Calgary Wine Life: Washington Wine Tasting @ Bricks Wine Company

16 09 2016

If you have been sucked into the vast and wonderful world of wine at some point in your life, I guarantee there will be distinct moments that you can remember with shocking clarity, a series of epiphanies around particular bottles that made you go:  “I didn’t think wine could be like that.”  You form loyalties around those bottles, the producers that created them and the regions that birthed them.  You seek them out, and those like them, and you try to find out everything about them.  They shape what you look for in wine going forward, but they also increase your awe and appreciation of wine in general, and by doing so they give you an incredible gift, a passageway into a realm that bridges art and science, sensuality and precision.

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I’ve had maybe half a dozen such bottles in my life.  One of them was the 2009 Walla Walla Syrah from Gramercy Cellars, which opened my eyes to the remarkable potential of Washington State wine and made me a lifelong proponent of the area, the winery and even the grape.  I’ve discovered since that it wasn’t a fluke:  Washington is filled with a shocking amount of top quality wine, and an array of producers pushing the envelope of what a young New World region should be able to accomplish this soon.  Even the large producers and the entry-level wines of the state come to play, somehow bypassing the plonk basement that consumers of most other areas have to wade through.  Despite all this, the gospel of Washington has been slow to spread, partly due to familiarity (“there’s world class wine WHERE?”) and partly due to price (no $14 slam dunks to be seen, at least in this market).

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All of this is why I was so thrilled to attend a Washington State wine tasting at Bricks Wine Company last night.  Bricks is the newest entry into Calgary’s impressive boutique wine scene, nestled in a historic old brick (natch) building at the start of trendy, funky Inglewood, but despite being in the process of establishing a foothold in the market, it hasn’t held back on inspired and daring wine selections, including one of the best arrays of Washington wines in town.  Regions like Washington need wine-savvy guides to take people by the hand and point them to the great wines nestled where they never thought to look; Bricks is the type of shop equipped to do just that.  And that showed in spades in the lineup of wines we tasted through, an array of luminaries that erased any questions about Washington State’s ability to stand with the elites of the wine world. Read the rest of this entry »





2012 Fox Run Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay

8 09 2016

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

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The ultimate value Chardonnay? Quite possibly.

Casting my eyes on this maroon label sends me back down memory lane, to what seems like forever ago but was really only about three and a half months.  In May I was lucky enough to pay a visit to the beautiful and unspoiled Finger Lakes region in central New York State – you may remember this because I basically wrote a Lonely Planet book about the area on this site when I got back.  Our very last winery on that winery-intensive voyage was one I already knew well thanks to its expanding presence in the wine scene in Calgary some 3,600 km away:  Fox Run Vineyards, which has acted both as a gateway drug and as a proud brand ambassador for the Finger Lakes in Alberta.  They have taken to this role so well that one of their whites was an official bottle of choice at the Calgary Stampede this year; can’t get much more YYC than that.  

Fox Run is made up of 50 acres of estate vineyards due south of Geneva, New York, on the western shores of Seneca Lake, the largest and deepest of the long, thin Finger Lakes.  The site was previously a long-time dairy farm, but grapes were first planted there in 1984, with a winemaking facility following in 1990.  Present owner Scott Osborn took over in 1993 and has been a fixture since, and the crazy thing is that he isn’t even the biggest example of the winery’s clear commitment to continuity:  vineyard manager John Kaiser was responsible for first developing the vineyards back in 1984 and is still there today – I met both men when I was there.  Winemaker Peter Bell is 21 years into his Fox Run career, and Sales Manager Dan Mitchell, who is more or less a permanent resident of Canada at this point after forging a successful new northern market for the FLX over the past few years, has been there for 12.  They are a family at this point, and it shows.     Read the rest of this entry »





Luigi Bosca: 2013 Malbec Value Tiers

1 09 2016

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

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Now THAT’S a label rebrand. Thing of beauty.

Once you dive deep into the world of wine and start devoting more time and money than most people deem sane into bottles and glasses and books and storage systems, it can be a challenge sometimes to maintain a sense of discovery about larger-production brands, the workhorse wines you see on the liquor store shelves.  In part that can be valid:  some of them aren’t very good, a fact thrown into stark relief after you’ve learned about production differences and downed a quality bottle or three.  But others have found a way to keep that quality and that sense of vinous wonder despite stepping up in scale and availability, and the best of these manage to do this at an easily accessible price.  It may be as hard to create a well-made, interesting, varietally accurate bottle of 100,000-case $20 wine as it is to create a small-production luxury showpiece bottle at $100.  I’ve been able to try a few different Luigi Bosca wines over the past couple years, and they are making the former happen on a consistent basis.

I say this a lot and apologize for repeating myself, but if you want to learn about a grape or a producer or a region, buy a representative bottle and pay careful attention as you drink it.  If you REALLY want to learn a lot MORE about that grape, producer or region, buy TWO different representative bottles, drink them side by side, and note the similarities and differences.  Comparative tasting is probably the biggest educational gift you can give yourself…plus you also get to open two bottles at once, which can never be bad.  Tonight’s comparative tasting should be particularly illustrative because so much about the two Luigi Bosca Malbecs sitting in front of me are alike:  same producer, same grape, same vintage (2013), same general region (Mendoza, Malbec capital of the New World in Argentina).  What’s different?  Price points ($18 vs. $35), site specificity (general regional wine vs. single-vineyard wine from quality subregion) and grape-growing/winemaking techniques.  What shines through – the similarities or the differences? Read the rest of this entry »





Saint Clair Family Estate – Marlborough Battle

11 08 2016

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

FullSizeRender-392When you’re in a brand new wine shop or liquor store looking at a string of unfamiliar sub-$20 labels and hoping not to take a step too far wrong, the word “Marlborough” should be a huge source of relief to you.  It is the name of New Zealand’s most famous wine region, and more than maybe any other star region on Earth whose bottles you can still grab without a price cringe, it offers a very high quality floor, a strong baseline that offers confidence that even the lower-end offerings on the shelf will be somewhat well-put-together.  Marlborough, located on the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, is most renowned as the birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc’s most distinctive New World expression, that zingy, grassy, refreshingly searing style that almost anybody under 30 now associates with the grape.  Producers there have locked down on that mythical combination of quality, quantity and value that make Marlborough the safest, if at times one of the more redundant, “I’ve-never-had-this-bottle-before” picks out there.

A relatively new region on the global scale, Marlborough has been on the world’s radar since the mid-1980s, but the owners of Saint Clair Family Estate have been at the wine game longer than that.  Neal and Judy Ibbotson have been grape-growers on their estate since 1978, but previously sold off their crops to other wineries and didn’t decide to start making wine themselves until 1994.  They opted for the name “Saint Clair” for their winery because their vineyard property was initially settled by a James Sinclair back in the day; the added words “Family Estate” are not just lip service, as all three of their children are currently involved in various aspects of the business, with one of them even designing the wines’ labels.

This is an intriguing tasting, pitting Marlborough’s bread and butter Sauvignon Blanc against another white grape that’s starting to gain acclaim in the area, Chardonnay.  Enough acclaim to unseat the viticultural ruler of the region?  Let’s find out. Read the rest of this entry »





Domaines Paul Jaboulet Ainé: The Next Level

5 08 2016

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

I recently tasted and discussed the entry-level Parallele 45 lineup from the Rhone Valley’s Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aine, which showcased the red, white and pink sides of the Southern Rhone in an impressive value-priced package.  Today we kick it up a notch.

FullSizeRenderJaboulet’s Alberta portfolio is supplemented by a quartet of upper-echelon bottles from a group of distinctive quality regions scattered across the Rhone, each of which has its own character and legend to live up to, and each of which, I’m happy to report, Jaboulet and winemaker Caroline Frey reflect to a tee in these beautiful offerings.  See my prior post for more details about this historic winery and its renaissance in our market; for now, we have a lot of wine to drink.

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Wine Review: 2015 Gramercy Cellars Olsen Vineyard Rosé

19 07 2016
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Think pink.  And WA State.

This is the first time in a long time that I’ve sat down to write about a wine just because I wanted to.  I love (and am continually amazed by) the opportunity this blog has afforded me to try new bottles and attend incredible tasting events, but every once in a while it’s nice to step back and recalibrate and share the experience of a wine for the sheer joy of doing so.  And since there are few things that give me more joy in this world than opening a bottle of Gramercy Cellars (my favourite producer and a winery that currently occupies about 15% of my cellar), and since I’ve been waiting for this bottle of rosé to land for months now, this is definitely the wine for the task.

The story of Gramercy Cellars is the story of America’s youngest Master Sommelier, who went from serving, then sourcing, wines for some of the pinnacle dining establishments in various major US centres to making his own in rural Walla Walla, Washington, drawn to the desert in the Pacific Northwest by the potential he saw in the area’s Syrahs.  After graduating from Cornell University, Greg Harrington attained the Master Sommelier designation at age 26 (he was until recently the Chair of the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas and is now on the Board as a Chair Emeritus) while working in New Orleans for famed chef Emeril Lagasse.  Stints for Wolfgang Puck in Las Vegas and the B.R. Guest Restaurant group in New York followed, but a chance tasting of Walla Walla Syrah in NYC led to a trip out to Washington State, which very quickly led to Greg and his wife Pam quitting their jobs, uprooting their lives and fast forwarding a far-off retirement dream of making their own wine to the here and now.  For me at least, Gramercy is one of a small group of Washington producers that is unwrapping the state’s wine potential in real time, turning out nuanced, textured and ageworthy wines that turn New World stereotypes on their heads. Read the rest of this entry »





Domaines Paul Jaboulet Ainé: Parallele 45 Trio

6 07 2016

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

There are not many producer names as synonymous with their home region as Jaboulet and France’s Rhone Valley.  From their pinnacle bottling La Chapelle from the world-renowned hill of Hermitage (which I have had once and vividly remember to this day) down through the rest of their lineup, the wines of Domaines Paul Jaboulet Ainé are known and revered the world over, although until recently they were decidedly under-represented in our market.  That has now thankfully changed, and Alberta once again has full access to some of the best wines the Rhone has to offer.

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The Jaboulet winery was first started by Antoine Jaboulet in 1834, who then passed it to his two sons, Paul and Henri, to carry on his legacy.  Paul, the older son, gave the winery his name (the “Ainé” in “Domaines Paul Jaboulet Ainé” literally translates to “eldest”), and it stayed in the family for almost 175 years before finally being sold in 2006 to the Freys, a family of French winemakers with properties in Champagne and Bordeaux.  Caroline Frey (fittingly the eldest daughter of the family), who is now 37 and so was in her late 20s at the time of the acquisition, assumed the mantle of winemaker and has instituted sustainable vineyard practices and carried forward Jaboulet’s reputation for classic quality.

Parallele 45 is Jaboulet’s entry-level lineup of Cotes du Rhone wines, so named because the 45th parallel of northern latitude runs right through the Rhone Valley, bisects some of the Domaine’s vineyards and is only a couple kilometres from its cellars.  The bottles all bear an inscription found on a monument in the nearby village of Pont de l’Isere (which, and I am not making this up, is at 45.0040 degrees N latitude):  “Ici Commence Le Sud” – The South Starts Here.  Post de l’Isere looks to be on the southern edge of the Northern Rhone as opposed to the northern edge of the South, but the mantra still fits, and Jaboulet’s wines straddle both sides of the Valley.  I got to taste through the full Parallele 45 lineup – white, pink and red, all of which share the same $18ish wallet-friendly price tag – and see how well they carried forward the tradition of this great name. Read the rest of this entry »