Southern Rhone Unknown: Welcome To The Luberon, Part I

27 08 2021

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

The fact that there are so many poorly known wine regions in France (at least to North American drinkers) is testament to just how deeply wine is ingrained into French culture. They make the stuff almost everywhere. We’ve all heard of, exalted, and perhaps even been oversaturated by (at times) the classics, but the south of France in particular makes up a hugely diverse patchwork quilt of wine regions, grape varieties, and winemaking regulations. The broad strokes are often familiar (e.g., the Rhone Valley, Provence, Languedoc), but the specific strands that make up the quilt can be rather arcane. For example: what, and where, is the Luberon? Well, intrepid reader, you are about to find out. Feel free to drink along too, if you can, as these four bottles are just hitting the Calgary market as I write this. I will explain the ins and outs of these regions, highlight a few mysterious grape varieties, and of course provide my usual brand of obsessively detailed tasting notes for the whole lot. To the south!

We’ve got three offerings from Aureto Vignoble Winery to tackle here, plus a bonus offering from Domaine des Peyre. Aureto means “a light breeze” in an ancient Provençal dialect, a name that is supposed the evoke the winery’s ethos of breathing new life into previously disregarded (or perhaps just untapped) vineyard sites. Their first vintage was 2007. The winery itself is situated a few kilometers away from the famous Ventoux mountain known as the ‘giant of Provence’, smack dab in the middle of the Luberon AOP wine region. Aureto produces wines that hail from the Ventoux and Luberon AOPs as well as the Vaucluse and Mediterranee protected geographical indications (or IGPs). The Aureto vineyards obviously cover a decent amount of ground, 36 hectares to be exact, with 20 hectares are located around La Coquillade near Gargas and the remainder near Gordes, Oppède and Bonnieux. I know, right? I hadn’t heard of any of those nouns either.

Although all these place names seem daunting, situated as they are in a lesser-known wine region, it is probably sufficient to understand that the Luberon occupies an extensive portion of the southeast corner of the Rhone Valley, with warm and sunny but not flagrantly hot weather due to moderating influences of cold air from the Alps. Interestingly, the Luberon makes more rose wines than reds, with Matt Walls describing the latter as sometimes “lack(ing) in ripeness, concentration, and character…[but] the best are unforced, with a charming aerial, free-spirited demeanour”. He describes the whites as “beginning to forge a distinctive character that marks them out from other Rhone whites. They have a zesty brightness that makes them really drinkable aperitif-style wines- not something the Rhone does terribly well as a general rule”. Aureto grows fifteen varieties of grape, both regional classics and more obscure crossings. One wonders how these guys avoid getting spread too thin, although we are reassured that this vinous diversity yields characterful wines of place, heedless of AOP or IGP designation. The largely calcareous-clay (or marl) soil lends a palpable delicacy even as the relatively warm Mediterranean climate guarantees a fruity richness. The claim is that the “delicate balance of these two elements makes the Aureto wines quite noble”. Let us see firsthand.

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Revisiting the Classics: Joseph Drouhin Bourgogne

23 08 2021

By Peter Vetsch

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

And we’re back. After a brief summer hiatus that involved winery visits, wildfires, new home purchases, way too much packing (with much more to come) and a tiny bit of unplugging from the electronic world, we are hitting the ground running for the impending fall season and have a number of posts lined up for the next few months. Many of them, including the one scheduled after this, focus their attention on uncharted waters: new regions, grapes and bottles, the next frontier of wine exploration. One of the most beautiful things about wine appreciation is that the horizon always stretches farther, and the universe of experience and education is for all practical purposes infinite, allowing for a continual push toward the novel and unexpected. That said, every so often there is value in checking back in with the benchmarks, those classic regions, producers or expressions that have become the North Stars for a particular varietal or style. When we weigh a new vinous experience, we subconsciously measure it against those comparators that first taught us what a given grape or appellation is all about, which can anchor our expectations of what it means to successfully execute concepts like Cabernet Sauvignon, or traditional-method bubbles, or Bordeaux. When the concepts and expectations are shifted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Burgundy, one of the key benchmarks and measuring sticks is undoubtedly Joseph Drouhin.

Maison Joseph Drouhin was founded in Beaune in 1880 as a small negociant producer. Three generations later, it is a Burgundian lodestone, with property in nearly 90 different appellations in Burgundy strewn across 80 hectares located from Chablis in the north down to the Cote Chalonnaise in the south, all meticulously purchased over the years. Joseph Drouhin’s four grandchildren now run the estate, including head winemaker Veronique Drouhin-Boss, (who is also in charge of the winery’s excellent Willamette Valley venture Domaine Drouhin Oregon). Drouhin was one of the first producers in Burgundy to do away with chemical pesticides and revert to horse plowing and natural compost in the fields; now all of its estate vineyards are farmed organically and biodynamically. Their dense plantings, arranged to secure low and concentrated yields, hail from vine stocks grown in their own nursery so that the estate can retain full control over plant quality. While Drouhin’s single-vineyard expressions include some of the most rare and sought-after Crus in all of Burgundy, today we explore the baseline Bourgogne appellation wines which return Maison Joseph Drouhin to its negociant roots, using purchased fruit from longtime suppliers located all across Burgundy to craft a template for white and red Burgundy.

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Drink Chenin Day (Epilogue): South African Sampler, Part II – Wagnerians vs. Martians

29 06 2021

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Although Drink Chenin Day is now in the rearview mirror for this year, our South African wine feature is but half complete. There is one more Chenin in the mix, but here South African cool climate “up and comer” Sauvignon Blanc gets its just due, along with a few classic red varietals and at least one oddball (if one can ever truly refer to the unobjectionable-to-a-fault Pinot Grigio as “odd”…I feel this grape might merit the designation in South Africa due to a relative lack of historical presence in the region, but I digress). As South African wine expert Tim James notes in his erudite treatment of the region’s history, various problems such as ongoing racially informed inequalities, a floundering economy, and viticultural hazards such as leafroll virus may “dim the brightness of the new world of South African wine, but do not obscure it”. When Apartheid finally came crashing down in 1994, the South African wine business almost immediately made rapid improvements as the international market opened up, and South African winemakers responded with a game of catch-up that has led to some intriguing results. South Africa morphed from a region notorious for overproduction of decidedly mediocre wines to one capable of showing the legitimate wine-growing potential of the land and climate through the lens of various international grape varieties, along with one (in)famous native cross, Pinotage. In short, South Africa did finally catch the terroir bug. Although this failed to spread quite as rapidly as the aforementioned vine virus, we now live in a world of South African wine where a farmer might sell his old vine Chenin Blanc grapes to a small-scale boutique producer who honours the health of the land just much as said farmer might, as opposed to a mammoth co-operative that ultimately consigns this vinous gold to an anonymously dilute identity death amongst the hoi polloi in a huge vat (a little more on huge vats later).

Nice couple of labels here … These capture everything that is old and new about Cape wine… or something.

My personal journey with the wines of South Africa began quite early into my obsession with this greatest of beverages, as I found myself immediately taken with the oft-repeated trope that South Africa naturally bridges the gap between the finessed restraint of the classic European wine regions and the opulent fruity hedonism of the New World. Far be it for me to either gainsay or corroborate what real experts have to say on this matter, but my own experience broadly affirms this notion. If the grapes are not excessively ripe, many Cape wines (particularly whites) display a fine acid structure and even a fresh minerality that cleaves nicely with Old World sensibilities, yet there is also a concurrent sun-kissed tropical vibe that you probably won’t mistake for Chablis…such wines are not austere. I also not infrequently get a distinctive herbal earthiness, for a lack of a better general descriptor, particularly in the reds. I am intrinsically drawn toward such stylistic middle grounds, because there are multiple layers on which to focus, and such wines can surprise when one is able to simultaneously experience elements that initially seem discordant (like, say, a fresh stony minerality that co-occurs with bright fruit). One has to be careful not to get too carried away, though. The present spread of wines range in price point from around $9 to almost $30. This is a set that will capture Cape wine in a much broader sense than a wine nerd like me might typically seek to experience. A further word or two on that if I may, which will explain the rather quaint title of this post.

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Drink Chenin Day: South African Sampler, Part I

18 06 2021

By Peter Vetsch

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

As far as concocted wine holidays go, this one has a rather organic beginning. The first Drink Chenin Day, a global celebration of the wonderful and perennially underrated Chenin Blanc, was not self-created by a trade association or a PR firm, but was held in 2014 by a group of American sommeliers and winemakers. Their initiative was picked up by the Chenin Blanc Association of South Africa, which has turned the third Friday of every June into an industry-backed festival of all things Chenin. This year’s Drink Chenin theme for the big day on June 18th (this Friday) is “Chenin & Sushi”, which makes a whole lot of sense, particularly if your Chenin Blanc is in sparkling form — there’s nothing like the bready, yeasty notes of bottle-aged traditional method bubbles playing off the umami funk inherent in wasabi-tinged soy sauce and raw fish. Add in vinegar (in the rice) and citrus (in the wine, like you’d squeeze over fish in the first place) and you have something mesmerizing. I am on board with wine holiday theme years, and hope to see this trend continued by the next grape on the Hallmark docket. World Lambrusco Day is June 21st…maybe steer clear of the sushi for that one.

Photo Credit: chenin.co.za.

True story: one of the first “name” wines that I ever bought when I first started studying wine was a Chenin Blanc. I bought a book that discussed the major wine grapes of the world and listed a pinnacle producer or two for each of them. I took an interest to the Chenin Blanc entry, which described the varietal’s generous texture yet incisive acidity, and summoned up my bravery to enter the closest true wine shop to my home at the time (Calgary’s incredible Metrovino) to look for the recommended landmark Chenin winery. I swallowed hard at the $40 price tag, but walked out with a bottle of the Loire Valley’s Domaine Huet Le Mont Sec. Fifteen years, thousands of bottles and a WSET education later, I write a wine blog that I don’t have time for on evenings and weekends. And I still love Chenin. That bottle pitched me into wine headfirst.

For Drink Chenin Day 2021, we have an array of South African offerings on display that are…largely not Chenin Blanc. However, *spoiler alert* those that are clearly stand out from the crowd, as this Southern Hemispheric nation has embraced this grape (long known as “Steen” there, though less so now) more than most other countries and has clearly reaped the rewards of that allegiance. South Africa has undergone a quality renaissance recently that has largely been tied to improved farming practices and the avoidance of pesky vine viruses, so it is absolutely worth another visit for those whose prior memories are half a decade old or more. Some of the most pleasant vinous surprises I’ve had over the past few years have hailed from this burgeoning wine nation…and that’s without diving too far into their Chenin supply. (Pro tip: try the Raats Dolomite Cab Franc.) Raising a large glass of Testalonga Chenin to you all this weekend! Find some raw fish!

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Calgary (Virtual) Wine Life: Vina Chocalan Tasting with Fernando Espina

6 06 2021

By Peter Vetsch and Raymond Lamontagne

Perhaps the only good thing about the state of our current COVID world is that you can still attend a wine tasting even if you miss it. Scheduling conflicts prevented our attendance at the recent portfolio tasting that winemaker Fernando Espina of Chile’s Vina Chocalan ran for key Canadian markets, but like everything else these days, the tasting was virtual, and thankfully for us it was recorded for posterity. A couple of days and a bottle delivery later, we were in business, and we were extremely thankful not to miss out on an introduction to a tremendously compelling winery honouring its maritime climate to the fullest extent.

Vina Chocalan is a multi-generational family winery that came into the wine business from a unique parallel industry. You hear a lot of stories about long-time grape farmers who finally take the next step with the fruits of their labour and try their hand at winemaking; you hear far fewer about people who instead come to wine from the glass in. Vina Chocalan’s Toro family owns the second biggest glass bottle factory in Chile and has supplied bottles to wineries around the world for six decades. In the late 1990s, they decided that they should put something in their own bottles themselves, and a grand project was born, focusing initially on the coastal western side of Chile’s Maipo Valley. While the Maipo is the heart of Chilean viticulture, in particular anchoring the nation’s red wine production, no one had planted a vineyard along the Valley’s Coastal Mountain Range until Vina Chocalan did so in 1998, planting 114 hectares out of a 350-hectare plot located a scant 35 kilometres from the Pacific Ocean ahead of their first commercial production in 2001. The next year, they took a step even further into the unknown, establishing a second estate and 25 hectares of white-focused plantings by the village of Malvilla in the San Antonio Valley, located almost due west from the Maipo and only FOUR kilometres from the Pacific. This extremely cool-climate site is a completely different expression of Chilean wine, and a reminder that the best wines nowadays are often made right at the edge of the line.

Hegemonic producer Concha y Toro, one of the 10 largest wineries in the world, might have had something to say about it if the Toro family had opted to name their nascent winery after themselves. They instead opted for their less-litigious moniker Vina Chocalan, which means “yellow blossoms”, after a prevalent local thorn bush flower in the vineyards. Our introduction to the winery came in the form of a half-dozen bottles ranging across both the Maipo and San Antonio estates, whites and reds that emphatically confirm this is a producer to know. Three bottles each, a new universe to explore. Buckle up.

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Distinctive Australian Whites (Almost)

30 04 2021

By Peter Vetsch

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

I had it all planned out. Australia is a red wine country, but is developing pockets of renown for dramatic and exciting whites that were worth their own dedicated post. One pioneering winery Down Under with particular experience in one such white grape had recently decided to create a new international vinous holiday as an ode to it, and I thought I had a bottle of that very variety from that very producer tucked away in the cellar. Kismet. My theme was set, my plan ready, my mind willing. It came…sort of close to working out. While you will quickly see the monkey wrench thrown into the works, the bottles below, and Australia’s burgeoning white wine culture generally, remain well worth highlighting and supporting. In addition to the new and classic styles of Southern Hemisphere white discussed in this post, don’t sleep on Hunter Valley Semillon (especially if you can wait 10+ years on it), Adelaide Hills Gruner Veltliner (yes, there is such a thing), Margaret River or Tasmanian Chardonnay (dangerously close to the very best out there), sweet Rutherglen Muscat, and all the other regional white wonders that Australia has to offer. It’s a world of possibilities in a single country, for which the below trio of nearly-whites offers a tantalizing glimpse.

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Malbec Maelstrom, Part II: Malbec World Day

17 04 2021

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Happy Malbec World Day! Hopefully you read Peter’s review of the first seven bottles of this 14-bottle bacchanal, so that you are up to speed on this day’s origins. I’m certainly ready to do my part. I unabashedly enjoy Argentinian Malbec, even if in some examples I can struggle with its ubiquity, its oft-simplistic bent toward pure hedonism, and (said another way) its purple Popsicle crowd-pleasing “Golden Retriever of wine” stylings. Crack a frown once in a while, will ya? Still, Argentina is rife with high altitude wine regions where true greatness is possible. I would propose that much potential remains to be realized, particularly as some middle path between confectionary and brooding smoke is hewn. Today, though, we can and should celebrate what a decidedly unique wine culture has already delivered. I don’t think the vintners in Argentina who decided to take a chance on these extremely inclement sites ever dreamed that international superstardom was possible. Or that Malbec would be the vehicle to get them there.

Malbec likely originated in Cahors, where it goes by the name “Cot”. Apparently the “black wines” from this region, an obvious reference to Malbec’s intense colour, were sometimes used to add pigmentation and body to the wines of Bordeaux, at least until Cot itself made the jump to that famous region in the late 1800s. The handle “Malbeck” apparently refers to a vintner who wound up cultivating the grape throughout the Medoc region of Bordeaux. A half-sibling of Merlot, Malbec (which at some juncture lost the “k”) is a vigorous vine that can easily yields large crops of relatively watery berries, particularly when clones are selected for such productively, a feature that according to Stephen Brook led to Malbec’s drastic decline as a Bordeaux variety. Fear not, however. Malbec was introduced to Argentina by French agricultural engineer Michel Pouget in 1868, where is yielded smaller, tighter clusters of berries than in Bordeaux. Pouget seemed to have chosen better clones, or at the very least Argentina’s extreme viticultural climate was just what was needed to resurrect Malbec into the dark-fruited, violet-scented, slightly gamey wines we can enjoy today. As I write this, it is 8:00 am here in Calgary. What can I say? I’m thirsty, and it’s Malbec World Day.

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Malbec Maelstrom, Part I: Malbec World Day

15 04 2021

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes]

When somebody sends you 14 bottles of Argentinian wine and instructs you to celebrate Malbec World Day, you pop some corks and celebrate the damn day. This global vinous event, which falls on April 17th (this Saturday), was created by the Wines of Argentina to showcase the country’s signature grape and celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2021. For the first nine of those years, I wrongly thought it was called “World Malbec Day” and I’m still struggling to recalibrate. April 17th was the date the first agricultural school was founded in Argentina back in 1853, the year that Malbec first hit South American shores. Nearly 150 years later, steeped in local history and tradition, it became a sudden massive worldwide hit. Alongside Australian Shiraz, Argentina’s own ex-French showcase export rose from international obscurity to overwhelming commercial renown thanks to its combination of bold, accessible fruity flavours and equally accessible price tags. Argentina exported 128 million litres of Malbec last year, maintaining its status as a world phenomenon.

Note to self: Malbec World Day, NOT World Malbec Day.

Like I did with Shiraz before it, I wonder about Argentinian Malbec’s next act. Its rise has been meteoric, but nothing sustains momentum like this forever, and when the next affordable and approachable varietal trend hits and the spotlight dims slightly, Malbec will have a choice to make. It has captured popular acclaim and is yanked off the retail shelf more quickly than most of its competitors. What does it want to be next? Certain shining examples are testing the limits of quality and identity in Argentina; is that the play, exploring the intricacies of the thrillingly unique altitude-induced mountain climates of Mendoza, or is slaking the thirst of the world at an affordable price a sufficient goal? As a wine-growing region, Argentina has a series of thrilling advantages, from massive diurnal shifts to easy access to extraordinarily old vines; in a world that is constantly seeking out extreme viticulture, for climatic or more adventurous reasons, the country’s entire growing area screams it. What’s it going to do with it? Let’s raise seven glasses of Malbec as we wait to find out, and Ray will bring us home later in the week with another seven.

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Culmina Winery: The Bordeaux Varietals

9 04 2021

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

It is with great pleasure that I pick up where Peter recently left off, following up his batch of Culmina curiosities by exploring a tidy package of three Bordeaux varietals from this esteemed producer, all hailing from the same 2016 vintage. This affords a unique opportunity to compare the three grapes across the same vintage conditions, and as it turns out, with vineyard held constant as well. All grapes featured here come from Culmina’s estate Arise Bench, a southeast-facing site along British Columbia’s vaunted “Golden Mile”. Culmina founder Don Triggs subjected this site to a bevy of temperature, water retention, and soil analyses to determine that it shared many similarities with famous sites in Bordeaux. The stage seemed set for making these varieties shine in the Okanagan, but not before further precision was sought in terms of a detailed mapping of terroir variations within the Arise Bench area itself. This designation of “microblocks” means that grapes can be meticulously calibrated to viticultural parameters in order to help ensure a good balance between ripeness and fresh acidity. This sort of obsessive attention to detail has long drawn me to this winery, as does its willingness to pair the classic wine heritage that underpins Bordeaux-style red wines with a trailblazing spirit, as Peter recently documented. Let’s investigate the classics end of the equation.

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Culmina Winery: Novelties and Rarities

31 03 2021

By Peter Vetsch

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

Well, I would say “happy spring!”, but this week has already seen a winter storm warning, wind chills down to -20, ice gales loud enough to wake you up at night and a fresh dump of new snow. “Happy Calgary spring!” seems more appropriate. As we head into what is ostensibly a season of rebirth and renewal, of overhauls and spring cleaning, the time is apt to check in on how a winery that has long been followed by this blog is approaching its own clean slate. Culmina Family Estate Winery was sold by founders Don and Elaine Triggs to Arterra Wines Canada in mid-2019, who appear to have approached their new venture with twin goals: (1) maintain the Triggs family’s legacy and vision for these meticulously studied and planned-out lands, and (2) use this existing knowledge and ambition to move the winery forward in a way that expands its reach and identity. Not easy things to try to do at the same time.

Perhaps luckily for Arterra, Culmina was already stretching and broadening its lineup when the new owners came on board. A string of additional bottlings outside of Culmina’s original core, whether as part of the standard release set or as part of the winery’s unique Number Series offerings, introduced a wave of variety while hewing to the estate-based philosophy on which the winery was founded, elegantly bridging the transition into Culmina’s new era and giving consumers tasting experiences that hinted at the winery’s own second wave. For each of these bottles below, it’s a clean slate for both the wines and their maker.

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Vinnified: A Great Canadian Wine Club in the Making?

26 03 2021

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with wine clubs. This is despite belonging to several. I value freedom of choice. I don’t necessarily love having to select bottles form a constrained number of options as compared to a shop, particularly if the lineup is purely crowd-pleasing and humdrum. On the other hand, a well-curated wine club can be a godsend: one doesn’t have to exert much effort to get a cool haul, particularly if the club is not afraid to offer some libations that tread well off the beaten path. My personal preference is for a roster of old school (albeit perhaps lesser-known) regional offerings coupled with some avant garde, dare I say edgy, selections. Not much to ask, is it? Meet Vinnified.

Vinnified was co-founded by Prince Edward Island-based Andrew Murray and Montreal wine consultant Dave LeBoeuf. Although the website states that the wine club brings “Canada’s best wines” directly to your door, digging a little deeper reveals that the intent is to highlight small-scale producers who identify as farmers rather than manufacturers. One can receive either a 3-pack (for $119) or a 6-pack (for $235) of selected wines once per month, for a fixed price that appears to include shipping charges. You can adjust your monthly subscription at any time to adjust your incoming bottle load. The reach is nationwide. Although Ontario provides the initial focus, the plan is to draw from BC and Nova Scotia producers some time this year. The sleek website is user-friendly and clearly designed to port one quickly and efficiently into the fold. Perhaps the first rule about wine club is that you do not talk (a lot) about wine club. However, some other press materials evoke concepts like “quaint” to describe the wines, which needless to say piques my curiosity. There is a desire to disseminate at least a modicum of wackiness. The first bottle showcased here from my monthly example subscription set provides more than said modicum.

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Wine Review: Friends of Oceania

3 02 2021

By Peter Vetsch

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

Since we can’t travel right now (without being wildly irresponsible, at least), I find myself lingering more in the memories of places I’ve been. We went to Australia and New Zealand on our honeymoon in 2008, and were so smitten with the latter that we went back again, this time with kids in tow, for our 10th anniversary in 2018. Obviously a return voyage in seven more years will have to be in the works; rarely have I felt more at home in a place so far away. Our more recent NZ vacation featured a day trip through the South Island Sauvignon Blanc wonderland of Marlborough, which is both more pastoral and more compact than I would have expected in light of the extraordinary production figures emanating from the region, enough to flood global retail shelves with a piercingly distinctive take on an otherwise broadly familiar grape.

The visit included a stop at Greywacke, to me a pinnacle producer of the region, started by a man who found fame in wine and then reimagined the pursuit, this time on a more personal, artisanal scale. I got to show my sons grapevines, one of whom was old enough to take a passing interest in the subject. He has a special affinity to the winery that bears his name, from a country that he has yet to see, in a part of Australia that I have yet to visit myself. Vasse Felix will always be royalty in our household by word association, aided by the fact that their entire lineup is consistently exceptional, never chasing trends, always honest to its vision and its surroundings. That Vasse Felix’s entry-level wines bear the name “Filius” or “son of”, is hopefully as heartwarming to fathers of Felixes everywhere and not just to me. I currently feel like I would love to take off to ANYWHERE, but I would especially love to be back on this side of the world. For the time being, I will use these bottles as transport instead.

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Burrowing Owl: Reds of Prey

14 01 2021

By Peter Vetsch

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

So it’s been a while. I think this two and a half month gap between posts probably represents Pop & Pour’s longest lull since I started the blog almost ten years ago. Blame work stress, or COVID malaise, or blogging burnout or existential dread or some combination thereof, but I have found it a struggle to write recently and the site has suffered as a result. However, I have come to realize that the longer I went without posting, the more I fell back into doing nothing remotely beneficial after tiring days, which just exacerbated the funk and malaise and made me feel worse. I’m not someone who can do nothing for long and feel good about it, and I failed to recognize the benefit of this creative outlet until I stopped using it. So cue my 2021 New Year’s resolution (other than to get vaccinated, hopefully as soon as humanly possible, and to act like a responsible adult until I do): get back to the blog. Game on.

This is the final instalment of a three-piece, two-author review saga of the always-dependable wines from Burrowing Owl, starting with my initial assessment of the winery’s carefree Calliope side label, then turning to Ray’s foray into the first part of the Burrowing Owl lineup, and culminating with tonight’s look at a couple of the winery’s top reds, the Merlot and the flagship Meritage. Through its long Okanagan history, Burrowing Owl has been known for the big red portion of its portfolio first and foremost, thanks to its enduring determination to craft accessible, powerful versions of Bordeaux varietals in BC, even back when it was an extraordinary challenge to do so consistently. Vineyard age (their estate vineyard is now nearly 30 years old) and honed-in farming and winemaking techniques have dialled in this objective, while also making room for compelling white wines and other offerings. But the heart never strays too far from home, even if the body explores new horizons.

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Calgary (Virtual) Wine Life: Taylor Fladgate 1970 Single Harvest Port Release

29 10 2020

By Peter Vetsch

How’s this for an on-brand 2020 story? There is no event on the annual blog tasting calendar that I look forward to more than the release of Taylor Fladgate’s latest 50 year-old single-harvest Port. Not coincidentally, there is also no event that has been covered more on this blog — this will be the fifth consecutive year that I’ve been fortunate enough to post about the yearly half-century-old release. However, this year, quite understandably, an in-person tasting was not in the cards, so for the safety of all involved, it was held virtually over Zoom. I couldn’t make the Zoom tasting due to work commitments, but fortunately it was recorded for posterity…until it wasn’t. The recording got technologically tripped up and dissipated into the ether along with the rest of our hopes and dreams for this year, so I missed the event entirely. Thankfully for me, these wines speak for themselves; and to the credit of all those who made it happen, despite it all, the story of these amazing wines will continue to be told, even in the most forgettable of years.

Taylor Fladgate has been around for over three centuries and has access to an astonishing array of library Ports from its own cellars, which have been expanded by way of a number of acquisitions of lesser-known Port houses, particularly Wiese & Krohn in 2013, a producer with its own vast holdings of back-vintage stock. While often older barrel-aged Ports are used as blending components for 30 Year or 40 Year Tawny Ports with an Indication of Age (the number on the bottle represents the average age of the blended Ports inside, allowing both older and younger tawnies to come together in any given release), Fladgate longed to do something more memorable with these liquid historical snapshots, and it turned to the flexible Colheita designation as the vehicle to make it happen. “Colheita” simply means “harvest”, and officially the term applies to any Port from a single harvest vintage that has been oxidatively aged in wood for at least 7 years. There is no maximum aging period for the designation, so in order to go beyond 40 Year Tawny, Taylor Fladgate began releasing limited edition Very Old Single Harvest Colheita Ports on their 50th anniversary from vintage starting back in 2014. These thrillingly memorable wines demonstrate the near-eternal longevity and ageability of good Tawny Ports; protected by both potent sugar and alcohol levels, they have been exposed to the rigours of an oxidative environment for decades before bottling, rendering them near-impervious to further degradation. This is the seventh release of these half-century-old masterpieces, and each one has been a thrilling glance at an increasingly distant history.

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Burrowing Owl: Avian Miscellany

26 10 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Oh man. September and October are tough months, at least this year. I dislike keeping people waiting for new entries on here, particularly after I tasted my way through some bottles with the purest of intentions to share my thoughts in a timely fashion. When you work in health care and run a business during COVID, however, it is quite likely that some of your good intentions around pastimes are going to fall by the wayside, at least temporarily. It is fortunate that I take decent notes and have a good gustatory memory. Burrowing Owl…where did we leave off? Oh yes. This one will be a bit of a grab bag offering that details the possible king of the Calliope value line, two whites, and a lone medium-bodied red whose provenance I particularly favour. Let’s delve in.

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