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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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.

image-9

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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