Calgary Wine Life: City & Country, YYC’s Urban Winery, Part II

14 06 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

When I took my WSET Level 3 course a few years back, my instructor mentioned that, were it not for our punishingly cold winters, Alberta might feature a grape-growing climate similar to Alsace! Climate change notwithstanding, I cannot see this situation fully playing out in my lifetime. Nevertheless, a guy can dream. In the meantime, it turns out that our wonderful city does have a winery that makes honest-to-gosh wines from vitis vinifera grapes sourced from more pacific climes. We first met City & Country in April when Peter reviewed a white and two rosés (including a white Zinfandel which was initially approached lightheartedly but which it turns out might be food pairing magic). Tonight I tackle a few C&C reds. First, some background, by way of a quick review.

IMG_2092City & Country can be found east of Macleod Trail and just south of Erlton, although the brand itself predates the bricks-and-mortar winery that started operations this year. Chris Fodor and his wife Karen first made their own wine in 2017 with some help from Pentage Winery in the Okanagan, where their winemaking endeavours were originally housed, but the Fodors’ aspirations were ultimately bigger than just one wine region, or even one country. They reasoned that a winery based in a large city could source grapes or even pressed must from anywhere, so long as everything is temperature-controlled. I’ll mention here that such a model is used by some of my favourite boutique wineries in California and elsewhere in the US, although in these cases the winemakers draw upon a limited number of local options (often very specific, unique sites) for grape sourcing. The Fodors seem to scoff at the notion of such constraints, although understandably the focus of the winery’s initial releases seems to be on grapes from next door in the Okanagan.

IMG_2094The Fodors officially opened the City & Country winery on February 1st, 2020. Of course, COVID-19 struck after a mere month and a half of operations, but City & Country pushed forward with characteristic Alberta resilience, featuring an online storefront, contactless delivery (free across the province for orders over $60),  and wines available at retail locations across the province. In an exciting update from Peter’s prior post, we can happily announce that the tasting room is again open at the time of this writing, with appropriate distancing and sanitization protocols in place. Phew! Although the world is far from out of the woods, let’s support Calgary winemaking and see what the Fodors have to offer. We begin with my favourite black grape.

2019 City & Country Okanagan Pinot Noir ($29)

If indeed serious viticulture could be practiced in present-day Alberta, how would Pinot Noir do? Probably about as well as it does anywhere else: lots of single-base hits and strikeouts interspersed with a few monumental grand slams. If a viticulturist in any given region can crack the particular code of soil, climatic factors, clone, and God-only-knows-what other more celestial factors are at play, Pinot Noir is the most sublime, ethereal, otherworldly red wine that can be conceived (in my biased opinion). You will also typically pay for such a privilege, although perhaps now we are enjoying a renaissance of affordable, well-crafted options from Burgundy and beyond. I am not short on opinions of Canadian (and specifically British Columbian) Pinot. Some sites might provide enough of a contrast between warm days and cool nights to yield quality grapes, although Pinot is so finicky that nothing is guaranteed. Some examples are too weedy. Others are rather dark and the smell of cloves overpowers the floral perfume, although I still prefer these to the weedy ones. Some mediocrity, a fair number of solid wines, and a few clear-cut winners; the classic Pinot Noir pattern replicated in yet another wine region! As for the present wine, well, there’s simply no way to predict how Calgary’s first commercially produced Pinot made from Okanagan grapes will perform. Let’s just taste it and find out.

IMG_2095The colour is on point, a twinkling delicate pale to medium ruby. The nose is similarly quite fine and delicate but true to type, flashing an array of aromas known to live in the Pinot Noir codex, including strawberry Nibs, rhubarb, rose hip, hibiscus blossom, cranberry, tomatillo, pink grapefruit, and a curious general red fruit punch vibe lurking in the background. A spicy, slightly musty white pepper note gathers steam in the glass. The palate is tightly-wound and lobs a few accurate volleys from afar rather than launching an all-out attack, with spritely slightly sharp acidity and fine black tea-like tannins. The oak is very tastefully done, a garland of BBQ rub and creme brûlée rather than a stifling overcoat. My mind keeps going back to a curious dichotomy of candied fruit skin and more shrill balsamic vibes, duelling it out on a proving ground of slightly earthy cola strewn with red flowers. Although a few green edges poke out here and there, Calgary-made Pinot Noir is off to a worthwhile start, and hopefully here to stay.

87+ points

2017 City & Country Okanagan Red ($29)

Our final City & Country offering this go-around is a Bordeaux blend, and really no Canadian winery (urban or otherwise) would be complete without one (or more than one). This is 68% Merlot and 32% Cabernet Franc. I applaud the latter choice in favour of the more recognized but trickier-to-ripen Cabernet Sauvignon. I also grow a touch weary when I ponder just how many Bordeaux or “Meritage” blends in this country feature grapes grown in the Southern Okanagan Valley. To be clear, I do not dislike such wines. There’s just a lot of them, and some leave any semblance of subtlety in the dust. Much care did seem to go into this one. One hundred and thirty-three cases were produced, with the wine seeing 11 months in French and Hungarian oak, everything landing on a not unduly excessive 14.2% ABV.

IMG_2097

My initial sips are decidedly oak-driven, a blob of hickory BBQ sauce amidst whorls of incense and a rather pleasing undercurrent of vanilla-laced mocha. Some of this oaky punch seems to naturally tame over time, replaced (in part) by a burgeoning wave of blue and black fruits. Sure, these grapes have clearly seen some heat, yet there are just a few shrivelled flavours of berry jam, fig bar, and prune amongst the otherwise fresh parade of blue-skinned Damson plums, blueberries, and slightly underripe blackcurrants. I am reminded of how the fruit of some wild currant species have almost a feral, gamey vibe to them. I perceive some of that rusticity here, which adds character and depth to the finished product. Chocolate notes continue lurk on the periphery, with an added seasoning of menthol or Vick’s VapoRub, red bell peppers, cinnamon hearts, dried strawberry hull, rose petals, and a pinch of black pepper. Although the smaller blend component, I feel that the spicy, slightly unhinged Franc is what truly shines here, trying to steal the show from the blueberry Pop-Tart unsung proletariat workhorse that is the base Merlot. A fresh acidity meshes well with fine-grained, rather polished tannins. The aforementioned weariness was… misplaced. One could do far worse making a Right Bank-styled Bordeaux blend in Calgary. Some further refinement from this stable bedrock could strike pay dirt.

88- points

IMG_2098

Stelvin Rating: 7/10 (great look… Not terribly durable though. Look what happened to this one when I twisted it.)


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