Calgary Wine Life: Vin Room with @TylerOnWine

11 12 2011

My real life, my wine life and my Twitter life collided awesomely this weekend, as I was lucky enough to spend Saturday afternoon tasting and discussing various wines with fellow vino blogger Tyler Philp over meat, cheese and tapas at Vin Room, located just south of downtown Calgary.  Tyler is the founder of North of 9 Fine Wine and its corresponding wine blog, an official Sommelier, and a prior PnP collaborator:  he’s the other half of the Tasting In Stereo simul-review posting that appeared on both our sites back in August, something that will hopefully be a semi-recurring PnP/North of 9 joint feature.  Outside of his vinous pursuits, Tyler is an Airbus pilot, and it was thanks to his day job that he had 24 hours or so to kill in YYC.  Given the chance to put a face to a Twitter handle, I jumped at the opportunity to meet for lunch.  But where to take a wine-obsessed visitor to my fine city?

Foreshadowing Cork Rating: 8/10 (The cork for our dessert wine below - love the horizontal writing, love the lion, love the cork.)

I opted for Vin Room on 4th Street and 23rd Avenue SW, partly because I’d never been before and wanted to try it, and partly because they’re probably the best bet in the city for getting a wide range of wines by the glass.  Even better, as we discovered, is that all the by-the-glass wines are also available in tasting-sized portions, which meant that instead of having 1 or 2 glasses over the course of lunch, I got to have 5 or 6 (without having to stumble home).  This “small glasses” approach worked amazingly with the small plates that made up Vin Room’s food menu:  you don’t normally expect to get to pair every dish of a tapas meal with a proper wine match, but believe me, it’s a treat.

Tyler and I didn’t get too engrossed in over-analytic pairing, instead opting for a duo of whites with a cheese and charcuterie platter, then a duo of reds with flank steak and confit potatoes, and rounding everything off with a half bottle of Sauternes that Tyler was kind enough to bring along (future lunch companions take note).  I didn’t spend too much time writing up taste descriptors for each wine, but here’s the breakdown of what we had and our general impressions of each:


Chenin Blanc and Gruner Veltliner...I feel wine-nerdy already.

1.  2009 Domaine Huet “Le Haut Lieu” Sec Vouvray (Loire, France – $5.25 per 2 oz.):  I love Vouvray, a white wine region in France’s Loire Valley that produces what may be the world’s best expression of the Chenin Blanc grape; Huet is widely considered to be Vouvray’s top producer.  I have a soft spot for Huet wines because his 2005 “Le Mont” Sec Vouvray was one of the first higher-end wines I ever bought; I took it right home and tried it and instantly became a lifelong disciple.  The 2009 Le Haut Lieu that we had looks to be an excellent restaurant value:  I would expect that it retails for $40ish in Calgary, but Vin Room had the bottle listed for $65, a shockingly reasonable markup.  We paid more for the privilege of having it 2 ounces at a time, but it did not disappoint, with an elegant and austere mineral-laden nose full of green fruit, petrol and wet rocks providing a delicate lead-in to a bright, explosive palate laced with honey, lime and apples.  The Huet’s crackling acidity roared to a crescendo as I swallowed each sip and ensured a pure, crisp finish.  A fantastic wine that will be way better in 5 years, and one that you definitely have to try if you’re at VR.

2.  2009 Rabl Kaferberg Gruner Veltliner (Kamptal, Austria – $4.75 per 2 oz.):  This was a great wine to have side by side the Vouvray, because it was the same in some ways and different in others.  It was similarly pale in colour and also featured ripe apple and honey flavours, but it also had that classic Gruner peppery streak and plastic-y, rubber-elastic-y aroma that never ceases to intrigue me.  It was a little more languid in texture than the Huet and featured more tropical fruit on the palate (pineapple especially), but still had a strong underlying structure.  This was a fun one for me to try because I had a bottle of its older brother earlier this year — click here for my review of the 2004 Rabl Kaferberg GV.  If nothing else, look at the picture of the glass of ’04 in my prior review and compare it to the pic of the glass of ’09 above; the older wine is about ten times darker after five years of aging!  Tyler and I both agreed that the Gruner was good but the Vouvray was better.


Tyler's Rioja (L) was a winner; my WA red (R) didn't quite stand up.

1.  2004 Conde de Valdemar Gran Reserva (Rioja, Spain – $5.00 per 2 oz.):  Tyler, as I found out, is a huge Rioja fan, and I didn’t need much convincing to include one in our red flight.  Traditional-style Rioja is one of the few red wines that sees extended barrel and bottle aging before release, and that maturation time creates a completely different drinking experience from your garden variety red, with mellowed delicate fruit and a myriad of integrated secondary and tertiary flavours.  The Conde de Valdemar Rioja that we had was a Gran Reserva, which indicates that it was subject to the longest minimum aging requirements of any Spanish wine (at least 5 years pre-release, with at least 2 of those in barrel), but this one surprised me by continuing to retain an impressive amount of primary fruit, both fresh (raspberry, cherry Nibs) and dried (date, fig).  The fruit was balanced perfectly by age- and oak-driven flavours of almond/nuts, cola, earth and dust, although that last note might have been influenced by the significant amount of sediment that I had in my glass (I must have gotten the end of the bottle).  Conde de Valdemar is one of Tyler’s go-to producers, and now I can see why.

2.  2008 Andrew Rich “Mesalliance” Columbia Valley (Washington, USA – $5.00 per 2 oz.):  No surprise, I represented the WA with my red wine pick, opting for a red blend from Andrew Rich, whose “Les Vignes En Face” Syrah thoroughly impressed me back in July.  The Mesalliance (worst blend name ever?) was 46% Syrah, but was interestingly mixed with 46% Malbec and 8% Petit Verdot:  all big, bold, powerful red grapes, and their combination only emphasized their potency.  Unfortunately, up against the nuance and elegance of the Rioja, this wine felt like a bit of a blunt instrument, all candied blueberry, blackberry and currant with undertones of mint and chocolate but little else.  It did go well with the flank steak we had, but it was fairly straightforward, and it certainly did not help me in my quest to sell Tyler on the world supremacy of Washington wine.  This is the only wine we had at lunch that I would say is a pass.


The best way to end any meal.

1.  2007 Chateau Guiraud Sauternes (Bordeaux, France):  This isn’t on the Vin Room menu but is a bottle that Tyler brought in himself and that we decided to open for dessert.  I will cop to the fact that I didn’t write any tasting notes for this wine (I was a little distracted by drinking it), but that isn’t because I was unimpressed; far from it.  Tyler noted apricot and tangerine fruit on the nose and a honeyed weight on the palate that still finished crisp and clean.  I will add that there were telltale botrytis aromas on the nose (which in my head always smell a little like celery, in a good way) and a seasonally-appropriate rush of Christmas spices (cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and whatever else goes into the XMas spice cookies that I always had as a kid) that kicks in right as you swallow.  For me, the most impressive fact about the Guiraud was that, while this is clearly a sweet dessert wine with an absolutely velvet mouthfeel, at no time did the sugar stand out or the wine feel cloying:  it was deft and agile on the palate and was keenly balanced by a knife edge of vibrant acidity.  The least impressive fact about the Guiraud was that a half bottle is about $15 cheaper in Ontario than it is here in Alberta…damn you LCBO.

Thanks to Vin Room for a fabulous meal and for the friendly, attentive service — I will definitely be back again in the future.  And thanks to Tyler for a spectacular afternoon…if I ever doubted the power of the Internet or wondered if this blog could help me interact with people in new and different ways, I am now a total believer.  Hope everyone out there is having a good weekend!



One response

12 12 2011
Tyler Philp

I had a great time chatting and tasting with you Peter and thanks for the great account of our afternoon’s excitement. What a fantastic restaurant you have at your convenience; I’ll certainly be bidding Calgary layovers more often! Anyone even remotely interested in sampling fine wine and great food together under the same roof must visit the Vin Room when they are in YYC.



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