PnP Panel Tasting: Weird Canada – BC Carmenere Supremacy (Plus Special Guests)

21 09 2019

By Peter Vetsch & Raymond Lamontagne

It all started with Carmenere.  It snowballed from there.

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Sometime last year we became aware that there was at least one winery growing and making Carmenere in the Okanagan.  (I am now aware that this has been the case since at least 2005, but allow me my joy of discovery nonetheless.)  Then we were told of another.  And then another.  Then we decided, emphatically though without particular reason, that we MUST gather and taste all of these Canadian Carmeneres, even though we had no real plan for achieving this goal — it will not surprise you to learn that these idiosyncratic bottles are small-production, not in the Alberta market and often produced for winery club members only.  Then one such winery club member, who I had never previously met, happened to be IN the Okanagan while chatting with us about this now-fanatical obsession and picked up a couple of the Carms for us, along with some of the other weird vinous glory you will see below.  Then another local benefactor, who I had also never met, traded us the final piece of our Carmenere puzzle from her cellar.  Thanks to the kindness of electronic friends, we now had ourselves a proper comparative tasting, an honest-to-goodness BC Carmenere showdown.  The first ever?  I can hardly believe it myself.

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The Carm contenders:  Black Hills Estate Winery, which normally plays it fairly strait-laced but which allowed itself a foray into the wacky with this Club-only offering; Moon Curser Vineyards, whose entire portfolio is dedicated to oddities like this which fall outside of the Canadian mainstream (stay tuned for a future Panel Tasting when we dive into their Touriga Nacional and Dolcetto, among others); and Lariana Cellars, which has made Carmenere its signature red and a focal point of its streamlined offerings.  In addition to the main event wines, we couldn’t help but test-drive some other intriguing bottles from these producers, as well as a…Canadian Brunello?  Frankly, if you start a tasting premise at “Canadian Carmenere”, why stop there?  Tyler, Ray and I were born for this.  Bring it on. Read the rest of this entry »

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Spain, Old and New, Part III: The Wines of Vina Real

9 09 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Nearly a year on from the start of this review set, through three different seasons of write-ups, I am closing in on the full story of the Cune wine lineup.  We started with the mothership itself, the Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana (C.V.N.E.), the Riojan stalwart whose expressions cross four separate brands.  We then ascended to Imperial, the Cune adjunct focused on Reserva- and Gran Reserva-level wines from the top vineyards of Rioja Alta, the core of what most people know of Rioja as a wine region.  Tonight we move from the centre of the heartlands to Rioja’s outskirts, and from the centre of attention to a group of producers tired of being overlooked.  Cune’s Vina Real label is rooted in grapes sourced from the ever-ignored yet consistently impressive Rioja Alavesa.

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This least-known Riojan subregion lies in the north-central portion of Rioja, bordered by the Ebro River to the south and the Sierra de Cantabria mountain range to the north, which protects the vineyards from the cool coastal winds above.  It is both the smallest and the most elevated of Rioja’s three sub-zones, its hilly and terraced vineyards influenced by the nearby mountains, its 40 x 8 km surface area a relative pittance compared to its much more expansive siblings Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja.  Being the smallest and most neglected in the family also tends to make you the scrappiest:  Rioja Alavesa has recently, and ever more vocally, been seeking to carve out its own identity within Spain’s most prominent wine appellation.  There has been some talk of leaving Rioja altogether, which has not been all that well-received by the region’s governing body.  Rioja Alavesa is craving respect and recognition, and that is part of what Vina Real seeks to deliver.

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The winery is named for its vineyards’ proximity to the Camino Real, the “Royal Road”, a renowned traditional highway; its relation to the Camino de Santiago walking trail which crosses all of northern Spain is not immediately clear to me, though that pilgrimage road goes right through Logrono, the closest city to the winery.  Much of my discussion of the Cune-brand wines has alighted on that intersection between traditional and modern approaches that they seem to exemplify, but in none of Cune’s labels is this more clear than Vina Real.  The winery is part of Rioja Alavesa’s historical fabric, being among the first in the area to employ barrel aging for wines (which is now a hallmark of the whole Rioja region) and to make Crianza wines for earlier release.  But its present incarnation is unabashedly modern:  the magnificent new puck-shaped winery building, constructed out of cedar and inaugurated by the king of Spain himself in 2004, was designed as one of the first gravity-flow operations in the country and has bored out the surrounding hilltop to create state-of-the-art underground cellars.  Even this cutting-edge operation does not lose sight of its past, however:  the winery’s circular shape (as seen on Vina Real’s labels) is an homage to a traditional large Riojan fermenting vat, a physical representation of the old-meets-new dichotomy that defines this set of producers.  Do the wines follow suit? Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Road 13’s Rhone-ish Reds

29 08 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Welcome back to Road 13, with my red follow-up of Peter’s prior glowing praise for the white offerings from this Okanagan stalwart. I admit that some inevitable pangs of envy rose up when I heard about just how delicious Rousanne can be in the hands of this  particular producer. Nevertheless, I was pleased to have my opportunity with the reds, one another classic Rhone riff in the form of a GSM blend, the other a more unique joining of a classic stalwart from the same region (the “S” in the “GSM”) with Malbec, a Bordeaux grape that unexpectedly found its fortunes in the New World.

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Road 13’s labels, and indeed its very name, conjure up some pleasant associations for this country boy who has for some time now been irrevocably relocated to the big city. The name came about when the operation then known as Golden Mile Cellars was sold to Pam and Mick Luckhurst in 2003, with the new proprietors wishing to emphasize the more specific location of their winery and the three vineyard sites providing them fruit. A shift to terroir-driven wines occurred, buoyed by an earnest desire to celebrate the region’s rich agricultural history. A natural born gardener, Mick hated just sitting around and loves collecting farm equipment. Pam brought bookkeeping expertise and a natural aptitude as a wine taster. Both sought to learn viticulture, a process they readily admit continued throughout their stewardship of the winery, yet the result of this humbling journey has still been numerous winemaking awards. The last Road 13 red I had, a 2011 Syrah-Mourvedre opened in 2018,  positively dazzled. Hopefully these provide more of the same. Read the rest of this entry »





By The Glass: Domaine de Pellehaut’s Harmonie de Gascogne

18 08 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Back!!  I have returned from overseas, feeling as refreshed as one can after multiple weeks of intercontinental travel with two kids under 9, and ready once more to dive into the glass and find words to go with it.  This return post takes me somewhere I have not often gone in the world of wine, somewhere that does not usually immediately cross my mind as a source of bottle options:  that broader informal wine zone in southwest France aptly yet uninspiringly called “Southwest France”.  (Admittedly, if all regions were so named, learning about wine would be SO much easier.)  Within the Southwest, an area nestled roughly in between Bordeaux and Languedoc-Roussillon, lies IGP Cotes de Gascogne, a quality wine area best known by a wide margin for a spirit.  As it turns out, the borders of the region precisely mirror those of Armagnac, although its production rules are far more open-ended on the non-distilled side of the spectrum.

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If you don’t recognize the term “IGP”, you’re not alone:  it didn’t exist when I first started studying wine with any seriousness back in 2011.  Previously wines within this classification were known as “Vin de Pays”, or “country wine”, a step up from the lowly standards-free French table wine called “Vin de France”, displaying some regional quality and character but without quite the level of history or distinction befitting a full AOC (now AOP) classification.  “IGP” stands for “Indication Géographique Protégée” (Protected Geographical Indication), which, while much harder to remember than “Vin de Pays”, probably communicates its purpose a little bit better.  The AOP-lite rules surrounding the IGP designation allow for a little more freedom when it comes to grape selection and production methods, freedom that tonight’s producer uses to its full advantage, although the Rolodex of permitted IGP grapes for the Cotes de Gascogne (19 in all, 11 red and 8 white) already seems broad enough to permit significant latitude in what comes out of this area.  It is mostly a white hotbed, with well over 80% of vineyard area planted to white grapes, which is no surprise given that these are the focus of Armagnac as well.  Two of Armagnac’s four prominent standard-bearers, Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano) and Colombard, are protagonists below.

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Domaine de Pellehaut is one of those remarkable under-the-radar family-run European estates that has been passed down from generation to generation since the 1700s, is firmly rooted in carefully tended old-vine sites, produces remarkably honest and vivid wines, yet would have remained in complete obscurity from international audiences without amplification from a more recognized voice.  That voice in this case is Maison Sichel, owners of Bordeaux’s Chateau d’Angludet and part owners of Chateau Palmer, which in addition to its own wares markets the wines of other worthy partner estates, including this one, without ripping their owners’ names from the front label.  Brothers Mathieu and Martin Béraut tend the 300+ year-old Pellehaut sites and make the wine, which has gained critical attention yet suffers primarily from the fact that it doesn’t hail from one of the dozen or so major European wine regions that casual drinkers recognize.  These kinds of outsiders, it turns out, are where the bulk of the bargains can be found.  Domaine de Pellehaut’s “Harmonie de Gascogne” collection is a prime example. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: The Reds of Castoro de Oro

14 08 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Welcome back for part 2 of my coverage of a cross-section of the current lineup of the Golden Mile’s Castoro de Oro, following on the heels of last week’s assessment of a trio of their whites. Those wines were fun, clean examples of how a savvy winemaker can produce something that is capable of appealing to a rather broad swath of the wine-drinking public. One can simply enjoy such wines in a purely casual fashion, equal parts pleasant taste and social lubricant, or one can, likely on a different occasion, plumb and probe for something deeper. Will the reds (and a rosé) paint a similar picture?

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Before I attempt to answer that question, a few words about the winery name (see my last post for more about the vineyard conditions). The name “Castoro de Oro” is a tribute to how Canada was founded and gives a nod to our majestic country’s national animal. Yes, the pictures on the label and your phrasebook Spanish do not deceive you: “Castoro de Oro” really does mean “golden beaver”, with a nod towards Canada’s roots in the fur trade.  Back in our colonial days, beaver pelts were deemed “soft gold” because they were in tremendous demand on the market. Additionally, it was none other than beavers who created the small lake that helps provide a key moderating influence on the climate at Castoro de Oro’s vineyards. The top hat seen on the winery mascot above embodies the fashion that was vaunted at the time of the soft gold rush. Truly, what fantastic branding. Ultimately, though, what matters to me is in the bottle. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: The Whites of Castoro de Oro

31 07 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

It’s alive. The blog, that is. Peter is enjoying some much needed R & R overseas and got to sample hybrid grape Solaris for the first time. Don’t get too jealous of that particular detail. Although I’d welcome a chance to add this one to my life list, apparently we aren’t missing out on all that much. Meanwhile, let yours truly guide you through another Pop & Pour Okanagan run that will span two posts and six wines. I’ve enjoyed tasting these, particularly as I reflect on how this family owned winery has seamlessly melded careful viticulture, whimsical yet clever branding, and an earnest appeal to passion and hard work. All this yields a singular focus on making award-winning handcrafted wines from grape to glass. It seems warranted to begin with the whites. But first, some further background.

IMG_E0849The Castoro de Oro estate vineyard was planted in 1980. Located in the esteemed Golden Mile, this site seems engineered by Mother Nature to deliver full ripeness in the grapes, yet not at the expense of acidity. Here we have vines facing southeast to provide ample sunshine, with the grapes also growing on a slope right next to a lake, factors that together work to mitigate any effects of frost. This is all well and good, but too much heat can cause flabby wines that lack precision. Fortunately, a mountain provides evening shade that permits the grapes to cool off during the summer, preserving tartness and resulting in a key balance between acid and ripe fruit flavours. This is particularly important for white wines, for which acidity is the only source of freshness and structure (well… for the most part. Tannins from wine skins and barrels sometimes play a small role).

Enter Bruno Kelle and (Calgarian) Stella Schmidt, self-described “partners in life and wine-making”. They acquired this site and launched the Castoro de Oro winery in 2006, farmers who like to make wines that most people can afford. I can jive with that, although I can find it hard to relinquish the role of “guy who is supposed to assess these wines in a serious way according to certain criteria”. I’m going to wear that black hat here, because to some extent I have to… AND, I’m also going to attempt to appreciate these wines based on the winemakers’ own vision. Here we go. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Road 13’s Rare Whites

12 07 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

This may be the last post from me for a while, as I imminently prepare to head off of the continent for a little bit on a proper Viking vacation.  (If anybody knows a great wine shop in Copenhagen or Billund, let me know immediately.)  But fear not, Ray will still be here to keep the blog alive for the rest of July, and I have one last gasp of Canadiana in me before I bolt the country.  Tonight’s trio of whites from the Golden Mile Bench’s Road 13 Vineyards makes me realize that I should have been following this winery more closely before now, but I will try to make up for lost time.

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Clean and classic labels, eye-opening wines – but not sure about 2018’s italics.

Road 13 has had an interesting last 12 months, as it was named the Winery of the Year at Wine Align’s National Wine Awards of Canada in 2018 and was then promptly sold before the year was out.  Long-time proprietors Pam and Mick Luckhurst, who acquired the winery (then-called Golden Mile Cellars) and were responsible for first renaming it and then building it into a well-respected national brand, decided to move into retirement (the winery itself having been their first, not-that-relaxing-as-it-turns-out attempt to retire) and accepted an offer from Mission Hill’s / Mark Anthony Brands’ Anthony von Mandl to purchase the company.  The winemaking team remains intact, however, as does the winery’s vision and present focus on the potential of Rhone varieties in British Columbia, an endeavour that I back fully, having had enough marvellous Okanagan Syrah recently to make me wonder what else from the south of France would flourish here.  As it turns out, the white Rhone side of the equation is just as compelling as the red.  But we start with a scion of a Road 13 classic. Read the rest of this entry »








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