever I return, that reuniting is all the sweeter for the travel.

White flower, golden delicious apple and something tropical but short of pineapple on the nose. Polished winemaking here, aided by compliant fruit, fresh and enough to wake you up; lean and still powerful. Ripe fruit, I’d say, given the edge towards the pineapple rather than the citrus end of things.

In the mouth there’s that creamy tartness that I notice especially in Argentinian chardonnays. It’s wonderful. Acid base and beautifully balanced, but still, astonishingly, creamy. Wither your oak barrels now?

In other words, why would we sully the taste of grapes like this with wood? Riddle me that.

$12.49

Santa Lucia Pinot Grigio Collio 2015

People in the know tell me this is a quality pinot grigio. I trust them.

Of special interest here is the distinctive color, much deeper than the run o’ the mill pinot grigio. That tells us about the winemaker’s goal, which is to move into the realms of complexity and fruit, rather than low cost and acid.

Clearly of bigger body than most, here’s a glass that I want to wow me, and still fails to do so. Sure, it’s completely competent and of sufficient complexity to be of interest, but it’s not anything that will make you take a deep breath and think big thoughts about life.

Sure, the solid characteristics are all there in style and substance, to wit: pears and ripe apples on the nose, smooth fruit and almond meat-like feel in the mouth, along with a lingering finish. So far, so much better than a (big) majority of her brethren, and by a decent margin.

Which leads me to think we’re running smack bang into the limits of the grape. The slightly waxy mouthfeel of a quality pinot grigio is certainly there, balanced by the roundness that is the distinctive edge of this specific glass. Acids, sure, but here they are only bit-players.

Conclusion: close to best of breed. Which means that the average pinot grigio drinker will either love or hate this thing.

$14.99

Terra Barossa Shiraz 2016

The history of shiraz is a potted history of wine. Begat from two obscure breeds –  dureza and mondeuse blanche – syrah has a spotty history, with rap sheet to match. Sometime blending grape, partial highwayman, gigging food critic; wait, that can’t be right.

Ah, but the history part isn’t finished. Syrah found a home in the Rhône Valley, specifically on hot hilltops. Then, as if its adventures hadn’t fulfilled ten lives, syrah ended up on a vacation to a strange southern land. That land was Australia, where it took up an alias and began a new life as a marketing darling and public icon.

Shiraz is identified with the southern hemisphere’s big brown land, with good reason. The German-created Barossa Valley, north of South Australia’s capital, Adelaide nicely reflects syrah’s journey. From the 1840s, religious and political immigrants arrived in South Australia, bringing wine skill and culture. That was enough.

In 2017, this is the result. An entirely competent, drinking-ready, quality glass of wine. With its thick skin and specific terroir preference, shiraz thrives in many places, but becomes sublime in only a few. Hermitage, obvs. And in this distant, difficult and completely surprisingly land of drought, flood and difficulty.

Classic Barossa shiraz. Blueberry cobbler nose,  full body, front-loaded taste, and yet after some air, the whole enterprise settles to deep fruit and spice wonderment plus acids and tannins. All in balance.

$14.99

Montecillo Rioja Crianza 2013

Mmmmmm, that seductive mistress, temperanillo fills our glass here. I invited her on a date which, given her Spanish heritage, began late. Later than my usual Anglo bedtime; sacrifices can be worth it.

A warm, almost sumptuous nose of rich cherry and complex vinous notes began our night out. She’d dressed beautifully, coiffed carefully and applied the most wonderful perfume. Perhaps it was her own scent.

In the mouth, ahem, she was lighter in feel than first impressions implied. That wasn’t a shortcoming, because the depth of fruit remained, complemented by dry vanilla and oak threads and soft tannins – like a woman who celebrates her sex with strength and suppleness. Smooth and sexy.

An astonishingly inexpensive and memorable date.

$9.99