Calgary Wine Life: Veuve Clicquot Release Tasting @ Yellow Door Bistro

23 03 2018

By Peter Vetsch and Raymond Lamontagne

Sometimes the best times to celebrate are the times when there is nothing obvious to celebrate.  It’s a dreary weekday in late March in still-snowy Calgary, but Champagne lifts all spirits and makes all occasions special, and this was no exception.  The eponymous yellow door of the Yellow Door Bistro at Hotel Arts perfectly foreshadowed the array of yellow labels awaiting us inside, including the brand new release from Champagne’s powerhouse (and power-house) Veuve Clicquot.  Winemaker Bertrand Varoquier expertly guided us through a series of Veuve releases, not least of which was the winery’s latest concoction, the Extra Brut Extra Old NV, soon to be available on retail shelves across Calgary.


Veuve Clicquot is one of the oldest houses in Champagne, founded in 1772 by banker Philippe Clicquot-Muiron, who was then proceeded at the winery by his son Francois.  When Francois suddenly died young in 1805, his widow Barbe-Nicole Clicquot-Ponsardin stepped forward to take over the reins and run the business, a daring decision for a 27 year-old woman in early 19th century France.  The young widow (or veuve, in French) persevered, and her strong vision and fierce entrepreneurial spirit took the winery to new heights, leading to some significant innovations in tradition-laden Champagne.  Madame Clicquot was the first to create a rosé Champagne made from 100% wine (previous renditions of pink Champagne were created by mixing white wine with elderberry juice).  She is also credited with creating the riddling process that allows the dead yeast cells from Champagne’s in-bottle secondary fermentation to slip down into the neck of the bottle so that they can be frozen and disgorged, to keep the finished wine from being cloudy; before this, Champagne was served hazy and decanted to let the leesy sludge settle before pouring.  Clicquot-Ponsardin contributed so much to the region over her lifetime that she was nicknamed “La Grande Dame” of Champagne, a name that since 1872 has also been used for the house’s prestige cuvée.  Her impact on the winery was so significant that the entire brand was renamed in her honour.


Bertrand Varoquier is a native son of Champagne, born in the heart of the region in the town of Reims; as he puts it, “my blood is bubbly”.  For the past six years of his extensive 18-year wine career, he has been at Veuve Clicquot, where he is currently responsible for all red wine vinification.  Due to the house’s production size, and in order to ensure that its winemaking happens as close as possible to the vineyards where the grapes are harvested, the red grapes that go into Veuve’s cuvées (primarily Pinot Noir, which is at the core of Veuve Clicquot’s identity) are processed and vinified in their own standalone facility in Buzy.  Each discrete parcel of each red vineyard is vinified separately, and after alcoholic fermentation is complete and scores of still wines are created (some with very limited colour due to restricted skin contact, some fully red for use in rosé Champagne creation, all produced solely for future blending), the lots are sent to Veuve HQ in Reims for malolactic fermentation and blending.


Bertrand Varoquier, winemaker at Veuve Clicquot

Unlike almost any other top wine region in the world, which tends to glorify single-vineyard and single-vintage expressions of time and place, Champagne’s focus is on achieving and maintaining each house’s unique signature style with precision and consistency, year in and year out.  The mammoth challenge of this task is almost unquantifiable, but this will give you a sense of it.  In addition to his winemaking duties, Bertrand is on the Veuve Clicquot tasting committee along with Cellar Master Dominique Demarville and others.  Every year, from the start of November until the start of March, the committee tastes 24 different sample lots of still wines PER DAY out of the roughly 1,200 (!!!) already-vinified non-bubbly base wines aging in full stainless steel tanks in Veuve’s cellars in order to determine which wines will be used to populate each of the house’s different Champagne releases.  These base wines are from the present year’s harvest plus nearly twenty prior vintages, and all are ultimately rolled into a multi-vintage, multi-source patchwork tapestry that the Cellar Master weaves into the emblem of Veuve Clicquot, so that the buying public gets the taste experience they expect out of every single Veuve Champagne, regardless of the year in which they buy it. Read the rest of this entry »


Wine Review: Red Blends of the Eternal Ice Age

20 03 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

Happy first day of spring.  Spare me.  Yeah, I’ve seen all of the (obviously non-local) articles and Instagram pics and Twitter updates about new rosé and bubble releases and patio beers and T-shirt weather.  Meanwhile I have snowbanks bordering each side of my driveway that are taller than each of my children and still see the minus sign side the thermometer heading to work every morning.  It’s supposed to snow again on Thursday morning and there is no god and we are in some kind of forsaken meteorological time loop that will have no end.  So forget you, frizzy pink refreshing splashes and dainty Prosecco; I’m gearing up for blustery Armageddon, armed with a pair of full reds that scoff at the entire concept of spring.  I need to find joy somewhere, after all.


Forget you, “spring”.

2014 Gerard Bertrand Corbieres (~$20)

I know from past experience that Gerard Bertrand is a value wine savant, and that his legend in the south of France is ever-growing.  I also knew that this particular bottle of Corbieres, part of his “Terroirs” regional collection of bottlings, hit the wine awards mother lode in 2016 by landing the #55 spot in the much-anticipated Wine Spectator Top 100 list — not bad for a $20 bottle from a little-known region.  What I didn’t know about Bertrand was that he was a prodigious professional rugby player before he followed in his family’s footsteps and turned to winemaking, even juggling a pro career with vigneron duties in the aftermath of his father’s death as he took over the reins of his ancestors’ business.  He has now hung up the cleats for good but brings some of his sport’s scrappiness to all of the wines that bear his name.   Read the rest of this entry »

Calgary Wine Life: Taylor Fladgate 1968 Single Harvest Port Release

17 03 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Although I am deathly tired of the evil winter weather that simply will not give up the ghost in this city, I am more than happy to brave one more snowstorm (please, just one more?) in order to carry on the Pop and Pour tradition of covering the annual release of a Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Port.  These bottles capitalize on Taylor Fladgate’s extensive back catalogue of aged Port stocks.  They are tawny Ports, meaning that they are aged in barrels for many years, exposed to oxygen and thereby mellowed into a resplendent golden brown. They are also Colheitas, or tawnies where all of the bottled grapes hail from a single vintage.  Taylor Fladgate eschews the term Colheita on these labels in favour of a more anglicized approach.  Regardless of the naming convention employed, Port connotes a sense of pageantry, giving off a regal vibe that this self-styled progressive enjoys basking in from time to time. I wander through the fine wooden décor of Calgary’s Ranchmen’s Club, past a litany of taxidermied game, following my nose into the tasting room where fragrant pourings have already sat for some time.


Our host Cynthia Opsal, Brand Manager for The Fladgate Partnership for Pacific Wine & Spirits, leads us off with a video that features an interview with Alistair Robertson, principal shareholder in the Fladgate Partnership.  Robertson explains that terroir is fundamental to good Port.  According to Taylor Fladgate winemaker David Guimaraes, 12 different indigenous grape varieties are planted, with four providing the majority of production.  Some grapes such as the vogue Touriga Nacional provide tannic grip, while others such as Tinta Barroca provide more color and sugar content.  Robertson explains that a day of work on the estate involves eight hours of picking grapes, followed by four hours of foot treading in the case of high quality bottlings.  Production of all Port involves adding grape spirit to stop fermentation just before its midpoint, which at Taylor Fladgate occurs around three days into the fermentation process, when about 5-6% alcohol has been produced.  Enough spirit is added to bring the alcohol up to around 20% (which in turn kills off any remaining yeast).  David Guimaraes has stated that a recent trend toward use of more clean and pure spirits means that vintage Ports are approachable sooner, with more fruity expression.  This latter point seems particularly relevant, as this year we get a welcome break from tradition:  instead of the preliminary offering of blended tawny ports that were tasted in prior Release years, we get to sample three 2015 vintage Ports — Single-Quinta vintages, that is.

Read the rest of this entry »

Calgary Wine Life: A Special Evening with Cinzia Merli of Le Macchiole @ Centini

15 03 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

It was while reading my very first book on wine, the 6th edition of Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan’s “Wine for Dummies”, that I first encountered the term “Super Tuscan”.  I instantly became enamored with the concept.  Some Tuscan producers became wary of traditional wine-making laws that they perceived as stifling innovation. Part of the motivation here was that these producers wanted to experiment with “international varieties”, particularly those famous for yielding Bordeaux blends in France.  Such grapes could be grown.  The kicker was that wines made from them could initially be labelled only as “vino da tavola” (or table wine), as they clearly violated Italian DOC production guidelines which emphasized native varietals.  However, it became apparent that parts of Tuscany were in fact better suited to growing international varieties than native son Sangiovese.  It was absurd to equate quality wines from such areas with the multitude of serviceable but undistinguished table wines found across the country, and thus the marketing concept of the Super Tuscan was born – described on the Italian Wine Central website as “a maverick wine of great breeding but living outside the Establishment”.


Cinzia Merli does not resemble any stereotype of a maverick.  My initial impression was one of a quiet, conservative, perhaps strict woman, full of resolve and perhaps possessing a keen wit underneath her stolid outward presentation.  She first apologized for her English, which by my reckoning is quite good.  She then provided a fantastic overview of the Bolgheri region and her own wine estate, Le Macchiole, during which her passion and unrelenting dedication to her craft became apparent.  I was already in awe coming into this event:  these wines are legendary.  Cinzia’s presentation only served to stoke the flames.  This evening shall live on in my memory as one of the most fun tastings that I have ever experienced with total strangers (strangers no more!).  I should add that Centini provided exceptional dinner service and perfect ambience.  Read on for my takes on five burly reds (including two vintages of the iconic Paleo), plus a sprinkling of relevant history.

IMG_1110 Read the rest of this entry »

Calgary Wine Life: Tabarrini Montefalco Tasting Seminar @ Model Milk

12 03 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne and Dan Steeves

We have always been impressed by the selection of Austrian and German wines in Salivate Wines’ portfolio, so we were thrilled at the opportunity to sample wines from one of the importer’s Italian producers, Tabarrini.  Hailing from smack dab in the middle of Italy, in Montefalco within the Umbria region (the only wine region in Italy that does not have a coastline or border another country), Tabarrini is a well-respected winery known for its big, brooding single-vineyard reds based on the Sagrantino grape, as well as for an interesting white wine made from the little-known Trebbiano Spoletino. Although maybe not quite as famous as other Umbrians such as Saint Francis of Assisi, Monica Bellucci or black truffles (a full 60% of the world’s supply of the latter originates from the region), there is no doubt that Tabarrini is producing some serious wines that have rightfully been getting global attention.

Tabarrini’s director of sales and marketing, Daniele Sassi, led us through an informative (and entertaining – Daniele is a natural comedian, and the jokes are not always politically correct!) tasting of three of the winery’s offerings:  the Adarmando Bianco (a white Trebbiano Spoletino), the Boccatone Rosso (a Sangiovese and Sagrantino red blend), and the Colle Grimaldesco Sangrantino (one of the estate’s premium single-vineyard dry Sagrantinos).  Read on for our combined thoughts and notes on each bottle. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: Winter Warmers, Part 2

27 02 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Red or white? Before wine became a serious subject of study for me, I gravitated towards whites, and not premium quality ones either, a preference that was likely the product of early learning (e.g., that box of German plonk that was a nigh-permanent fixture on the kitchen counter) coupled with an irrational phobia of such mythological creatures as “tannin-induced hangovers”. As it turns out, there is a general trend in humans towards a greater appreciation for bitter flavors and pucker-inducing sensations that comes with age and experience. Years later, I adore red wine while continuing to appreciate characterful whites. At this point the distinction between red versus white is but a minor factor in my choice of which wine to consume at a given point in time, one that can sometimes influence me at the very early stages of decision-making (“is it a red or a white night?”), but that ultimately carries less weight than varietal, region, style, or what’s for dinner. The Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada webpage indicates that at the national level, Canadians prefer red wine to white, with the exception of British Columbia, where whites are more popular. Heedless of the overall trend, many (myself included) continue to associate winter with hearty reds. Without further ado, let’s launch into part 2 of our robust red reviews, following Dan’s introduction from late last week.


2011 Montecillo Rioja Reserva ($18)

Spain has more area under vines than any other country and is the third largest producer of wine in the world. Spanish wine on the whole was considered rather rustic and ragged until a major shift towards improved quality occurred in the mid-20th century, before which time it was not unheard of to dilute the wine with lemonade to increase palatability (!). Rioja remains the best-known area for red wine production in Spain, although recently a few upstart regions have made inroads. Tempranillo is Spain’s top indigenous variety, with plantings doubling across the country over the past decade, and is the dominant grape in almost all Rioja reds. I found a great quote from a top Rioja producer in Benjamin Lewin’s book “Wine: Myths and Reality”: “Everywhere in the world, people want to make wine like Burgundy. But it is not in our history, we have  always blended”. Historically, Rioja’s very warm vineyards resulted in full ripening of any given grape varietal, such that blending was necessary to achieve the desired complexity. In a traditional blend, fruitiness came from Tempranillo, while Garnacha (Grenache) provided more color, body, and alcohol, with relative rarity Graciano providing acid to offset the softness of the other two. This classic blend often yielded wines featuring what Lewin calls “savory, almost animal notes of mature red fruits”. Use of American oak for aging has also led some to conclude that Tempranillo is rather neutral flavor-wise, with vanilla and char notes from oak constituting Rioja’s “true” distinctive flavor profile. Regardless, much Rioja is now made in a soft, fruit-forward style. Some producers have decided to split the difference and offer both traditional and modern bottlings. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: Winter Warmers, Part 1

23 02 2018

By Dan Steeves

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

The end of February is slowly approaching and we are less than a month away from the first day of spring. That means warmer weather is in our sights and we soon won’t have to deal with any more snow, right? That might be wishful thinking, but we can certainly hope it is the case! Until that warmer weather shows up and takes permanent residency in the prairies, we will need to keep staying warm and spending our evenings huddled around the fireplace with a nice glass of full-bodied red wine. Although I personally drink all types of wines all throughout the year (nobody should deprive themselves of rosé for months on end), there is no doubt that I enjoy more red wines over the cooler winter months, not only for the warming effects of a 15% ABV Cabernet Sauvignon, but also because we tend to eat more hearty full-flavoured comfort foods during this time and less light and refreshing fare.

To get you through the next month until you start seeing green on the ground, we have reviewed a few robust red wines that will be great at keeping you warm and satisfied until the spring flowers start blooming. We kick off this two-part series with reviews of great value reds from two regions known for their big red wines:  Bordeaux, France and the Colchagua Valley, Chile.

Read the rest of this entry »

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