National Zinfandel Day: An Interview With Ravenswood Founder Joel Peterson

15 11 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Happy National Zinfandel Day! Although we do not feature many interviews on Pop & Pour, we felt that the chance to publish a Q & A correspondence that I recently had with Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, commonly described as California’s “godfather of Zin”, would be a consummate way to celebrate, especially when paired with tasting notes for one of Ravenswood’s most iconic wines. To me, Zin embodies a key dialectic at play within wine appreciation: that between elegance, austerity and grace on the one hand, and sheer hedonism, richness and bold frivolity on the other. As an avowed disciple of Pinot Noir, you can deduce which pole of the dialectic I might ultimately prefer. However, wine is so immensely enjoyable precisely because there is ample diversity, so many different experiences to chase down and absorb. And I do like having my mind blown by huge flavours as much as the next bon vivant. If I am being honest with myself, a well-crafted Zinfandel may do a better job of resolving this particular dialectical dilemma than almost any other black grape:

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There are some very specific cherry varieties listed here. I approve. (https://zinfandel.org/resources/zinfandel-aroma-wheel/)

The best Zins feature succulent, approachable berry fruit in lockstep with robust secondary flavours of smoke and spice, all festooned on a moderately formidable structure of fresh acidity and fine ripe tannins. They are fun and serious in equal measure: light yet dark, carefree yet intense, simple yet complex. Joel Peterson masterminds just this sort of Zin. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Vinebox Cometh: 12 Nights of Wine

14 11 2018

After 7+ years of blogging about and immersing myself in wine, I am in many ways an open book about what I like and don’t like, vinously speaking — there are now over 450 posts on this site, and other musings elsewhere, that spell out exactly what gets me pumped about a new product or wine experience.  Three of the things that rank high on the good side of my ledger, backed up emphatically by past history, are (1) savvy labelling and branding (my love of which is the basis for every Cork Rating I’ve ever done), (2) clever alternative packaging (bring me your wines in cans, your 1L bottles, and everything in between), and (3) Advent calendars.  If you rolled your eyes about the last one, feel free to consult PnP’s 125+ December postings over the past four years and then get back to me…if I’m not a boozy Advent authority by now, I never will be.  As we approach another holiday season, little did I expect to be dumbfounded by a sleek, shiny, downright sexy combination of all three of these things.  Meet Vinebox:

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Oh yes.  It gets better.  Take a look inside:

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OH YES.  Bring it.  That’s what I’m talking about.

Vinebox is a San Francisco-based company that, up until right this minute, was a US-only subscription service for by-the-glass-sized portions of new, interesting, high-quality wines.  This special holiday release box marks their first foray into the Canadian market, and luckily for us locals, it is exclusive to Richmond Hill Wines and a select few other boutiques right here in Calgary.  Given my prior history of Advent proselytizing, I would be remiss if I did not point out that Vinebox’s 12 Nights of Wine holiday kit is not technically an Advent calendar, as it offers 12 different holiday wine offerings instead of the classic Advent 24-day December countdown to Christmas.  It is instead intended to mirror the 12 days of Christmas (which, I was shocked to discover, all actually occur AFTER Christmas — they run from December 25th through January 5th, marking the time in Christian lore that it took the three wise men to arrive and visit the newborn Jesus…mind formally blown).  Practically speaking, this means that you can either crack a glass on every even day in December as a sort of quasi-Advent replacement (or get two and create your very own full-scale Advent calendar, with a critical revisit of each offering every second day) or get the coolest Christmas gift ever for somebody to enjoy on Christmas Day and the next eleven following.

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In recent years, because the progress of the species is a real and abiding thing, we have seen a proliferation of wine, beer and spirits-based Advent and holiday calendars in a variety of shapes and sizes.  What sets the Vinebox addition to this growing December lineup apart is the unique and patented way the wines are delivered, in Stelvin-enclosed, test tube-like — yet still amazingly labelled and producer-branded! — 100 mL glass cylinders that make a stunning visual impression. Read the rest of this entry »





Burrowing Owl Fall Release Trio

8 11 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

I have now been receiving and reviewing Burrowing Owl releases since 2015, and in addition to some minor shock about my blogging longevity, this has also given me enough familiarity and enough reps with the wines to truly help me understand the winery’s house style.  The whites tend to be creamy and generous, often buoyed and propelled by oak but not at the expense of the underlying fruit.  The reds are bold and ripe yet not overdone, a strong reflection of the scorching desert-like climate of the estate’s Oliver, BC home.

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Year over year, the releases and the winemaking choices behind them come across as impressively consistent, part of the reason why Burrowing Owl has long been on the short list of top quality wineries in the Okanagan Valley.  Now that the snow on the ground here in Calgary seems permanently settled in until April, it feels like there’s no better time to tuck into this trilogy of warm, rich, classic bottles, which always seem to be best enjoyed with a notable chill in the air, starting with a wine that just might be setting a new PnP record. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Maison Sichel Masterclass with James Sichel

3 11 2018
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James Sichel of Maison Sichel

James Sichel is on a mission.  One of five brothers who comprise the sixth generation running the family-operated Maison Sichel, born in Margaux to English parents, James grew up among the history and legacy of Bordeaux and is now charged with connecting a whole new generation of wine drinkers with the fruits of his family’s labour, and rekindling the passion of those who think Bordeaux has passed them by.  There is a view among some modern drinkers that the region has ossified, become beholden to ancient classifications and over-reliant on score-chasing, stratospherically priced speculative investment bottles that are detached from the land and the soil and everything human and natural that goes into making great wine.  There are parts of such a criticism that may stick, but there is so much more to Bordeaux than four-figure futures bottlings and producer tiers; it is a massively prolific producing region and has somehow become an under-the-radar source of superb Tuesday night offerings (particularly, in my opinion, on the white side of the ledger) and sub-$100 luxury splurges.  James’ quest is to bring value Bordeaux back to the rest of the world, to steer the focus away from the elitism that can accompany 1st growth price tags and to allow a fresh audience to rediscover the true beating heart of Bordeaux.  The audience seems to be responding:  Bordeaux sales in Alberta are up 24% this year as compared to last.

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Maison Sichel is a complex entity.  Based in Bordeaux since 1883, they are part estate producer (they own over 350 hectares of vineyards in various different appellations), part winemaking negociant (they work with and source grapes from a series of smaller growers in southern Bordeaux then make wine, including their value flagship Sirius, from the fruit) and part discerning merchant (they sell other hand-selected partner estates’ wines other those estates’ own labels).  On the whole, if you search for the whole Sichel range on its website, you end up with 189 producer results, from straightforward cheap and cheerful offerings all the way up to Chateau Palmer, one of the premier wine estates in the world.  The Sichel family’s pride and joy, however, and James’ current home, is Chateau Angludet, a Margaux estate that is now highly regarded but was on the verge of ruin when the family purchased it in 1961.  It is now their hub and the pinnacle family pursuit.  Aside from Angludet (and a highly savvy prior investment in Palmer in the 1930s), the Sichels own Chateau Argadens in Bordeaux Superieur and Chateau Trillol down in Corbieres.  James’ brother Benjamin Sichel is the winemaker for all three family-owned estates.

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Foreshadowing.

James was on day 10 of a Canadian tour when he took the time (ahead of a sold-out black tie dinner) to lead his Alberta import agent through a portfolio tasting of many of the Maison Sichel offerings available in the province.  I was fortunate enough to sit in on the session and experience my own reacquaintance with a region that too often bypasses my attention.  There were ELEVEN wines poured, so from here on out I will try to be brief.  [Editor’s Note:  I did not succeed.] Read the rest of this entry »





Global Champagne Day Taittinger Technical Tasting @ Alloy Restaurant

21 10 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Happy (belated) Global Champagne Day! There is probably no better way than a champagne tasting to shake off what has become a considerable amount of wine writing rust. Tasting bubbles, bantering with a few friends, listening to a knowledgeable and engaging speaker — good for the soul. As usual I arrive at the restaurant too early, a neurosis that rarely extends to other important engagements in my life but one that seems omnipresent where wine events are concerned. I simply do not want to miss anything. Right away there is a glass of Cuvee Brut Reserve NV (non-vintage) in my hand, Taittinger’s entry level offering, and at this point I do not mind waiting. IMG_2148Taittinger’s Mikael Falkman comes highly recommended, although on this occasion he seems more inclined to let these majestic wines speak for themselves. He does come to life near the end of the tasting with an exuberant blend of knowledge and humour.  Mikael makes sure to provide a concise history of this famed house, but I particularly appreciate his expositions of the Taittinger family’s winemaking philosophy. I will provide these gems and nuggets along with my tasting notes for each wine. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2016 Buena Vista North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon

17 10 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

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A rare sighting.

The $25 California Cabernet Sauvignon is an endangered species nowadays; once a stalwart gateway drug for luring novice wine drinkers into a lifetime of vinous enlightenment, it has now been superseded in that endeavour by numerous other New World crowd-pleasers that are managing to offer similarly accessible and overt pleasure at wallet-friendlier prices.  The combination of rising land costs, fire- and drought-inspired production difficulties and the utter shredding of the Canadian dollar as compared to the US greenback on world currency markets has more or less eliminated California as a source of solid value wine in our market.  Buena Vista Winery is trying to change that, but with this series of factors arrayed against it, it’s fighting an uphill battle.

I have previously written about the remarkable, riotous, barely credible but actually true history of Buena Vista, the proud owner of the label “first commercial winery in California”.  It is well worth refreshing your memory about, but the Coles Notes version must at least mention:  (1) Agoston Haraszthy, who may have been the first Hungarian to emigrate to the United States, who founded the winery and who essentially crammed six lifetimes of zaniness and adventure into one shortened 19th century thrill ride; (2) 1857, the year Haraszthy founded Buena Vista, part of a major ambition to establish high-quality vitis vinifera grapes in hospitable California soils; (3) Nicaragua, where Haraszthy fled barely a decade after Buena Vista was first established, with angry and misled company investors potentially at his heels; and (4) alligators, which apparently ate him there.  Never a dull moment at Buena Vista in the 1850s and 60s. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct: RMW&F Festival Edition!

11 10 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

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Find the booth, for wines like this!

It’s October, and here in Calgary we’ve already been bombarded with two feet of snow in the last week and are craving the spring that’s a winter away, which can only mean one thing:  it’s coming up to Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival time.  The massive tasting event, now in its 21st year in the city, is kicking off tomorrow in Calgary (Oct. 12-13) and is heading north to Edmonton the following weekend (Oct. 19-20).  In addition to a massive number of wineries, breweries and restaurants, in attendance for the first time this year will be our blog’s favourite national wine club Cellar Direct, the Old World-focused provider of finely crafted low-intervention traditional-styled wine that ships its offerings across Canada and has been known best on this page for never yet providing a bad bottle over multiple years of tasting experiences.  If you happen to be attending the Festival (which you should, if you can), stop by the Four Corners booth (#309 in YYC, #903 in YEG) to say hi to the founders and brainchildren behind the Cellar Direct venture and sign up for their mailing list, which will give you access to wines like the ones below, which I recently received as a sort of Festival lead-up.  It will likely be the only place you can find these bottles in the country. Read the rest of this entry »








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