Cellar Direct: RMW&F Festival Edition!

11 10 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

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Find the booth, for wines like this!

It’s October, and here in Calgary we’ve already been bombarded with two feet of snow in the last week and are craving the spring that’s a winter away, which can only mean one thing:  it’s coming up to Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival time.  The massive tasting event, now in its 21st year in the city, is kicking off tomorrow in Calgary (Oct. 12-13) and is heading north to Edmonton the following weekend (Oct. 19-20).  In addition to a massive number of wineries, breweries and restaurants, in attendance for the first time this year will be our blog’s favourite national wine club Cellar Direct, the Old World-focused provider of finely crafted low-intervention traditional-styled wine that ships its offerings across Canada and has been known best on this page for never yet providing a bad bottle over multiple years of tasting experiences.  If you happen to be attending the Festival (which you should, if you can), stop by the Four Corners booth (#309 in YYC, #903 in YEG) to say hi to the founders and brainchildren behind the Cellar Direct venture and sign up for their mailing list, which will give you access to wines like the ones below, which I recently received as a sort of Festival lead-up.  It will likely be the only place you can find these bottles in the country.

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2017 Castello di Verduno Basadone Pelaverga (~$35)

I recently completed a fun little checklist to see if I could call myself a member of the Wine Century Club, which you’re allowed to join if you have tasted wines made from 100 different grape varieties.  At first I assumed that there was no way I could have had that many different types of wines in my few years of serious wine interest, but by the time the checklist was fully filled out, my number was somewhere just shy of 150 and counting (try it out for yourself — you’ll be surprised at your totals as well!).  I mention all this because this particular bottle is made from a grape that I had never heard of before, let alone tasted, that’s only grown in one place on Earth, and of which there may be only a dozen planted hectares in existence:  Pelaverga Piccolo.  Yes, that’s a grape.  Yes, it actually IS on the Wine Century official checklist, which is amazing.

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Pelaverga Piccolo is only grown in Verduno, which is the northernmost commune in the world elite wine region of Barolo, known far more for stunning Nebbiolo.  It’s rare enough that the 30-pound encyclopedic Oxford Companion on Wine by Jancis Robinson only has a single 11-word sentence about it essentially only confirming that it exists.  There were just over 100,000 bottles of Pelaverga made in the world last year, and the grape nearly went extinct in the 1970s before being saved by Castello di Verduno, the maker of this bottle, known better for its Barolo and Barbaresco lines (and sufficiently drenched in history to be the first to make a dry Nebbiolo-based Barolo wine!) but possibly serving the global cause of viticulture best with this salvage effort.  In case you’re wondering about the “Piccolo” addition to the grape name (meaning “small” in Italian), there is actually also a Pelaverga Grosso (“large”) grape grown in the same area…but, as if this whole thing wasn’t already weird enough, the two grape varietals are completely unrelated and have nothing to do with each other.  If you’re looking for a rational pursuit, wine theory ain’t it.

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From the Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson.  11 words.  This one wasn’t fizzy.

The Piccolo version of Pelaverga is commonly compared to Pinot Noir, but throughout my experience with this one I kept coming back to Gamay.  These Piccolo grapes were handpicked, fermented using native yeasts and aged only in stainless steel tanks to preserve fruit flavours, which emphatically showed in the glass.  This was a pale, shimmering, utterly transparent blood-red ruby colour that made me stop dead in my tracks and momentarily forget that there was more analysis to be done.  The punchy, crunchy aromatics are all in the red fruit family, joyous and pure:  watermelon Jolly Ranchers, frozen cherry Jello, Ocean Spray (cranberry juice), ocean spray (actual), dusted with lilac and granite.  Tangy, juicy, buoyantly energetic and irrepressibly kinetic, the Pelaverga hits the tripwire the second is touches the tongue, launching beams of strawberry, cherry and rhubarb on streams of driving acid, a single-purpose vehicle for compressed, vibrant, tactile pleasure.  This is a wind-up toy that offers immense enjoyment every microsecond it is in contact with your senses and reminds you that wine is supposed to be fun.  Here’s to the next Century of remembering that.

90 points

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Cork Ratings:  7/10 x 2 (I LOVE that these corks both feature graphics that wrap laterally around the circumference of the cork instead of doing the safe sideways play.  Need more of this.)

2016 Chiesa Langhe Nebbiolo (~$30-$35)

This is my second time tasting the wines from Chiesa but my first time experiencing their reds; I can already confirm that their Arneis is well worth a try.  Chiesa is a family-owned operation with 350 years of history in Piedmont, the larger wine zone housing Barolo (which in turn houses the Verduno commune and the wine above).  This purely non-interventionist operation is geared towards creating a harmonious ecosystem within its 9 hectares of estate vineyards and not just a grape-dominant monoculture.  The Langhe DOC is a particularly large subregion of Piedmont encompassing both Barolo and Barbaresco, as well as the further more northerly subregion of Roero where Chiesa’s vineyards are located; Langhe Nebbiolo tends to be a softer and more welcoming (and far more early-opening) expression of the great grape of Barolo and Barbaresco from closely neighbouring soils and as such can be a source of significant value if you find the right producer.  This is one of them.

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Chiesa’s Langhe Nebbiolo is from a plot of relatively newer vines (20 years old or less) that is both fermented and briefly matured in stainless steel without seeing any oak.  It is both darker (half-translucent at best) and deeper (with a violet core, thinning to ruby at the rim) in colour than the Pelaverga, though without any of Nebbiolo’s trademark orange-y hue.  From the first smell it comes across as a sweeter, more approachable, dare I say more modern take on the grape, bursting with, well, grape, black raspberry and lifted pomegranate fruit aromatically enhanced by incense, sandalwood and rosehips, no traditional scorched earth or tarry asphalt to be found.  This is beautifully present and effortlessly elegant, and it seamlessly carries its 14% abv on a lithe frame, its squeaky tannins prominent without being in the way, the remarkable primacy of red fruit still shining through to the very end of the finish.  Accents of pepper, sage and bitter orange serve as a reminder that you can never fully escape the old school with Nebbiolo, nor would you necessarily want to.  A stunning study of balance and poise for a region more often characterized as a workhorse.

91+ points

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