Beautiful Bubbles: Benjamin Bridge Trio

3 02 2016

[These wines were provided as samples for review purposes.]

If you have a passing familiarity with the Canadian wine scene, you’re probably pretty comfortable about what’s where.  You know that the two big players are the Okanagan and Niagara.  You know where to look for dynamite Riesling, Gewurz, Gamay and Cab Franc.  You may know about the potential rise of Syrah out west, about new possibilities in the Similkameen and a focus on subregional quality in Prince Edward County and the Golden Mile Bench.

But did you know that the best sparkling wine in Canada may well be made in…Nova Scotia?

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A Nova Scotia awakening.

Despite only being in existence for just over a decade, Benjamin Bridge definitely deserves a place at Canada’s bubbly head table, and to my mind they are already the cream of the crop.  Located in the Gaspereau Valley northwest of Halifax, in north-central Nova Scotia (bordering the Bay of Fundy as opposed to the Atlantic), Benjamin Bridge is without question the most acclaimed and well-known winery east of Niagara, producing a wide range of bottlings but focusing heavily on traditional method sparkling wines.  The Gaspereau, with its (unsurprising) cool climate and maritime breezes, delivers a colder, shorter growing season promoting leaner ripening and lower yields, one remarkably similar to bubbly’s Mecca, Champagne in France.  The marginal conditions and harsh winters mandate partial reliance on hardier and earlier-ripening hybrid grapes, which are not usually known for their complexity and delicacy in the bottle, but somehow the winery makes them sing, embracing rather than hiding them and adding a unique sense of intrigue to the wines as a result. Read the rest of this entry »





The Great Coravin Test, Part 5: Six Months Later

26 01 2016

To catch you up on the epic journey that is concluding with this post:

  • I got to borrow a Coravin back in July (Part 1)
  • I accessed three awesome bottles with it and wrote tasting notes (Part 2)
  • I checked back on them two weeks later to see how they were doing (Part 3)
  • I dove into some cellar treasures and gave some final Coravin thoughts (Part 4)
  • I promised to come back to my three test bottles one last time…in half a year.

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Take 5. One last time.

How time flies.  Suddenly it’s six months from the week of my original Coravin tasting write-up and I owe this story an epilogue.  After seeing this trio of my bottles front and centre in my cellar on a daily basis and accessing them multiple times through the Coravin needle, I actually felt sort of bad cutting off the foils and pulling the corks out of them like they were any old weeknight wines.  But science does not wilt for sentiment, and I had a job to do.

Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2012 Marabino Noto

20 01 2016

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

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I admit: I had to do a little research for this one. But well worth it!

Sicily is hot right now (figuratively at least; literally, it’s about +8 Celsius right now, and it’s 4:00 a.m. tomorrow morning).  After a lengthy history of exporting purely bulk wines for blending and bottling wines only for domestic consumption, this large island off the toe of Italy’s boot is suddenly undergoing a rapid and massive quality transformation, showcasing its indigenous varietals to the world and beginning to show up on wine lists and in boutiques all over town.  There are wines from vines grown on the side of an active volcano (Etna) and wines so close to the ocean they can smell the salt.  More and more Sicilian wine is being targeted for import, filling a gap in our drinking experience we never knew was there.

This is the second bottle of Marabino that I’ve had the opportunity to try; the first was their fantastic Eureka Chardonnay, exactly five months ago today.  Marabino is a relative newcomer to the island, established in 2002 as a fully biodynamic winery focused on growing Moscato, Nero d’Avola and Chardonnay, the first two native to the region.  Marabino is based in the Noto DOC, a UNESCO world heritage site featuring surprising white soils in the very southeast corner of Sicily.  While the number of classified Denomination of Origin zones in Sicily is continually growing, Noto has held this designation since 1974 and has an entrenched place in Sicilian wine history. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Jim Barry Value Red Showdown

13 01 2016

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

I'm not making up the vertical/horizontal label dichotomy, right?  Totally something thematic there.

I’m not making up the vertical/horizontal label dichotomy, right? Totally something thematic there.

Australian wine is in sort of a weird place right now.  I first got into wine during the Great Shiraz Rush just over a decade ago, when critter wines ran rampant and the overtly ripe, sweet, boozy style and approachable branding of big-name Aussie Shiraz rolled over the global wine scene like a tsunami, spawning copycats galore and creating ripples that are only now just starting to settle.  The behemoth brands at the front of this wave are mostly still around today, and their bold, fruity, slightly concocted style certainly retains its share of popularity with casual drinkers, but the world has moved on to other phenomena and the scene in Australia seems caught in aftermath phase, not wanting to totally abandon what brought it to global prominence but understanding that its long-term prosperity is likely tied to being something more than liquor store filler.  The country is taking steps to avoid being a one-hit wonder, surprisingly churning out some of the best Riesling you’ve never tried, finding cooler pockets for Pinot Noir and (especially in Tasmania) sparkling wine, using its plentitude of remarkably old vines to its advantage, and dialling its Shiraz back a notch or two while still keeping it lush and appealing to New World palates.  It is also finding stronger and more quality-focused expressions of its value wines which are less industrial commodities and more genuine expressions of grape and place.  This is where Jim Barry comes in.

This family-owned producer is now run by second-generation executive winemaker Peter Barry, the son of eponymous founder Jim, who was the first qualified winemaker in South Australia’s Clare Valley, where the winery is based.  Its tailored lineup of wines runs the gamut from dynamite supermarket bargains (see below) to one of Australia’s very best and priciest bottles, The Armagh Shiraz (as experienced by me in one of my favourite tastings ever).  I was first converted to the Jim Barry cause a few years ago when I bought the Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon on a whim because of its circus-tent striping on the neck foil and the cricket player on the main label and was wowed by what I found inside.  I could be wrong, but by its participation in the JB value red duel below, I believe Cover Drive becomes the very first wine in PnP history to be reviewed in three separate vintages, following its write-ups here and here.  Can it hold off a spirited challenge from its neck-striped brother, the Lodge Hill Shiraz?  Let’s find out. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2013 Culmina Dilemma

7 01 2016

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Great story, great wine.  And check out the sick Zalto Burgundy glasses I got for Christmas!

Great story, great wine. And check out the sick Zalto Burgundy glasses I got for Christmas!

Back in the saddle, and back to wine, for 2016!  I hope everyone had a happy and restful holiday season; I had a relaxing blog-free week and a half following my arduous 25-day whisky Advent marathon but am raring to start the new year of PnP off right, so I opted for a bottle that I highly suspected would be good.  Suspicions:  confirmed.

Culmina is one of Canada’s top wineries in my books and one of the most compelling stories on the Okanagan wine scene.  A spare-no-expense passion project spearheaded by iconic proprietor Don Triggs (the Triggs from Jackson-Triggs) and his family, Culmina has only been around for a few years, but through careful site study and selection and meticulous planting, it has been churning out wines of intrigue and quality from its inception.  I have previously waxed on about the winery and a number of its bottlings here and here , but this is my first time writing about what could very well end up being the crown jewel of its portfolio, the Dilemma Chardonnay.  I hope it’s not my last.

Read the rest of this entry »





Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 25

25 12 2015

Merry Christmas everybody!!  I do not mind telling you that I will not be blogging tomorrow.  Or the day after.  Or the day after.  My calendar odyssey ends tonight with a special super-sized offering from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, a group that buys single casks from renowned distillers, bottles them itself and sells them only to subscribed members, giving each bottling a unique name and number.  Christmas Day’s 100 mL bottle was from Society Single Cask No. 3.160 and was titled “Islay beach scene”; all I know about it is that it was aged for 10 years and is a highly potent 59.9% abv, making it (I believe) the booziest whisky in the calendar, just in time for the holidays [ed. note: not quite true, as it turns out, as Day 21’s Kilchoman KWM Cask clawed over the 60% abv mark].  The label also provides some handy, if overly poetic, tasting notes to guide your drinking experience:  this whisky is supposed to smell like “pork chops and lemony prawns on a beach barbecue, then hints of buttery mint” and taste like “burnt heather and barbecued meats with fruit”.  I did not get the pork chops, although I did quite enjoy the aromas on this whisky, which started out very clean for Islay, sea spray, breezy peat and mineral notes, before sneaking in the diesel oil and woodsmoke we were all expecting.  The peat is richly balanced and far from dominating on the palate, which actually did remind me a bit of BBQed meat, or at least a brisket smokehouse, along with sweet honey, oyster shells and canned pear.  With a dash of water, this SMWS offering holds together and restrains its monstrous alcohol exceptionally well — a strong finish to what I feel was a substantially better Advent Calendar this time around.  I only was really missing one thing in the 2015 calendar:  something from Japan.  Maybe next year?

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I rolled through the Day 25 whisky so that I could end my string of calendar posts with my personal KWM Whisky Advent award-winners, my favourite bottles from the past month.  Here we go:

  • Best Value Dram:  BenRiach 10 Year (Day 16) — How this bottle only costs $64 is a complete mystery, but I would highly recommend that you grab it before somebody changes their mind.  Incredible balance and complexity for a scotch this young and inexpensive, from a distillery that keeps churning out winners.
  • 3rd Place (Tied):  Kavalan Sherry Cask (Day 23) and Gordon & Macphail Connoisseurs Choice 2003 Caol Ila (Day 18) — Kavalan is nothing short of a revelation in the whisky world to me, and everything I’ve ever tried of theirs has been just prime quality.  With a whopping 4 Connoisseurs Choice bottlings in the calendar, G&M stood a good chance of scooping a podium finish, and their deft handling of Caol Ila took them to the promised land.
  • 2nd Place:  Kavalan ex-Bourbon Cask (Day 5) — Call me predictable, but I don’t care.  I couldn’t get this bottle out of my head for days after tasting it.  The Kavalan Sherry was deeper, darker and more complex, but the ex-Bourbon hit on an emotional level and delivered amazing purity and a nose to be savoured for days.
  • 1st Place:  GlenDronach Revival 15 Year (Day 7) — Can you believe it?  For the second year in a row, a scotch from the GlenDronach distillery takes the heralded Pop & Pour Whisky Advent Calendar crown.  A worthy successor to its big brother Parliament from last year’s calendar, the Revival packed an unbelievable flavour punch in its teenaged frame and was simply one of the most abjectly delicious things I have ever tasted.  It is a no-brainer purchase if you ever come across it.

A quick thanks to Kensington Wine Market and its owner/whisky guru Andrew Ferguson for another year of hard work and brilliant sourcing to create a 25-day whisky experience like no other.  It cannot be easy to find that kind of array of quality 50 mL bottles year over year, and in some instances Andrew’s dedication took him directly to the distilleries themselves to have the mini-bottles made just for this calendar; the effort certainly shows through and the result is remarkable.  Same time next year?





Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 24

24 12 2015

Merry Christmas Eve, everybody!  While the children are tucked all snug in their beds, I’m drinking scotch at my kitchen table and writing about it for the 24th day in a row.  The penultimate whisky of the 2015 Advent Calendar is giving me a couple different flashbacks, first to 12 days and half a calendar ago, when on Day 12 KWM rocked the Glenfarclas 21 Year Single Malt, and then to exactly one year ago tonight, Christmas Eve 2014, when the prior calendar’s final whisky was the $720-a-bottle Glenfarclas 40 Year Single Malt.  Tonight we fall somewhere in between, with the $215 Glenfarclas 25 Year rounding out the 50 mL selections in the current calendar (there’s a special bonus super-sized 100 mL bottling for Christmas tomorrow).  I heartily concur with the value distribution in 2015 as opposed to 2014, as I can say with certainty that there isn’t a $505 quality and flavour difference between the 25 and the 40 Year, and the savings from that selection had significant effects on what else was able to be offered this time around.

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I don’t have many production details on this whisky, but like the 21 Year it was aged in sherry casks, although it doesn’t show it in the flavour profile quite as much as its younger brother.  A dense amber colour, it billowed out intense yet relaxed aromas of smoke, carrot cake, molasses, burnt honey, spicy oak, graham crackers and celery stalks, that last lingering vegetal hint keeping the surrounding sweetness grounded.  Its quarter-century in oak made it soft and mellow on the palate, dripping with chocolate orange, roasted marshmallow, mesquite, charred wood, pumpkin spice, honey and Fig Newtons.  This is basically the perfect fireside whisky on a cold winter’s night like tonight, the ideal Santa pick-me-up.  Important epilogue:  I swear to god I didn’t read or refer back to my notes of the Glenfarclas 21 before writing these ones, but reading them side by side now, you sure can tell they’re family, can’t you?  I don’t think I’ve ever used the term “carrot cake” to describe any wine or spirit before, but it’s the first thing that came to mind with this scotch, and there it was in the Glen 21 aroma writeup; “pumpkin spice” too.  Deja vu!  Have a great one tomorrow – one last writeup to come!








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