Wine Review: 2011 Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva

30 09 2015

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

Modern Traditional Chianti.

Modern Traditional Chianti.

Barone Ricasoli holds itself out as the oldest winery in Italy.  Its history certainly marches in lockstep with that of its region, Chianti:  the winery’s eponymous founder was the man who first suggested the modern “recipe” for the standard Chianti blend — largely Sangiovese, blended with indigenous varieties Canaiolo, Trebbiano and Colorino — in a letter in 1872.  That mix has expanded and adapted since then, but Ricasoli has remained a constant in the area, producing Chianti at all price and quality points, from the entry level to the sublime.

This particular bottle is from the sub-zone of Chianti Classico, the traditional Chianti heartland at the centre of the region encompassing the original lands upon which that name was bestowed.  Chianti has now expanded significantly beyond that area, some might say for largely economic reasons and to the detriment of its reputation, as the lands surrounding Classico often do not quite live up to its hallmarks of quality.  The symbol of Chianti Classico, emblazoned proudly on this bottle in multiple places, is the black rooster, the gallo nero.  Why?  Legend has it that, back when the provinces of Florence (in the north) and Siena (in the south) were fighting over the territory of Chianti (right in the middle), they settled on a contest to determine their mutual border:  they would each pick their best knight, who would ride from his city towards his opponent as fast as his horse could take him once the rooster crowed, and wherever they met would mark the new edge of each province’s lands.  The Florentines had a black rooster, and before the date of the contest they kept it locked up in a box with no food, so that when it was finally released on the day of the race, it crowed much, much earlier than dawn, giving Florence’s knight a massive head start.  The Florentine met the Sienese knight just outside of Siena’s walls and thus scooped all of Chianti for Florence, giving the black rooster mythical status in the process.  This is the best part about wine:  everything has a story.  You just have to find it. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2011 Bila-Haut L’Esquerda

23 09 2015

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

Bila-Haut: The label that can't miss.

Bila-Haut: The label that can’t miss.

What??  There’s another Bila-Haut?  Readers of this blog will know that I have long been a fan of the best-known wine from Rhone legend Michel Chapoutier’s Roussillon side project, the excellently named Occultum Lapidem, and I have also recently had the chance to enjoy their near-equally awesome rose.  But I had neither seen nor heard of this mustard-coloured addition to the Bila-Haut lineup, L’Esquerda, before being provided this bottle to try.  I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon.

Like the Occultum Lapidem, the Bila-Haut L’Esquerda is from a particular high-quality subregion of the Cotes du Roussillon Villages area in the extreme south of France, almost stepping into Spain.  While the Occultum Lapidem hails from the mouthful Cotes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France subregion, the L’Esquerda comes from a single vineyard nestled in its westerly neighbour, the nearly-as-wordy Cotes du Roussillon Village Lesquerde subregion, located slightly further inland from the Mediterranean Sea, immediately south of red dessert wine rock star zone Maury, and due west of another Roussillon sub-zone that’s gotten digital ink on this site lately, Tautavel.  The word “L’esquerda” is Catalan for “the fault in the rock” and is likely a nod to the nutrient-poor granitic soils of the area.  Mainly Syrah, but blended with Grenache and Carignan, L’Esquerda has basically the same varietal makeup as Occultum and is made in a very similar fashion:  from old-vine grapes (40+ years), with extended maceration periods post-fermentation (3-4 weeks) and with limited oak aging (10% or less of the blend sees a barrel).  No wonder there’s a family resemblance.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2014 Yalumba Old Bush Vine Grenache

18 09 2015

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

Raise a glass to Grenache!

Raise a glass to Grenache!

This is a bottle of eager-to-ripen Grenache from the scorching Barossa Valley in Australia.  This is a delicate, pretty, dainty, almost ethereal wine.  These sentences are both somehow true.  Happy International Grenache Day, everyone!

Yes, the third Friday of every September is set aside to celebrate the wonders of a grape that is prominent on the world wine scene, yet still strangely underrated, often anonymously doing the heavy lifting in a Rhone-style blend and only occasionally stepping out into the spotlight on its own.  This is my second time toasting the grape in September:  I revelled in the glory of the Okanagan’s first ever Grenache back in 2013.  I appear to have missed this global vinous holiday last year, but am now fully prepared to make up for lost time.

Yalumba is Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, founded 166 years ago in 1849 and still in the family today.  You may know them for their string of top notch value wines (the Y Series Viognier is particularly awesome for what it costs), but they have offerings all across the price spectrum, and their standing and longevity has given them access to the types of fruit sources necessary to put quality in the bottle.  With respect to Grenache in particular, Yalumba owns some of the oldest Grenache vineyards in the Barossa Valley; the fruit sourced for this bottle was planted between 1898 and 1973.  Vines that pre-date your great-grandparents used for a $22 wine!  Yalumba is also the only winery in the Southern Hemisphere to have their own cooperage, so they select and import oak and then toast it to their liking and make their own barrels.  Cool. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2014 Plan B Riesling “OD”

14 09 2015

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

Riesling, it's been too long.

Riesling, it’s been too long.

Wow, HOW long has it been since I’ve reviewed a Riesling on here?  Seven months??  What is wrong with me?  I have let my favourite grape down.  Time to make amends, and I have definitely found the right bottle for the job, from probably the most underrated country in the world for good Riesling:  Australia.  This New World nation, home of terrifying spiders and monster Shiraz, is probably not the first place you think of for elegant, aromatic, cool-climate whites, but there are pockets of land in this otherwise mostly barren desert, moderated by altitude or coastal proximity or both, in which Germany’s most prized vinous export thrives.

This particular Riesling hails from the relatively obscure Frankland River region, known to me as one of the only producing areas in western Australia not called Margaret River that’s getting any play internationally.  While Margaret River sits right on Australia’s western coast, just south of Perth, Frankland River is a little farther east and inland and is a sub-zone of Australia’s largest singular wine region, the questionably named Great Southern region.  (As you can see here, it is much more west than south in the national scheme of things, and most of the country’s wine regions are actually located further south than it is.  It had better actually be Great there.)  The gents at Plan B Wines seem to be on a mission to make the wine biz loose and fun again while still producing great quality product from top sites, a task that I would suggest is perfectly suited to Australians.  Their website at is well worth a visit and contains some incredible illustration work done by the winemaker himself; just watch that you don’t Canadianize the URL or slip up on Google and go to, northern Internet home of the morning after pill.  You have been warned. Read the rest of this entry »

Torres New/Old World Value Duet

8 09 2015

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

New/Old World.  Pink/red.  Value/value.

New/Old World. Pink/red. Value/value.

Over the past couple years, Torres has become my Old Reliable, the brand that never lets me down regardless which sub-$20 value offering I’m trying, regardless where in the world it’s from, and regardless of my level of expectation or uncertainty going in.  It has now been named the World’s Most Admired Wine Brand for two years running by Drinks International (to get a sense of that accomplishment, others in the top 15 this year include Vega Sicilia, Chateau d’Yquem, Ridge, the First Growth Chateaux Margaux, Latour and Haut-Brion, and Tignanello), and it succeeds without a multi-hundred-dollar wine on its resume and with wineries on three separate continents, focused on marrying high quality with affordable pricing wherever it goes.  That combination is not easy to achieve, but Torres makes it look routine.  I had a chance to toast the end of summer amidst the weekend snow in Calgary with two QPR (quality-to-price-ratio) gems from the Torres portfolio, one from the New World and one from the Old, each crafted with the same evident care and attention. Read the rest of this entry »

PnP Featured in Culinaire Magazine!

4 09 2015

Well, after over four years of blogging and nearly 300 posts, it has happened:  I have been photographed going down a slide in a tot lot with a magnum of Riesling for a real life magazine.  Culinaire Magazine, a fantastic monthly publication focused on all parts of Calgary’s thriving food and beverage scene, has a monthly feature on the inside of its back cover called “Open That Bottle”, where a local personality is profiled and discusses a special bottle in their cellar that they’re saving for a specific occasion.  For the September 2015 issue, I was honoured to get the call and share the story of my favourite kind of wine, from my favourite vineyard, that I’m holding for one of my favourite people in the world:  my son Max.  See the story below:

If for some reason the media link above doesn’t work, the online version of the article can be found on the Culinaire website here.  Also in the September issue (it was a good issue!) was a joint article about drinking boldly and dodging the usual suspect grapes that I wrote with YYC Wine’s Adrian Bryksa, which you can read here:

Stuff like this doesn’t happen without people like you taking the time to find and read what I write on here, so I am eternally grateful to everyone who has supported this site.  Never did I think that this little passion project would turn up in a magazine; I can’t wait to see where it goes next.  Thank you!!

Max at 16 months, with his birth year mag, October 2014.

Max at 16 months, with his birth year magnum, October 2014.

Canada’s Natural Wine Club: Cellar Direct

1 09 2015

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

FullSizeRender-118It was not like any other sample box I have received.  This two-bottle sample pack showed up in a container that could have easily fit a full case of wine with room to spare.  Puzzled, I broke into the box to discover the wine inside was surrounded on all sides by multiple inches of insulated styrofoam, like I was being shipped radioactive isotopes instead of a European red and white.  The bottles in the centre of the box were encased in even more styrofoam, and sitting in between them was a liqui-gel cryopack, like the kind you would use to keep your camping cooler cold.  After a multi-day, interprovincial Canada Post voyage, the icepack was still completely frozen.  And the wine?  Precisely at cellar temperature fresh off the delivery truck, a constant, perfect 13 degrees Celsius.  As it turns out, Cellar Direct doesn’t just ship their wines out in a way that ensures temperature stability; it also imports them in from producers in a rigidly temperature-controlled manner too.  They officially had my attention. Read the rest of this entry »


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