The Great Coravin Test, Part 3: Two Weeks In

2 08 2015

OK, so to recap:

  • I got lent a Coravin and figured out how to use it (Part 1).
  • On July 17th, I accessed three different bottles – a white and two reds – via Coravin and wrote up control tasting notes (Part 2).
  • Exactly two weeks later, on July 31st, I Coravinned the bottles again to see how they were doing.  Now the real fun begins (Part 3, right now).

FullSizeRender-91Some brief methodological notes:  after tasting the bottles on July 17th, I put them back in my cellar as if they were brand new – on their sides, no special treatment.  They stayed there till the 31st, when I gave them a brief chill before accessing them again.  I took detailed tasting notes without looking at my initial set of notes and then compared the two sets after the fact to see if the descriptions were similar and if any notable changes to the wines had taken place.  After the second round of tasting, the bottles are all about half full, and they have been put back in my cellar until I pull them out again for the grand finale of this Coravin experiment six months from now.  So how did the wines do?  Is the Coravin all it’s cracked up to be?  Let’s get to it, again:

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Gerard Bertrand: Terroir Showdown

30 07 2015

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

This is the kind of tasting opportunity that wine geeks drool over:  three bottles, one producer, one general wine region, similar grapes, identical pricing ($25ish), same winemaking processes, but three different and distinct subregions, each with their own soils, microclimate and story to tell.

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The producer is Gerard Bertrand, visionary winemaker from the south of France who was literally born to do what he’s doing:  a local of the area, he started making wine with his father at the age of 10.  The region is the Languedoc-Roussillon, a sun-drenched area stretching along the Mediterranean coast on the southern edge of central France.  It is the world’s single biggest wine-producing area with around 700,000 acres under vine, although this is not necessarily a good thing; it has been known as the “wine lake” of France for churning out vast quantities of crude jug wine for cheap consumption, more than people could possibly buy, creating massive stockpiles of reputation-draining plonk and setting the region back in the eyes of the wine world.  However, the Languedoc-Roussillon is in the midst of a quality renaissance thanks to a few passionate producers, Bertrand included, who see the potential for greatness in the land.  The result, if you know what (or, more accurately, who) to look for, is a series of unparalleled wine values that can knock your socks off for the price.

FullSizeRender-82You don’t see many wines with Languedoc-Roussillon subregions on the label in this market:  either they’re from the popular catch-all Vins de Pays d’Oc (now known as Pays d’Oc IGP) umbrella region or from a similar overarching area like Cotes du Roussillon.  I have been heavily into wine for a number of years and had never heard of two of the three sub-zones highlighted in this trio of bottles: Tautavel and Montpeyroux.  The third, Pic Saint Loup, is probably the best-known quality subregion in the Languedoc, but it remains woefully underrepresented here.  Bertrand’s Grand Terroir series of wines is intended to change that and to shine the spotlight on these specific and distinctive parts of Languedoc-Roussillon, to prove that the area is more than just a bulk conglomerate.  After tasting the three Grand Terroir bottles side by side by side, I have to say that he’s on to something.  The terroir showdown begins now! Read the rest of this entry »





The Great Coravin Test, Part 2: Initial Tasting Report

23 07 2015

The journey continues.

The journey continues.

If you missed Part 1 of this soon-to-be-epic tale, wherein I got a Coravin to borrow and figured out how to use it, you can click here to get caught up.  This post will set the control for my test of the Coravin’s wine-preserving prowess, documenting my initial tasting impressions of three different bottles that I was provided along with the device so that I could give it a spin:  one white, one lighter red and one fuller red.  I actually tasted these last Friday, July 17th, so that’s the point from which the preservation clock starts ticking.  I will taste them all again in a couple of weeks and report back, and then again in a few months to see just how far the magic of the Coravin can stretch.  Word of warning if you ever try this yourself:  when you have a tool that lets you taste as many wines and access as many bottles as you want in a night without pulling a cork, you end up drinking a LOT of wine.  Duly noted.  On to the wines — be sure to check back in two weeks to see how they’re doing!

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The Great Coravin Test, Part 1

19 07 2015
Ladies and gentlemen:  the future.

Ladies and gentlemen: the future.

It is an age-old problem:  what to do with the rest of a bottle of wine if it isn’t all consumed in an evening?  Unless being used to let tight young wines breathe, oxygen is generally the enemy of wine, and once the atmosphere gets its claws on the liquid in a bottle, the results aren’t pretty:  the wine gets flat and stale, brightness and flavours fade, and any distinguishing characteristics are quickly lost.  You can help slow this aerobic inevitability by putting the wine in the fridge overnight, but I always still noticed a difference in the bottle the next day, a slight but undeniable decline.

There have been a few standard approaches invented for dealing with the leftover wine oxygen problem, each effective to different extents.  You can buy a vacuum pump that fits into the opening of the bottle and (at least theoretically) manually sucks out the offending oxygen, leaving a decay-free zone inside the bottle.  This may sort of work at times for short durations IF the pump actually makes an airtight seal with the bottle, which it often doesn’t.  You can instead opt for a separate narrow storage vessel that has a sort of buoy-like floatation device engineered to exactly match the interior circumference of the container; you pour your wine in, plop the float on top and add a lid for good measure, keeping the surface of the wine from any immediate interaction with oxygen.  This is better and more consistent than the vacuum for short stints (I have one, the Savino, which I use for weeknight wines) but not that trustworthy for more than a day or two.  Then there’s the gold standard:  argon.  You pump a little argon gas into the heel of your bottle (from a purchased canister or a fancier system like my Pek Preservino) and, since it’s inert but heavier than air, it forms a harmless protective layer over top of the wine that prevents oxygen from accessing it.  I have left a wine under argon in the fridge for a week and it’s been good as new.

FullSizeRender-71These preservation systems all tackle the problem of wine degradation from different angles, and yet they all share one key thing in common that puts a ceiling on their effectiveness:  they all start with an open bottle of wine.  No matter what tricks you try to keep oxygen away from your precious liquid, once you pop that cork and pour that first glass, you have exposed your wine to the air and the decay clock starts ticking.

But what if you didn’t HAVE to open the bottle?  Could wine be preserved indefinitely if you could somehow access it while keeping its bottle fortress intact?  Enter the Coravin. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Vasse Felix Winemaker’s Dinner @ The Lake House

16 07 2015

Let’s play word association.  I say:  “Australian wine”.  You immediately think — ?  You are probably lying if you don’t say “Shiraz”, and with that comes immediate images of big, lush, ripe, fruity, alcoholic reds, bursting with flavour and spice if lacking slightly in nuance.  The wine scene in Aus is certainly becoming more varied and complex as the years go on, but consumer memory changes slowly and initial impressions run deep.  That’s why one of the first instructions that Virginia Willcock, esteemed winemaker at southwestern Australia’s Vasse Felix winery, gave us about her wines was:  “Don’t call them Australian wines.  They’re not.”  At least not in the preconceived way we all think about them.

LakeHouseRoom

Vasse Felix is located in the Margaret River region, a 3 hour drive south of Perth, which is a city surrounded by, well, nothing.  Willcock calls it “the most isolated wine region in the world”, but what it lacks in proximity it makes up for in a much cooler, more temperate, maritime climate than the rest of the country, a growing season that is often compared to that in Bordeaux, and resulting wines that exhibit finesse, elegance and character, wholly unlike the fruit monsters on which Australia made its international name.  Vasse Felix is the first wine estate founded in Margaret River, established in 1967, and it produced the area’s first Cabernet Sauvignon in 1972.  It continues to specialize in Cabernet, and also in Chardonnay, both classic Margaret River varietals, and it does not produce any other types of wines.  As Willcock says, they elected to be the master of a couple trades instead of a jack of all of them (a lesson that many other New World wineries could be well served in learning). Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2014 Bila-Haut Rose

13 07 2015

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

Winning producer, winning value.  And look at that colour!

Winning producer, winning value. And look at that colour!

I just got back on the weekend from a sunny California vacation, and as I was coming from hot, humid San Diego into hot, dry Calgary (this was pre-torrential thunderstorms) after the end of a long travel day with two young children, I had my first ever legit rose craving.  Don’t get me wrong:  I like rose just fine, but until this moment I had always been on the “perfectly happy to drink it” side of the fence as opposed to the “insatiable desire for it” side.  But something about that day made me long for a bottle that was crisp and cool yet fruity and substantial, a summer wine niche that rose fits to the tee.  Almost immediately after dropping off the suitcases I went to my neighbourhood liquor store, browsed their abysmal pre-chilled rose selection, and escaped with the one non-White Zinfandel bottle I could find:  a Michel Chapoutier rose called Beaurevoir (pictured below) from pink wine’s spiritual homeland of Tavel in south-eastern France.  After downing it probably more quickly than I should have, I realized that I had another Chapoutier rose in my cellar and promised that I would take my time with this one.  Consider this a kick-off for what looks to be a busy Pop & Pour summer! Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Torres Patio Party

16 06 2015

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

Summer fun - ideally outside, without rain.

Summer fun – ideally outside, without rain.

Call it countercyclical marketing or just really bad weather judgment, but I’ve managed to hold off on writing up a patio-wine-themed review duet until the week when we’re due to get utterly deluged with rain.  In the event that you’re soaking wet while reading this, consider it a faint flicker of hope for the future.  So far the forecast has been, as usual, wrong, which will hopefully allow you to disregard this entire paragraph.

I wanted to write up these two wines together because they share both a similar grape source (Garnacha, better known in the New World as Grenache) and a similar vision:  to be a cheap and cheerful source of quality fun out of a bottle.  Of course, they also share a producer, Miguel Torres, whose fifth generation family estate has become one of the most solid wine bets out there, a name that evokes trust regardless of the region, country, grape or style of the wine behind the label.  These relatively new releases are twin 2013 Torres bottlings of Garnacha-based wines:  the De Casta Rose, which blends Garnacha with Carinena (Carignan), and the 5G, a 100% Garnacha representing five generations of the Torres family tree and the winery’s constant hunt for perfection in that grape.  Both are value-priced (under $15 and under $20 respectively) and both are meant for easy and early enjoyment. Read the rest of this entry »








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