Wine Review: Black Market Wine Co. – Contraband Portfolio Tasting

15 11 2017

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

What do you do if you’re a busy Calgary-based professional with a hectic day job, multiple kids, a swath of family responsibilities, yet an ever-increasing burning passion for wine?  If you’re me, you start a small local blog and struggle to publish one post a week.  (Last post:  13 days ago.  Sorry guys.)  If you’re Rob Hammersley and Michelle Shewchuk, on the other hand, you pick up the hustle, go about 20 light-years further and start your own garagiste winery in the Okanagan on the side, while still juggling full-time careers, volunteer activities and parenthood.

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Branding majesty.

This cunning Calgary cabal has managed to work around their weekday gigs (Rob is in corporate finance; Michelle is a flight attendant) and their location in another province, forge relationships with local growers, learn the ropes of the winemaking business and come up with maybe the single best suite of branding for a winery anywhere in Canada, creating a bit of a cult following along the way.  Add in an early embrace of online sales and the Black Market Wine Company is quickly accelerating from illicit side dream to successful reality.

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I first came across Black Market a couple of years ago and was instantly drawn in by the Illuminati-meets-Ponzi-scheme labelling, looking like the back of the US dollar in some horrific alternate Dan Brown universe.  The striking images on the front labels draw people into the intentional web of secrecy and intrigue expressed in snippy verse on the back of each bottle, piquing curiosity and pulling people further into the glass for answers.  By then, you’re in the winery’s hands, waiting to be led where they want to take you.  It certainly does not hurt that the juice within does not disappoint (and that its creators are from my hometown), and I have followed their progress ever since that initial encounter.  This is the first time I have had an opportunity to taste through the entire Black Market portfolio, but not the last time I will be cracking these wines and letting the mystery wash over me. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wine Review: Dirty Laundry, The Whites

2 11 2017

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

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One of these things is not like the other…

Now that snow has blanketed the land and any remaining warm thoughts in Calgary’s mind have been augured away by blistering Arctic winds, I can fully admit that I tasted these Dirty Laundry wines in the wrong order.  I cracked the rosé and red portions of my sample pack back when fall was still a thing (last week) and saved the sunny patio portion of the tasting until it seemed like a cruel joke; serves me right for breaking with orthodoxy and not going lightest to heaviest like the textbooks all say.  But we persevere. I’ve always found Dirty Laundry’s white lineup to be a bit more impressive and consistent than its reds, and they have a particular affinity for Gewürztraminer, the grape that everyone seems scared to focus on too heavily but which truly rewards any such special attention.  However, tonight I got to dive into two bottles that I hadn’t tried before today, starting off with my favourite grape of them all. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Dirty Laundry, Pink & Red

26 10 2017

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

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Okanagan label mastery.

Dirty Laundry is a winery best experienced in person, as it features a combination of location, history and brand awareness that is next to impossible to top.  It is perched up above the ideally named Summerland, BC, elevated over the Okanagan’s main highway, with vineyard views for miles and a patio strategically located to be drenched in scenery.  This spot was once, back in the era of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s initial construction, the home of a renowned and well-attended laundry service run by an AWOL railroad construction worker who had found a more lucrative calling; his fortune, and the popularity of his laundry business, was due in no small measure to the brothel being run discreetly on the upper floor while the clothes were cleaned below.  A couple of centuries later, the business currently occupying the land knows a good story when it sees one and has turned the tale of the dirty laundry into a branding behemoth that seeps into everything from wine names to labels to tasting room decor to the guest homes for rent on the property, the Bordello House and the Parlour House.  They commit to the identity, keep their humour on high alert and leave their prudishness at the door, and people keep coming back.

The wines themselves may be in a state of flux, caught between wanting to appeal to the widest possible audience and the crowds in for a good time and a novelty bottle-stopper and aiming for a higher level of quality, a product that captures attention in a different way.  I am rooting for them to succeed, as personality and creativity and branding effort are more than welcome in my own world of wine.  The below releases, recent rose and red offerings from Dirty Laundry and the first of a two-part review series, were an excellent chance for me to check in on the winery for the first time in a while and see where they were on their cheeky, quirky voyage. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Stag’s Hollow Fall Reds

18 10 2017

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

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If this is where we are in the Okanagan, we’re in good hands.

What’s this?  Two reviews in the span of three days??  Is this inspiration or panic?  Turns out it’s a little of both.  For reasons that will shortly become clear, the next couple of months are going to be content-intense here at Pop & Pour HQ (aka my kitchen table), which has me geared up and focused on my current inventory of samples to make sure everything gets its full and proper due.  But I’ve also had a lingering eye on these particular wines ever since they landed on my doorstep, as they represent the latest missive in a wonderful conversation I’ve been having over the past months and years with one of the most intrepid, curiosity-filled, quality-focused wineries in the Okanagan Valley, Stag’s Hollow.  Over the summer I looked in on the white and pink side of their portfolio, but now that my trees no longer have leaves, the time has come to fully commit to autumn, and tonight’s trio of reds has me in the mood to cast off thoughts of T-shirts and shorts and embrace my favourite season.  This lineup features an Okanagan stalwart, only rarely done justice; an utter Okanagan rarity, borne of winemaker Dwight Sick’s unabashed intention to push viticultural limits in the region; and a burgeoning Okanagan star that will hopefully soon get the attention and acreage it deserves.  Pinot Noir, Grenache (!), Syrah. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2012 Torres Mas La Plana

16 10 2017

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

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Cabernet royalty.

It’s Calgary municipal election night, so my plan was to put off this review until tomorrow.  Then I sat here for 10 minutes biting my fingernails and hitting “refresh” on the election results page on my phone every 60 seconds and realized that (1) the next four years of my civic life weren’t about to reveal themselves anytime soon and (2) I could use some guaranteed good news tonight regardless of political outcome.  And nothing screams “guaranteed good news” like the flagship wine of Miguel Torres, the most consistent larger-production winery I know.

If you have a photographic memory of this blog, you may remember that I have told the story of Mas La Plana once before; if you don’t, you can take solace in the fact that I almost didn’t remember this fact myself.  Nothing about this wine is quite as expected.  It is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Penedes, the heartland of Cava in eastern Spain near Barcelona, an area not remotely known for big red wines but blessed with numerous altitudes and microclimates that allow for pockets of warmth and create opportunity for special sites like the one that birthed this bottle.  It hails from a 29-hectare single vineyard planted before I was born, from Cab vines introduced to Spanish soil between 1964 and 1979 based on cuttings from numerous prior homes, including 1st Growth Bordeaux chateaux.  It looks strangely at home in a Burgundy bottle, unlike any other Cabernet Sauvignon I have seen on a shelf.

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Penedes was the first region in Spain to start using modern winemaking techniques like stainless steel temperature-controlled fermentation, and Torres uses them to great effect here to create a bottle that seamlessly communicates Spain’s history and potential to a global wine world, that imbues the Earth’s most ubiquitously successful commercial grape with the essence of the Torres family’s heartland.  Mas La Plana tells a story that was heard almost immediately, as the wine’s inaugural 1970 vintage beat out Chateau Latour and numerous other luminaries in the Cabernet category of French magazine Gault-Millau‘s 1979 Wine Olympics (which weirdly was the exact same competition that put Oregon Pinot Noir on the world map thanks to Eyrie Vineyards’ stellar showing against the best of Burgundy).  Yet it still retains its humble family roots:  its neck foil reads “Vinetum Paganicus”, a term sometimes used to designate top wines but which to the best of my meagre Latin translation ability appears to simply mean “vineyard of a village”. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Modern Italian Traditionalists

11 10 2017

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

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Reunited with Italy.

I don’t know why, but before yesterday I hadn’t had a bottle of Italian wine for a long, long time.  I’m not a hater or a New World purist; I have a bunch of Italy in my cellar and rank certain Italian bottles and regions among my favourites in the world.  I’ve just been through a phase where nothing has drawn me to that corner of my wine racks in a number of months…there has always been something more enticing to my senses that has kept the country in the press box.  Well, no more:  in order to restore equilibrium to my wine world and reacquaint myself with one of the two traditional cornerstone nations of viniculture, I cracked a pair of Italian bottles last night and reminded myself of why Italy is viewed so loftily by grape lovers everywhere.

On the surface, the two bottles seemed to have very little in common:  one was playful pink bubbles, while the other was a legacy Chianti crafted to centuries-old founder’s standards.  But both in their own way were asserting their place in the often-calcified lore of Italian wine history.  The pink bubbles hailed from the province of Treviso in northeastern Italy, just north of Venice, the world home of Prosecco; but it couldn’t be called Prosecco by virtue of its hue and its choice to forego the region’s Glera grape (which was previously also called “Prosecco” in an attempt to be as confusing as possible), which took the wine out of the threshold criteria of the Prosecco classification. Even though it was produced by a generations-old Prosecco house, it wasn’t Prosecco, and it was OK with that, ambling on its merry mission to bring joy to those who opened it.  The Chianti was a modern take on a wine made to the recipe of a 19th century legendary figure, the one who first set down what it legally meant for a wine to be a Chianti.  While the first bottle gleefully acknowledged its place on the parallel track from history, the second not only embraced its history but walked in its footsteps.  In their own way, I admire each for their paths taken. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Calliope White Trio

3 10 2017

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

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Pop and pour power.

There are a few ways to measure how far British Columbia has come as a wine industry in the past 10-15 years, during which time for my money the jump in quality, understanding and identity has been close to exponential.  Here’s one way:  15 years ago, I don’t think you could have convinced me that a BC winery’s SECOND label could produce a suite of balanced, expressive and generally delightful wines worth seeking out.  In 2017, Burrowing Owl (or, more accurately, Wyse Family Wines, founders of Burrowing Owl) have managed that exact feat with the 2016 releases of their Calliope label, a lineup of wines that according to the accompanying campaign literature is meant for easy and early enjoyment; a true pop and pour.  Sourcing grapes from both the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, the Wyse family focuses mostly on whites for Calliope, creating (at times) multi-regional blends under the general “British Columbia” appellation, yet still under the BC VQA banner.  These are marketed as easy-drinking patio wines, meant for drinking rather than dissecting…but since we’re all here, let’s dissect them anyway.

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Stelvin Rating:  8/10 (See what you can do if you apply yourself to screwcaps?  Dead sexy.)

I was provided three different single-varietal examples of Calliope’s white regime:  Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Viognier.  When I’m drinking single-grape wines on the lower end of the price spectrum (these bottles probably straddle the $20 mark Alberta retail), the first thing I look for, even before balance of component elements or general deliciousness, is typicity.  In non-wino speak:  if the wine is a Sauvignon Blanc, does it smell like a Sauvignon Blanc?  Does it taste like a Sauvignon Blanc?  Does it help people understand what Sauvignon Blanc is all about, and does it then go the next step and show people what Sauvignon Blanc from its particular home region is all about?  Varietal wines that do this exhibit strong typicity, and as such become extraordinarily helpful barometers for both learning about wine and understanding your own preferences.  If these 2016 Calliopes have any major strength, it is dialled-in typicity:  they are clear and precise examples of what’s in the bottle and what comes out of the ground. Read the rest of this entry »








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