Longview Showdown: 2010 Devils Elbow Cabernet Sauvignon vs. 2010 Yakka Shiraz

18 03 2014

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

Cab. Shiraz. The ultimate battle.

Cab. Shiraz. The ultimate battle.

This is the kind of tasting opportunity that wine geeks drool over:  two bottles from the same producer (Longview), same region (Adelaide Hills in Australia), same vintage (2010) and same single vineyard (the aptly named Longview Vineyard), made using the same winemaking techniques (fermentation on skins, 18-20 months aging in French oak), differing only by their grape variety, Cab vs. Shiraz.  The Devils Elbow Cabernet Sauvignon was named after a treacherous hairpin turn in the windy road leading up the hills into Longview Vineyard; the Yakka Shiraz was named after a spiny prehistoric-looking plant that grows in it.  Both red offerings epitomize the New Australia now being unveiled to the wine world:  many recent efforts from Down Under try to sell themselves as a counterpoint to the stereotypical blowsy Aussie fruit bombs of years past, but these wines from Longview take that philosophy absolutely to the hilt, offering up balanced, restrained, nuanced flavours and a take on each grape that is dripping with Old World influence.  The similarities between the two reds are plentiful, but when poured side by side, the differences slowly emerge. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2011 Alice May Crosswinds Syrah

23 02 2014
Calgary-born, Cali-made.  YYC pride rise up!

Calgary-born, Cali-made. YYC pride rise up!

I was at the always-amazing Alloy Restaurant with my wife a few weeks ago, celebrating a rare night away from young children and talking to sommelier Alex Good about Riesling (because I basically talk to everybody about Riesling).  Suddenly he said:  “Hang on.  I have something for you to try.”  He returned with a glass of deeply coloured, powerfully aromatic, eminently interesting red.  “What is it?”  “It’s a Syrah/Viognier co-ferment from Santa Ynez Valley in California.  Cote-Rotie style.”  “Who’s the producer?”  “Well, me.”  It turns out that Good (who has since left Alloy to become a partner and sommelier at the equally excellent downtownfood), in his limited time away from the restaurant biz, had partnered with Cali winery Barrel 27 and its winemaker McPrice “Mac” Myers to create a new label geared toward artisanal, small-run, Rhone-influenced wine.  The 2011 Crosswinds Syrah is the inaugural effort of this collaboration, and although the grapes are all from California, the label name is a clear nod to the venture’s northern soul:  the Alice May is the name of the ship that became the title character’s funeral pyre in the classic Canadian poem The Cremation of Sam McGee.  Only 100 cases of the Crosswinds were made, almost all of which came to Alberta and most of which are now gone.  Syrah is my second vinous love after Riesling, and homegrown efforts like this are such rare finds in the Calgary wine world; both the wine and the story were so intriguing that I set out to find a bottle as soon as our meal was over.  I’ve gone back to find more multiple times since then.

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Wine Review: 2011 Les Halos de Jupiter Cotes du Rhone

11 02 2014

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

You can take the emptiness of the bottle as a sign of how good this wine is.

You can take the emptiness of the bottle as a sign of how good this wine is.

It had all the hallmarks of a crappy week:  utterly frigid weather, lack of sleep due to a teething baby, tons of stuff to do at the office.  But everything changed yesterday afternoon when I had an unexpected visitor at work:  a courageous rep from The Wine Syndicate who braved the cold to drop off a box of 5 killer-looking wines for me to try.  One of them in particular caught my eye, a French red from the Southern Rhone with a decidedly un-French approach to branding.  It was the first vin de France I had ever seen with a planetary body on the label, and I knew as soon as I saw it that I was opening it that night.  As it turns out, I lucked out, because this is a comfort wine to the nth degree, the ideal way to warm up after plunging through gruesome winter on the way home.

Les Halos de Jupiter is a negociant operation (where grapes are sourced largely or entirely from vineyards not owned by the winery) overseen by French master consultant Philippe Cambie, who provides his expert touch to a number of famous Rhone labels and has taken this on as his own personal side project.  The obvious first question on my (and everyone’s) mind:  what’s with the name?  The label explains that Jupiter (in Roman mythology, the same as Zeus in Greek mythology) is the king of gods and humans, the head of the patriarchal family of deities.  It’s also the biggest planet in our solar system, and Halo is the closest of its rings.  Cambie believes that Grenache is the king of all grapes and the “natural leader of Rhone varietals”; it’s the Jupiter of viticulture, and its Halos are the various subregions of the Rhone Valley that best allow it to express itself.  If this were an SAT questionthe best SAT question ever, its answer would be Halos:Jupiter :: Rhone regions:Grenache.  Cambie’s Halos span the most prestigious areas of the Southern Rhone, from Chateauneuf-de-Pape to Gigondas and Vacqueyras, but they also extend to areas where hidden values can be found.  Cotes du Rhone is a catch-all appellation that basically covers all of the areas of the Rhone that aren’t scooped up by a sexier subregion, but this particular wine is a single vineyard offering grown at elevation just outside of the quality region of Rasteau, yielding top-end old vines Grenache without the CNDP price premium. Read the rest of this entry »

Calgary Wine Life: Wines of Portugal Tasting @ Market

7 11 2013

It appears to be Underappreciated Wine Region Month here at Pop & Pour.  Last week I was exposed to the new wave of bottlings coming out of the southern Italian island of Sicily; this week it was Portugal, another unheralded European wine area, that was aiming to bring its remarkable wines to the attention of international export markets.  I got the opportunity to sit in on a guided tasting put on by the Wines of Portugal and led by energetic and well-versed sommelier extraordinaire DJ Kearney, who brought us up to speed on everything from the number of indigenous grape varieties found in Portugal (250+) to the proper pronunciation of key Portuguese wine terms (hint:  if it ends in an E, don’t pronounce the E, no matter how much you want to).  The tasting was held at Market Restaurant on 17th Avenue, which I had never been to before but which proceeded to serve us an absolutely stellar three-course lunch that will be reason enough to bring me back very soon.


It was sort of fitting that I got to experience Portugal’s wine story after sitting in on Sicily’s, because the two regions have much in common.  Both are home to large numbers of local grape varietals that are barely found anywhere else, and both have made the conscious choice to embrace these lesser-known grapes and focus their quality production around them.  As a result of a lack of name recognition and a dearth of critical attention on these under-the-radar wines, both can offer tremendous value for money for those consumers brave enough to take the plunge (I think Portugal might win the worldwide gold medal for these kinds of bargains).  And both tend to focus more on wines that are blends of multiple different grapes as opposed to single varietal offerings, with Portuguese wine in particular almost always a group vinous effort as opposed to a solo act.  Kearney channeled her inner Wino Karl Marx when talking blending, urging us through these wines to shed the shackles of varietal typicity and embrace the communal symphony of these intrepid groups of local grapes (featuring reds Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz [aka Tempranillo] and Baga, and whites Alvarinho [aka Albarino], Arinto, Encruzado and many more) all working together to make something greater than themselves.

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Calgary Wine Life: Sicilian Master Class @ Theatre Junction Grand

31 10 2013

Quick:  name a Sicilian wine producer.  Did you say Planeta?  Me too.  Name another one.  To my embarrassment, I couldn’t.  My list of known Sicilian producers ends at one.  This fairly sizeable void in my wine knowledge is particularly galling because, believe it or not, Sicily is the biggest wine-producing region in Italy:  it actually produces more wine per year than Australia, more than Chile and Bordeaux combined.  So why does it continue to have such a low profile?  Because, up until recently, the wine produced was not generally of high quality and was often sold off in bulk to other parts of the country instead of bottled on its own.  Even now, less than 20% of Sicily’s annual production is bottled for individual sale, and only 5% or so comes from a legally designated DOC region.  But there is currently a quality revolution underway in Sicily, one that has been brewing since the 1980s and that has seen many longstanding producers forego high yields and the sale of their crops by the ton in favour of more meticulous growing and winemaking practices and the creation of better wines under their own labels.  This week I got the chance to witness this transformation midstream.


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Wine Review: 2007 Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Reserva

2 10 2013

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

I heart traditional Rioja.

I heart traditional Rioja.

The closest I’ve ever come to having a wine from my birth vintage (1980, by all accounts an absolutely terrible vintage everywhere, which explains why I can’t find any) was a bottle of 1981 Bodegas Montecillo Gran Reserva from Spain’s famed Rioja region, a bottle that I randomly stumbled upon with a friend at Co-op Crowfoot.  His birth year was 1982, so we decided that we’d split the difference and share the wine.  Montecillo is primarily a value-based producer whose wines steer clear from the ultra-expensive, but despite its non-insane price tag the 1981 was still gracefully present 32 years later, a shade past its peak consumption window but still a tremendously enjoyable drinking experience.  This longevity is partly due to Rioja’s traditional winemaking style and lengthy legally mandated aging periods:  for all wines designated as Gran Reservas, minimum 2 years aging in oak barrels and 5 years total aging is required before bottle release, and for Reservas, minimum 1 year oak aging and 3 years total aging is required.  This maturation process leaves the young wines exposed to air and leads to some flavour integration with the barrels themselves, resulting in finished wines that forego primary fruit flavours in favour of oak- and oxygen-induced secondary characteristics and complexity and that often have extraordinary staying power in the bottle.  While almost all wines are not meant to age, and while that maxim usually applies even more broadly to inexpensive wines, some traditional Rioja can be found on the shelves for bargain prices and can last for ages. Read the rest of this entry »

Calgary Wine Life: Cloudy Bay Winemaker Tasting at Alloy

26 09 2013

If you’re into New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, you’ve heard of Cloudy Bay.  When I bought my first book about wine a few years ago, the first couple pages of the chapter on New Zealand were the story of this winery:  one of very few producers scattered across the Marlborough region of New Zealand in the mid-1980s, when nobody was paying any attention to NZ wine and nobody on the northern half of the globe was buying it, without any vineyards of its own, making Sauvignon Blanc in a style that has since become synonymous with the nation and the grape (crisp, aromatic, intense, herbaceous), exploding onto the international scene, and shining the spotlight of the wine world on this scenic region on the northern tip of the country’s South Island.  This isn’t ancient history:  New Zealand was an afterthought of a wine nation with only a small handful of producers at a point during my lifetime (I’m 33).  Now it has turned into a thriving and exciting contributor to the world of wine that is home to over 700 wineries, and in large part Cloudy Bay is to thank for this surge of success.  One of the main reasons that “New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc” possesses the same instant and tangible sense of identity in the psyche of wine drinkers as “Australian Shiraz” (or “Cali Cab”, or “German Riesling”, or “Argentinian Malbec”) is the work of this trendsetting producer that started small and turned itself into a national icon with a world-renowned style.

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In 2003, Cloudy Bay was purchased by luxury brand supergroup LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy), which was charged with maintaining the legacy of New Zealand’s most famous liquid export.  This responsibility is now in the capable hands of lead winemaker Tim Heath, who has spent the past 9 years at the winery trying to ensure that Cloudy Bay’s historic voice is as strong as ever within its wines while simultaneously helping them evolve and grow.  Heath recently made his inaugural journey to Canada to showcase his latest creations and discuss the impending release of Cloudy Bay’s 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (just put in bottle in August!), which should be out on the shelves in a matter of weeks.  I was fortunate enough to join him and a few others for a stellar lunch at Alloy, my favourite restaurant in town, to talk and taste New Zealand wine. Read the rest of this entry »


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