Wine Review: 2013 Ravenswood Besieged

19 10 2014

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

Boo!

Boo!

Let me first say that I fully support theme wines, provided that they exhibit a little bit of effort and make some shred of sense.  Seasonal and holiday releases are just fine in my books as long as they’re somewhat consistent with a winery’s overall image and aren’t just a lazy cash grab.  A producer slapping a new red Christmas label on old stock just in time for the holiday season?  Not cool.  But a winery already named “Ravenswood” concocting an on-brand, original, spooky limited release bottling for Hallowe’en?  I’m in.

Imminently available in stores near you, the 2013 Ravenswood Besieged is a field blend of 7 different, slightly disparate, and never usually combined red grapes:  Petite Sirah (cool), Carignane (double cool), Zinfandel (the winery’s bread and butter), Syrah (my favourite), Barbera (what?), Alicante Bouschet (double what?) and Mourvedre (whew).  The percentages of each grape in the blend are not listed on the label and not currently available online, but by law the grapes listed earlier on a label have to comprise a larger portion of the blend than those listed later, so you can think of Besieged as being primarily made from the thematically similar (deep, dark, bold, structured) Petite Sirah and Carignane, with a bit of kitchen sink thrown in.  The wine is from grapes sourced all over Sonoma, including top subregions Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley and a couple other Valleys.  According to the winery, this release is called “Besieged” because pioneering winemaker Joel Paterson conceived of it “under a threatening sky besieged by rain clouds” as ravens cackled overhead, a seasonally appropriate vignette which also happens to be laid out on the bottle’s equally eerie label.  My vote for the name was “Nevermore”, but the ravens may have eaten my ballot. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Greywacke Tasting with Kevin Judd

7 10 2014

Kevin Judd is a New Zealand visionary, a trailblazer who has left a permanent imprint on the nation’s young wine culture.  As the founding winemaker of Cloudy Bay, now the near-ubiquitous signpost for the sharp, tangy, herbal style of Sauvignon Blanc that is instantly recognizable in the glass, Judd pioneered a flavour profile for New Zealand’s signature grape that put the country on the world wine map.  He helmed the ship at Cloudy Bay for 25 years, taking it from an unknown producer in an anonymous wine nation to a whirlwind New World phenomenon, the crown jewel of a Sauvignon Blanc revolution that saw millions of bottles fly off the shelves.

IMG_2063

After Cloudy Bay was sold to luxury brand behemoth LVMH (whose wine portfolio includes such luminaries as Krug, Dom Perignon, Chateau d’Yquem and Cheval Blanc, upper-crusters all), Judd finally realized a lifelong dream of starting his own label and making wines in a manner that best suited his palate:  riper batches of fruit, slightly softer acid, yet retaining all of the structure and complexity that a cooler climate can provide.  He called the new venture Greywacke, a name he had quietly reserved 15 years earlier while waiting for his opportunity:  the word (pronounced “grey-wacky”) refers to the grey sandstone rocks that are commonly strewn across New Zealand’s vineyards.

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Argentine Value Challenge: Punto Final

4 10 2014

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

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Look closely: Spanish tasting notes!

There’s a lingering question out there that will go a long way in determining the ultimate path of the nascent Argentinian wine industry:  what to go along with Malbec?  That particular Bordeaux transplant has become a global phenomenon up in the foothills of the Andes and the undisputed star of Argentina’s vinous revolution, but there are a number of grapes currently vying for the role of its trusty national sidekick.  For a while it seemed like there was a strong marketing push to obtain Malbec-like acceptance of Argentina’s most unique white, Torrontes; I recently read a Decanter tasting panel that argued forcefully that the country’s recent forays into Cabernet Franc were an absolute revelation and that this underappreciated varietal should assume the silver medal position among Argentinian producers, although the less exciting Bonarda currently occupies that slot in terms of vineyard acres planted.  And of course, there’s always Cabernet Sauvignon, the international behemoth, promising instant recognition and easy sales for anywhere warm enough for it to grow.  In my experience, if an Argentine wine is on the shelves here and it isn’t Malbec, it’s usually Cab.  And while the wine geek in me would love to see Franc seize the day, the realist in me knows that Sauvignon will be pretty tough to displace. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2012 Alice May Pathfinder Sauvignon Blanc

27 07 2014

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

Cali grapes, Calgary soul.  This one sticks with you.

Cali grapes, Calgary soul. This one sticks with you.

Earlier this year I was first introduced to Alice May wines, made by Calgary sommelier Alex Good in collaboration with California stalwart producer Barrel 27, thanks to its Cote-Rotie inspired Crosswinds Syrah, which made me sit up and take notice of this new source of killer value wine with a local heart.  Alice May was (and still is) a label focused on the production of Rhone varietals in southern California’s Santa Barbara County, but this, their inaugural white release, has a different French homeland:  Sauvignon Blanc is found both in white Bordeaux (blended with Semillon and Muscadelle) and in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume in the Loire Valley (where it is a single varietal star).  While this may not have been Good’s initially planned direction for his Pathfinder wine (which will be made of the much more Rhone-y Grenache Blanc and Roussanne as of next year), he got the proverbial offer he couldn’t refuse to take some prime Sauvignon from the highly esteemed Coquelicot Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley and he ran with it.  Coquelicot is a cooler climate site situated right close to the Pacific Ocean almost due west from Los Angeles, biodynamically farmed by a top vineyard manager and churning out powerful yet balanced fruit full of character.  And it shows. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Torres Mas La Plana 40th Anniversary Tasting

16 07 2014

photo 4For the CEO of a global wine empire, Miguel Torres Maczassek is a pretty chill guy.  Soft-spoken yet jovial, the 5th-generation head of one of the wine world’s largest family businesses initially comes across as unassuming, but his passion for his multitude of intercontinental wine projects and his pride in the Torres family legacy shines through whenever he speaks.  Torres (the estate) has vineyards and properties across all of the major wine regions of Spain and many other countries, and Torres (the man) recently spent 3 years living in Chile running the family’s operations there, making connections with local growers and taking steps to preserve and revive some of the country’s oldest known varietals.  He was in Calgary recently to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of Torres’ flagship red, Mas La Plana, which I have had and enjoyed many times before and which is one of those rare premium wines that can still be found locally at a fairly reasonable ($50ish) price point.  We had the opportunity to track the evolution of this wine through four different decades, from the 1980s to the 2010s, and to witness firsthand the steps taken to fully realize the family’s vision for its top bottling. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2013 Culmina Unicus

8 06 2014
There it is:  history in a (classically presented) bottle.  BC Gruner!!

There it is: history in a (classically presented) bottle. BC Gruner!!

In my last post, I celebrated an Old World country’s rich wine history.  In this one, I get a front row seat as a New World country, my own, takes a milestone step towards charting its own course.  I may be a little more excited about this development than is strictly necessary, but I’ve (seriously) been waiting and hoping for this moment for a few years.  Finally, fantastically, Gruner Veltliner has come to the Okanagan Valley.

If you’ve heard of Gruner before, chances are you’re either at least a semi-serious wine person or you’ve been bothered about it before by me.  I adore Gruner, which is the signature white grape of Austria and is rarely found elsewhere; given that Austrian wine doesn’t exactly fill retailers’ or importers’ heads with gleeful visions of dollar signs, there tragically tends to be much less of it around locally than its quality and value would otherwise dictate.  If you’ve never tried a bottle of Gruner Veltliner, it’s sort of like if a Riesling and a Chardonnay had a rebel baby.  It combines the powerful acidity and piercing minerality of Riesling with the luxurious, silky mouthfeel of Chardonnay, then takes a left turn and offers up a remarkable set of spicy, tangy and often downright wacky flavours all its own, from white pepper to rubber boots and elastic bands (all in a good way, I swear).  The result is a sensory experience unlike any other in wine, one that keeps you constantly engaged as you try to figure out what the hell is going on in your mouth.

One of the reasons that I have often thought that Gruner Veltliner might be able to find a second home in Canada is the climatic and geographic similarities between BC wine country and Gruner’s homeland:  northern Austria and southern BC share almost the exact same latitude (48.4 degrees North in Wachau, 49.1 degrees North in Oliver), the same continental climate and high day-night temperature shifts and, in places, similar soils.  Yet until now the Okanagan has churned out every conceivable white grape under the sun, but no GV.  Thankfully, Culmina has come to the rescue.  This new high-end venture from Don, Elaine and Sara Triggs (of Jackson-Triggs fame) is based on a philosophy that combines old-school attention to detail and minimalistic winemaking with new-school scientific advancement, especially as it relates to vineyard mapping and matching grapes to sites based on detailed soil, temperature and exposure analysis.  Check out the details at Culmina’s visually stunning website – they’re fascinating, if you’re the sort of person who finds micro-block mapping and soil pit analyses fascinating (which I am).

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Calgary Wine Life: 1863 Taylor Fladgate Port

6 06 2014

What happened in 1863?  Henry Ford was born.  The Battle of Gettysburg helped shape the course of the US Civil War.  Canada was 4 years away from becoming its own country.  And the grapes that went into the Port that I got to try this week were harvested.  There are times when I am reminded just how transportive wine is, how it can be a liquid chronicler of history.  This was one of those times.

Eighteen. Sixty. Three.

Eighteen. Sixty. Three.

It probably goes without saying that it’s exceedingly rare for a producer to release a wine after it has turned 150.  The centuries-old Port houses in Portugal would only have extremely limited quantities of reserves even half that old, which would in most cases be used in minute quantities to add flavour and complexity to the producers’ 40-year old tawny Port release (the 40 years on the label represents the average age of the multi-vintage wines in the bottled blend).  Taylor Fladgate has added to its own reserves over the years with select lots of high-end wood-aged Port from the 19th century, and when the quality of an ancient elixir is exceptional, it will occasionally decide to bottle and release it as a stand-alone offering.  That was the case with this single-harvest Port from one of the best vintages of the 19th century, 1863, which after a century and a half is just being taken out of barrel and readied for sale this fall.  When I say “barrel”, I’m referring to one of only two in existence:  Fladgate has but a lonely pair of barrels of the 1863, which will ultimately make less than 1,500 bottles of the Port for the entire world market.

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