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. Read the rest of this entry »





Synchromesh Wines, Part I: Powered by Rieslings (and Merlot)

4 05 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Social distancing. Self-isolation. Working from home. Stress baking. Flattening the curve. It is all a bit much, but just maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel, or at least a faint wink, luring us towards a world that won’t be completely the same ever again. Keep up the great work, (most) folks. Aren’t you glad that there is still ample wine to drink, and to read about? We here at Pop & Pour were particularly thrilled to spend part of our quarantined home-stay getting acquainted with the latest vintage of Synchromesh Wines, Canada’s Riesling overlords, a homegrown brand forging an unmistakable vinous identity.

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Please excuse the floor… Cats live here, and it is not like tons of people are coming over to visit.

Alan and Amy Dickinson certainly had their research cut out for them when they set out in 2009 to find vineyard sites in BC that might yield top-shelf Riesling. This grape is one that will translate any nuances of terroir right into the glass, which is exactly what the Dickinsons wish to foster: minimalist winemaking that lets the land speak for itself. After almost of a year of searching, they acquired 5 acres of high-elevation south-facing vineyard that would serve as the nucleus of Synchromesh’s estate plot Storm Haven, which would later blossom to 107 acres when a neighbouring property was acquired in 2017. Although such an expansion may conjure up concerns of dilution of all that makes a specific parcel unique, au contraire. For one, the Dickinsons don’t play around with mediocre sites. Furthermore, a larger vineyard provides an opportunity to explore geological and climatic aspects of the site that in effect provide a larger palette from which to paint. Pinot Noir was added at Storm Haven, and the Dickinsons ultimately extended their stewardship to other vineyard locations in Naramata, a never-ending quest for further pure site expressions. All of their farming is organic, with no synthetic inputs, and all wines are fermented spontaneously, with a hard turn away from any factor that could blur the expression of each specific vineyard. Stay tuned for later in-depth coverage of Synchromesh’s home base; in this post I will focus on two special non-estate sites for Riesling, as well as another renowned plot for… Merlot?? Yes. Read on. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2015 Culmina Hypothesis

20 03 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

My initial intent was to write this piece without a singular mention of COVID-19. I wasn’t sure I wanted this sort of historical tag on a bottle review…this too shall pass, right? It then occurred to me that wine itself is usually about the vintage, the year it was made. Wine is historical, and other things besides. I also don’t particularly want to talk about  our current global situation. We are all experiencing some degree of anxiety (not to mention other painful emotions) in our own ways, and do I want to fan those flames? Not really, but at the same time, I’m not in the business of denying aspects of the human condition. Perhaps this is a chance for me to ask all of our readers to say safe, look out for one another (even at a social distance), and retain hope that we got this. Because we do. Peter and I are going to keep doing this blog (for which this is post #600 — see? history), because we love what we do and because this is a great way to remain connected. At this moment join me, will you, in experiencing some of the most iconic red wine that Canada has to offer?

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Don Triggs

As a wine lover a tad obsessed with Gruner Veltliner, I immediately recall that Culmina and founder Don Triggs are responsible for one of Canada’s first plantings of this white grape, and they still produce Unicus, a wonderfully salty, flinty, yet surprisingly fruity rendition that does this wacky variety proud. It turns out that Don’s first vinous love is in fact red Bordeaux varieties. You likely recognize the surname. Yes, Don Triggs co-founded Jackson-Triggs, one of Canada’s largest commodity wine brands. When the giant Constellation Brands purchased Jackson-Triggs in 2006, Don thought briefly about retirement…or rather, what to do with retirement. Don and spouse Elaine decided to found a boutique winery, in essence taking the very opposite stance from the path that had previously brought him so much success, focusing instead on a deep desire to make terroir-driven wines. You see, Canada’s relatively cool climate doesn’t always reliably ripen red Bordeaux varieties. Although Merlot is more forgiving, Cabernet Sauvignon needs ample sun and heat. Far from daunted, Don and Elaine embarked on an intense research program to figure out just how “Canadian Bordeaux” could become more fact than fiction. Read the rest of this entry »





Obscure Italian Varieties I: Grignolino, the Polarizer

4 03 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

It is high time that I turned my wine blogging pen (errr, keyboard) to a project that has been bouncing around the dusty caverns of my mind for some time now. For several years, I have been enamoured by the viticultural diversity that is Italy. This country contains more unique native grape varieties than any other, and this sort of cornucopia deeply appeals to the part of me that relishes new experiences. My mind never stops collecting: a new plant in my (limited) deck garden, a new bird or mushroom found in the woods, a new wine grape that I’ve perhaps (likely!) read about but never experienced in person. My brain is just wired to quest. And why Italy? Well, Italy is part of my heritage, I love the food (who doesn’t?), and honestly, I can appreciate that so many of these wines are truly the products of a distinct culture. Although international grape varieties are entrenched in the Italian viticultural landscape and won’t be going anywhere, the natives are currently ascendent.

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Grignolino

So my plan is to provide a series of blogs that introduce our intrepid readers to an Italian wine grape that they many not have heard of or tasted. Each will describe the grape in detail and then provide a tasting note for a single bottle that is hopefully emblematic of the grape in question. This project feels like a poor man’s homage to one of my wine writing heroes, Ian D’Agata, who spent more than a decade tasting nearly all of Italy’s native wine grapes. The resulting book shall be my primary companion as I share my own musings. Some (including probably Ian himself) would take umbrage with my use of the word “obscure” to describe these grapes. I am going to use the word because my view is that none of these grapes that I will cover are obviously well-known in wine markets outside of Italy, nor are they commonly available in this wine market, although fortunately Calgary wine shops feature a unique bounty that likely does not exist elsewhere in this country. Of course these grapes are not obscure in the Italian wine regions from which they hail, and perhaps some of them will become better known outside these confines. So there you have it. Let’s begin with one grape, Grignolino, that I find particularly compelling. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Yannick Amirault “La Coudraye” Bourgueil

15 02 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

After a short break, we are back with another winter run of Cellar Direct artisan wines, a further installment of our buyer’s guide for your reading (and hopefully drinking) pleasure. I’m particularly happy to be back in the Loire, and moreover, back with a Cabernet Franc in my hot little hands. As a friend once told me, these Loire Franc wines are quintessentially “Ray” wines. They are often linear and crisp, with well-defined crystalline fruit but additional herbaceous and spicy accents to ramp up the complexity. They can be delicate, rather lithe wines with little excess fat, unlikely to be mistaken for Bordeaux of similar quality, although a certain earthiness compliments the ethereal perfume, and some tannic structure should be apparent. Meaning yes, some of these wines can age. I relish this sort of vinous paradox, and “middle path” wines are typically where such contrast can be found. Loire Cabernet Franc is quaffable yet amenable to deeper analysis, rustic yet avant-garde. Although I am more familiar with Chinon, that most celebrated of Loire reds, here we take a look at the harder to pronounce yet equally impressive sister region, Bourgueil. But first, a little recap.

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You might recall my love letter to a legendary producer in Chinon, which provided coverage of Cabernet Franc’s flavour profile as well as some background regarding the Touraine sub-region of the Loire, which has found its quality wine footing via a match between Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc on the one hand and various admixtures of gravel, sand, limestone, and clay soils on the other. Much of what I said there applies equally well to the Bourgueil AOC, which was designated as such in 1937. Interestingly enough, the maximum permitted amount of Cabernet Sauvignon is only 10% in Bourgueil, versus the 25% allowed in Chinon. In either case, Sauvignon struggles to ripen here (Franc both buds and ripens about a week earlier). Chinon and Bourgueil are essentially mirror images of one another, occupying hillsides on neighbouring river valleys: the Loire itself for Bourgueil, and a Loire tributary, the Vienne, for Chinon. It is decidedly easier to focus on the similarities between the regions than it is the differences, although it seems my mind is on a never-ending quest to parse distinctions in the wine world, perhaps a fool’s errand in those cases where AOC demarcations are awfully arbitrary. Fortunately here, we can draw a few fine-grained distinctions. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Rosewood Estates Tasting @ Bricks

5 02 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne & Peter Vetsch

It has been a while since we’ve covered a tasting on this blog, thanks to a spate of Advent wines, Cellar Direct releases, and a number of other supplied bottles posted over the holidays and up through January. No rest for the wicked. This tasting is a particularly special way for us to get back into Calgary Wine Life. As evidenced by our unwavering coverage of the last three Bricks Wine Company Advent Calendars, we are staunch supporters of this local boutique shop, and although our attention tends to be drawn mostly to the wine shelves, Bricks also has a more-than-serviceable craft beer section.  This is where the present tasting ties in (and no, it is not a beer tasting. Ray’s original blogging foray, “Dr. Beer”, shall remain deservedly consigned to the dust bin of history). Mike Maxwell, Bricks’ resident cicerone extraordinaire, is alas leaving the shop and moving on to the ambitious undertaking of running his own distribution agency, Nectar Imports, with a primary focus on beer but a robust toehold in wine as well. Mike is an exceptional human being, and we are excited to participate in his Bricks send-off by covering one of his agency’s first winery clients, Rosewood Estates.

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Mike Maxwell, Nectar Imports.

The Rosewood story is a classic new Canadian origin tale.  R.W. Roman was a passionate beekeeper and mead-maker from the Ukraine when he arrived in Ontario decades ago, where he continued to bee-keep in his adopted homeland alongside his son Eugene. Eugene wound up promising his wife Renata that one day they would start a winery together, after they both fell in love with Ontario’s beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake region. The dream came true in 2003, when Eugene purchased the Renaceau Vineyard located in the Beamsville Bench VQA. This site features deep clay soils with some additional dolomite and limestone mixed in, the latter helping to provide some laser-beam focus to complement the sweet fruit aromas that clay typically yields. Breezes coming off of Lake Ontario provide a cooling influence to preserve fresh acidity in the grapes. Bordeaux varieties appreciate the long ripening season at Renaceau. In 2008 a second vineyard was added, the Blackjack or 21st St. Vineyard (sounds like a Springsteen song), a cooler site with better drainage in the 20 Mile Bench VQA . This one is ideally suited to Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

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As the Rosewood team continues to be passionate about beekeeping, there is a strict emphasis on minimizing use of chemicals in the vineyards. Natural enemies of insect pests are encouraged to prosper, while the vines are managed by hand to foster the light exposure and airflow that discourage destructive fungi. There is an overarching emphasis on yield control, so that all batches of grapes are flavoursome and concentrated despite the winery’s overall cool-climate emphasis. Although not afraid of technology, the endgame for each Rosewood wine vision is “earth to bottle”, with minimal intervention. Natural wine? Sure, if these wines must be categorized.

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We are greeted at the door with a glass of 2018 Rosewood Estates Nebulous Pet Nat (~$35), along with a well-intentioned warning that we might find this one a touch “weird”. It turns out that this 80% Gamay, 20% Pinot Noir ancestral-method sparking wine, which is bright and clear before the crown cap is removed and the built-in carbonation roils up the lees and clouds the mélange, is more accessible to our palates than expected, with punchy blood orange, strawberry liquorice, pink grapefruit and apricot notes leading the way, followed by (admittedly odder) green banana and smoky Hickory Sticks. Yeah, OK, somewhat weird. But pleasantly weird, and even intriguing in a relaxed, bucolic way. Let’s take a seat. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Clos Siguier Cahors

28 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Today’s release is a fun one. You’ve probably had this grape variety before, or have at least heard of it. Malbec has become the premier grape variety in Argentina, and such wines remain immensely popular. But I’m willing to bet that you haven’t had Malbec from this wine region, which is far closer to its likely place of origin in northern Burgundy, although the grape is far better known as one of the six classic permitted black grapes of Bordeaux (due to climate change, a few more are now being trialed there). Let’s investigate further.

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Malbec

Malbec is often described as inky purple and tannic, although the tannins are typically round and mouth-filling rather than scratchy and abrasive. In the glass, Malbec often yields correspondingly dark fruit flavours as well as some smoky notes. The grape became less popular in Bordeaux after 1956 when frost slaughtered around 75% of the crop. Malbec’s reputation in Bordeaux has only continued to decline since then. According to Stephen Brook, the variety has “little to contribute” to the Bordeaux blending regime, offering large berries that yield dilute, soft wine. There is actually more current interest in reviving Carmenere (!), the obscure “sixth Bordeaux grape” that all but disappeared after phylloxera, a pest that did Malbec no favours either. Rest assured though, all is not lost. If fortunes are decidedly bleak in Bordeaux, the wine region featured here, Cahors, seems hell-bent on ensuring that Malbec will always have a place in its native land. The same frost that wiped out the variety in Bordeaux also devastated the grape in Cahors, the difference being that the latter vignerons dutifully replanted with the same grape. Although the region remains besieged, one of many rustic bastions in a world of homogenized commodity beverages, this enclave of winemakers refuses to go without a fight. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 23

23 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

“Great wines taste like they come from somewhere. Lesser wines are interchangeable; they could have come from anywhere.”      – Matt Kramer in “Making Sense of Wine”

YES. Just yes. Last year we were universally astounded by the Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard bottle from Day 17, a mind-blowing flashpoint of the sort you might not expect in a wine Advent calendar, even ones as carefully curated as these have been. I open today’s squat bottle almost reluctantly, flooded with fatigue and all kinds of associations that converge on how done I am with wine blogging, at least for a month or so, because DAMN, this is a labour of love but still requires fortitude in what is already a busy December for me… And poof. All that is gone, burnt away like a flammable fog suddenly detonated by a struck match. I remember why I love wine. My whoop of delight startles the cat in the den where my wine fridges live, and Ken Wright is BACK, baby. And it is not the cuvee from last year.

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Ken Wright has been described by friends as a “brinksman”: someone who can pull off miracles just when it seems all hope is lost. Wrestling competitively from the 6th grade until his first year of college, Ken discovered wine while waiting tables in Kentucky, suggesting to the restaurant owner that they could likely sell more bottles if they knew how each wine actually tasted. A fascination with Burgundy and Pinot Noir was born, with Ken and his roommate Alan Holstein cutting their teeth on such bottlings as La Tache and Richebourg. I am trying to fathom the very notion of university students being able to afford such wines, and this only serves to reinforce the oft-present feeling that I was born in the wrong era. In any event, Ken gave up his pre-law studies to pursue enology and viticulture at the University of California, Davis. He struggled with the chemistry components of this program, although for the quiet but shrewd Ken that was no real obstacle when it came to learning how to make wine. He got by with a lot of help from his friends. Dying to leave California after concluding that the place was simply too hot for top-shelf Pinot Noir, Ken arrived in Oregon in 1985 with barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon to sell as the inaugural offerings of his own winery, Panther Creek. Selling such undocumented wine was illegal, but the silver-tongued Ken got a pass.

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Alas, Panther Creek fell upon hard times and had to be sold. Ken got a divorce, fortunately an amicable one. Financial difficulties associated with the sale of Panther Creek got sorted, and Ken Wright Cellars was born in 1996. The mission? To showcase Pinot Noir from 13 single vineyard sites, wines with precise flavours and sharpshooter finesse, unencumbered by booziness or excesses of other structural components (tannins, acid). All wines are made using the same cellar regime, so that terroir is maximally accentuated and facilitating direct comparisons across the sites. Grapes are hand sorted and always de-stemmed, as Ken states that including the stems with these various sites yields wines that are too angular. Fermentation takes place in open vats, with the wines seeing around one year in new French oak barrels (albeit barrels specially treated with salt and hot water to mitigate resinous notes from the wood). Supple and seamless. “Grippy and tannic does not provide pleasure”, he says. Ken encouraged growers to farm for quality by paying them for each acre instead of by the ton. He introduced vertical shoot positioning in Oregon to expose grapes in the relatively cool climate to more sun. He continues to use research links between microbiological activity and soil quality to rehabilitate tired old sites such as Bryce, working closely with vineyard owners so the latter can sell quality fruit to wineries across the state. To top it all off, Ken himself petitioned growers to create six sub-appellations in the Willamette Valley: Yamhill-Carlton, Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge, Dundee Hills, McMinnville, and Eola-Amity Hills. Yes we Ken. Burgundy comes to Oregon.

IMG_1417I should be careful with such statements. Oregon Pinot will probably have more bright fruit than your average Cote d’Or. But one cannot escape the comparison when it comes to such fine-grained mapping of vineyard sites. The 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir hails from a Willamette Valley AVA site said to yield the most firm and structured Pinots in the Ken Wright stable. Occupying a gentle southeasterly slope that is conducive to ripening, the soils are known as “bellpine”, a mixture of uplifted ancient seabed and siltstone that is said to contribute to the aforementioned structure in the wines, even as freshness is preserved. Ken states that such soils yield more floral and spicy characters in the finished wines, as compared to nearby volcanic soils that enhance fruit. One might be forgiven for wondering if this site manages to capture the best of both worlds.

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This is darker than expected colour-wise but not opaque. The nose does pop with Bing cherry and black raspberry, high-toned wild blueberry and plum, but there they are as advertised, a few floral squadrons filling the skies of my Burgundy Zalto glass with Thrills gum, Parma violet candies, lilacs, rose hips, iris, cinnamon toothpicks, allspice, cola, cinder blocks, warm pavement, and an earthy verdant wreath of Irish moss, English breakfast tea and old growth underbrush. Less cerebral and pretty than the Shea Vineyard, this is more bold and powerful, a Pinot Noir Tony Soprano…but do not confuse power with a lack of complexity. The finish lingers with watermelon Jolly Ranchers and a few dirty pan drippings. What more can I say? The calendar has probably peaked. I’ll see you fine folks next year, barring unforeseen circumstances. Bring it on home, Peter.

91+ points

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Cork Rating: 4/10 (Nomacorc plus washed-out graphic. Ken Wright has to do one thing wrong, I suppose.)





Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Giraudon Bourgogne Chitry

21 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Week three of our Cellar Direct winter run sees us land in some classic territory, at least in the broader regional sense. You can obtain a good rundown of how this wine club works here, although I have an important update to report before I launch into this week’s release. Due to some confusion stemming from the three-tier pricing system, you can now order one bottle or more of any release, with bottles no longer offered in hard multiples of three. So if you want to try something without committing to a larger minimum allotment (as is often the case for me, someone who drinks very widely across regions and grapes), voila. You are set. However, shipping will still be by the case, so if you order 1 bottle, 6 bottles, or 10 bottles, the shipping cost will be the same as for a full case of 12. If you don’t mind committing to a full case, you will get a 10% discount on your order. As before, you can also accumulate bottles up to a full case, so making shipping costs far more economically viable (I recommend this option if you can be patient). Clear as mud? Alright. Let’s talk Burgundy.

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Can you find Chitry on here?

Novelist and wine writer Jay McInerney once stated “If it’s red, French, costs too much, and tastes like water that’s been left in the vase after the flowers have died and rotted, it’s probably Burgundy”. I think he meant this with love. You’d still be hard pressed to find a more polarizing wine region, with the faithful continuing to chase that haunting essence that can be obtained nowhere else, while the detractors keep mustering arguments (often quite reasonable) that the region remains a maze of brittle, boring wines that ride the coattails of the few otherworldly but cost-prohibitive estates and vineyard sites. I fall firmly into the “intensely passionate about Burgundy” camp, and just maybe it is becoming a bit easier to find that bargain sweet spot where the wines are supple and delicious but do not require taking out a second mortgage to obtain in quantity. I’ve skinned knees exploring the dusty Burgundy quality pyramid, but I’ve also faceplanted into some surprises where I did not expect to find them, Premier Cru quality at village prices. Don’t give up hope and try to enjoy the ride. All that being said, where the hell is Chitry? Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 18

18 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

Day 18 of this blogging campaign has me starting off the final week with a slight limp but head unbowed. It has been particularly fun this year, truth be told. The calendar has been superbly curated, considering the perfectly understandable constraints of price point and availability of half-bottles. But I don’t think it is just that. The last few bottles have sparked some enjoyable discussion and debate between the three of us responsible for this Advent blogging set, causing me to reflect on just what it is about wine that is so mesmerizing, so able to inspire passion. Upon reflection, I think for me it is the intersection between art and science. If one knows how wine is made, in a technical sense, one can better assess what is going on with a particular bottle. Maybe this is how I naturally veer, given my professional background… “OK, does this wine gel with how I know it was made?” This sort of conceptual funnelling can provide all kinds of helpful cues as to what I’m experiencing. But then again, what if I am pleasantly surprised? What if I just love the lines of this particular sculpture, heedless of how I know it should present? I think there’s room for both perspectives, within me and within the field of wine assessment more generally. I try to be cognizant of this dichotomy when I see that today’s bottle reads “Cotes du Rhone Villages”.

IMG_1386I’m not implying that I’m disappointed. In fact, this appellation is a deliberate step up in quality from the Cotes du Rhone per se. In the late 1960s, several villages successfully petitioned to include their names on wine labels, in exchange for being willing to submit to higher quality standards. These included the requirement that Grenache must comprise not less than 50% of any given red wine, with a further 20% consisting of Syrah or Mourvèdre in any proprotion. A maximum of 20% of other authorized varieties is also permitted, with these including various obscurities permitted in Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Cinsault, Muscardin, Vaccarese, Terret Noir) along with Carignan. At this point, the Cotes du Rhone Villages appellation has expanded to nearly 10,000 hectares, making it the second largest appellation in the Southern Rhone, half of which can add the name of a specific village to the label. Twenty villages can do this at the present time. This is starting to get the feel of the Dodo Bird verdict from Alice In Wonderland, where “everyone has won and all must have prizes”. Further reinforcing this notion is the fact that the other half of the appellation can distinguish themselves from generic Cotes-du-Rhône by adding the term “village”, albeit without a more specific moniker. The present bottle falls into the latter category, although the producer would certainly take umbrage with the notion that their wines are somehow worse than those labelled Visan or Roaix.

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Domaine Roger Perrin is on the young side for the region, founded in 1969. In what is starting to feel like an eerie theme for me during this December blogging run, Roger died unexpectedly during the harvest in 1969, with well-studied son Luc taking charge. Irked at confusion over his name with that of the famous Beaucastel Perrins, Luc embarked on a quality control campaign to distinguish his estate (the two families are friendly but not related). Tragically, Luc succumbed to a battle with cancer, with sister Veronique and son Xavier carrying on the traditions of hand-harvesting and aging in stainless steel (with the exception of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines). The present wine has been described as a “baby Chateauneuf-du-Pape”, consisting of 75% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 5% Mourvèdre, with a minimum vine age of 45 years. Interestingly, some earlier documentation suggests that the wine was once 5% Counoise and Vaccarese. This wine is made only in good years, with a fairly long maceration period and 20-50% de-stemming depending on vintage ripeness. All this converges on something that is supposed to be an everyday sipper, albeit a step or two above the rest.

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The 2016 Domaine Roger Perrin Cuvee Vieilles Vignes Cotes-du-Rhone Villages is mercifully devoid of faults, suggesting that the Advent Chateauneuf-du-Pape curse does not extend to any “baby” versions. Phew. This leads with a sweeping plush bramble attack of red liquorice, blackberry, and black raspberry, with a few spoonfuls of Mission fig jam and cherry preserve and a dusting of broken clay flower pot, the soil from said pot, juniper, lavender, pineapple sage, and fennel seeds. A cinnamon and ginger snap cookie spice emerges mid-palate, carried along by supple ripe tannins. If Tetley conjured up a black tea flavoured with currants, cacao nibs, and ripe strawberries… this is the sort of warm climate wine I can get fully behind. Neither flabby nor jammy, but hardly a lightweight. Science and art.

89 points    

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Cork Rating: 5.5./10 (Reasonably sharp Diam.)





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 15

15 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

Yesterday saw an unexpected and very pleasing deep dive into Petite Sirah. Today we appear to have another half-bottle flute under wraps, albeit one that’s taller that your average 750 ml bottle! There had to be a Riesling in here, no?

IMG_1380Wine importer and writing hero of mine Terry Theise captures the magic of this grape when he describes how this variety stole his heart. A single inexpensive off-dry Mosel Riesling produced by a large co-operative winery captivated and mesmerized, ultimately propelling him into a successful career and forever changing his view of a beverage. It is worth noting that he describes this fateful bottle as essentially supermarket plonk. That’s what Riesling is capable of: even the “bad” ones are pretty damn tasty, and completely obliterating the grape’s distinctive character via mass market commodity winemaking is actually quite challenging. This grape demands to be known, even if it doesn’t always carry a big stick. Riesling often prefers the ethereal, conveying something much deeper than mere bombastic pleasure. Perhaps the Mosel, home to Riesling vines for at least 500 years, is the quintessential expression of this soul.

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Mosel Rieslings are renowned for their floral aromas, racy acidity, crystalline purity of fruit, and lightness of body relative to other German winemaking regions. Coming to the wine party when I did, I am accustomed to treating this region with considerable reverence, although there was a time not so long ago when oceans of dilute, sweetish wine from mediocre sites did damage to the Mosel’s reputation, and some are of the view that even the better producers were often guilty of making their wines too sweet. I recall trying to persuade a work colleague that Riesling is the king of white grapes, getting some pushback in the form of comments like “sorry, it’s way too sweet”. Sigh. I didn’t mean the cheap ones that come in the super pretty multicoloured bottles that look more like vases than storage containers for a serious beverage. Fortunately, the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer still produces more top-quality Rieslings than any other region in Germany, and Dr. Loosen is one of the producers that has done much to spread this quality far and wide.

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Ernst Loosen never intended to do much with wine. Alas, his father’s health began to fail in 1983, bringing him home from the University of Mainz, where he was studying archaeology. He took over running the Dr. Loosen estate in 1988, realizing that some changes needed to occur if quality was to become more consistent. Ernst did not wish his wines to be purely at the mercy of vintage conditions, as was previously the case. Vineyard yields were drastically reduced by abandoning chemical fertilizers, aggressive pruning, and harvesting selectively, with the goal of yielding wines of depth and weight. The present bottle, described on the Dr. Loosen website as “perfect for wine lovers new to Riesling, for everyday enjoyment and for occasions when you’re serving wine to a large number of guests”, would seem poised to take full advantage of these quality improvement initiatives.

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Stelvin Rating: 6.5/10 (I quite like the colour scheme.)

The 2016 Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling hails from various non-estate vineyards that fit the classic Mosel profile: steep with slate soil. Ernst and his brother Thomas work closely with these growers, who typically sign long-term contracts to supply fruit. The wine is fermented in stainless steel, with chilling used to stop fermentation at around 8.5% ABV, leaving 46.3 grams of sugar/litre in the finished wine. The result is vibrant and extremely juicy, with a few strands of fine chalky minerality doing little to mitigate the pure fruity character. Pale straw coloured in the glass. A few telltale floral notes of jasmine and white tea frolic lazily over trim green apple and pears, pink grapefruit, lime, nectarine, and starfruit, with all these fruits seamlessly meshing together as the sweetness flashes just a little burnt caramel (this is already a year past its vintage release, after all). I’m appreciating the additional acidity this time, as compared to prior experiences with this wine. This one is just beginning to develop some petrol character to boot. Honestly, this wine presents exactly as billed, nothing more and nothing less. It indeed represents a fine introduction to the grape. It is OK to outgrow such a wine over time, or, if you’re me, loop back on those occasions where you just want to crush a sweeter style Riesling.

88- points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 14

14 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

Corked bottles suck. Alas, they remain part of wine life despite the myriad of precautions now taken during cork production and in modern wineries. The Bricks Wine Advent Chateauneuf-du-Pape curse lives on, at least for the three of us providing this coverage. We forge ahead. Today’s bottle appears rather short and squat under its wrapping, perhaps heralding some form of compact power in the contents therein. Now this is intriguing…

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Petite Sirah! Robert Parker once described Petite Sirah as “the most underappreciated red wine in California for drinking pleasure and longevity.” I did not expect this variety to put in an appearance, although I’m more than pleased to welcome it into the Advent fold with a big old plummy, tannic, spicy hug. Taking off the wrapping here makes me think of the Fonz strolling into the room with his patented “Ayyyy….”. However, there was a time when the identity of this grape was far from clear. So much confusion abounded that at least one entire book chapter has been written about the issue, and it reads like a compelling detective story. You see,  the “Petite Sirah” moniker was once applied to at least four distinct grapes in California vineyards, and likely more besides: true Syrah (fair enough), the obscure Peloursin (which still retains a toehold in old mixed plantings and even occasionally makes its way into wines such as the various Zinfandels from Carlisle), and even Pinot Noir (errrr…that one’s a bit of a stretch). Eventually, various researchers ascertained that around 90% of what was called Petite Sirah in California was actually Durif, itself a cross of Syrah and Peloursin bred in France by French botanist Francois Durif.  Mystery solved, and the stage was then set for this grape to become a fairly well-known international celebrity…occasionally even called by its original French name. Speaking of names, get a load of this particular bottle’s handle: “Royal Punishers”. Mildly disturbing and severely badass.

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A Zinfandel specialist located in the Napa Valley, Robert Biale Vineyards also makes a point to honour the deep history of Petite Sirah in the state. School chums Bob Biale and Dave Pramuk began this endeavour to preserve the tradition of the historic old vines in Napa that were often left to languish until winemakers started waking up to the possibilities permitted by the intense fruit that such vines can produce. Bob’s father Aldo used to sell jugs of homemade Zin to various neighbours and friends, many orders for which were placed over the phone. The phone line, though, was a so-called “party line”, susceptible to eavesdropping. As Aldo was not exactly selling his wine through, ahem, legal channels, he had his customers use the code phrase “Gallo Nero” (or Black Rooster, of Chianti fame) when ordering a jug. The code name then shifted to “Gallina Nero” or “Black Chicken”, a name that now graces one of the Biale Zinfandels. A keen interest in viticultural history remains a core strand of the Biale winemaking approach, along with careful farming and encouraging the effects of terroir to shine forth in the finished wines. The back label on the present bottle refers to a “black and blue” wine, a coy hint as to the genesis of this wine’s name.

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The 2017 Robert Biale Vineyards Royal Punishers Petite Sirah is made from hand-sorted fruit from the Varozza vineyard, meticulously farmed by the family of the same name. This wine is fermented in open-topped vessels, with ample punch down of the cap followed by a Burgundian oak regime (30% new). The wine is poetically enough a rather inky purple-blue in the glass, a dead ringer for Welch’s. My glass wafts up an expanding nebula of blueberry and black cherry pie, blackberry, purple Mr. Sketch marker, black tea, cinnamon stick, old dried rosemary and peppercorns, lavender, menthol, graphite, sautéed wild mushroom, pumpernickel bread, and milk chocolate. Beneath this cloud, the sugar plum and fig jam palate is reinforced by bands of ripe chewy tannin and scattered shards of hazelnut and dill oak. This is big, but markedly structured, and compelling in ways that some big wines are not. This taskmaster knows when to pull back just a little. A curious orchard fruit note flits in and out of what is otherwise a black fruit and baking goods profile, something almost like cooked pear. The finish lingers, wisps of coffee bean and more pie crust. Hurts so good.

89+ points

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Cork Rating: 7/10 (Great graphic. The other side has the winery name, mercifully devoid of a phone number.)





Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Olga Raffault Chinon

14 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Welcome to the second instalment of our winter run through some intriguing Cellar Direct releases, reviewed here for both your wine reading pleasure and to provide you with a buyer’s guide of sorts. Peter provided a thorough synopsis of how this wine club works last Saturday, and I concur that the Canada-wide shipping, option to accumulate mixed 3-packs and 6-packs, and the meticulous attention paid to temperature control during shipping are major selling points. I can also appreciate the willingness to go well off the beaten wine path, as witnessed by the last offering. The rare and esoteric Fer Servadou?! Get out. This offering is by no means as mysterious, but still reflects a fundamental Cellar Direct ethos: to deliver balanced artisanal wines that reflect their place of origin. I do harbour a certain love for the wines of the Loire, and Chinon holds a special place in my heart as a prime bastion of my favourite Bordeaux grape, Cabernet Franc.

The elder Cab is lighter than its more popular offspring Cabernet Sauvignon, typically yielding rather pale ruby wines that contribute finesse and a floral, spicy perfume to Bordeaux-style blends, with the junior Cab providing more muscle and the ubiquitous Merlot providing flesh. Franc is quite notorious for yielding bell pepper aromas and other green stalky notes, particularly if over-cropped, although to my palate this signature is pleasant in moderation and if appropriately buttressed by characteristic raspberry and other red fruits. Moreover, this capsicum character can easily grade away from green bell pepper toward paprika, Tabasco sauce, and other fruiter chilli peppers (e.g., Ancho), likely as a function of ripeness and climate. Although adaptable and quite prone to genetic mutations (albeit less so than Pinot Noir), Franc does its best work in sandy, chalky soils, where it can channel its power to produce wines with reasonable body along with some of the cassis character of its progeny. Enter the Loire valley. More specially, meet Chinon. In “The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste”, Rajat Parr and Jordan MacKay, whose general sentiment is that the broader Loire valley is a criminally underrated wine region, describe Chinon and its sister region Bourgueil as places where Cabernet Franc finally gets to take its star turn as a solo variety. With the possible exception of nearby Saumur, it is here that varietal Franc wines reach their apex. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 9

9 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

In at least two ways Day 9 marks a return of sorts. One: a Schug wine (that time in the form of a Pinot Noir) appeared in the 2017 Bricks calendar. Two: we briefly met the Carneros AVA on Day 6 this year, in its guise as the original home of the Starmont Winery. This time Carneros truly gets its due, with today’s wine proudly sporting “Carneros Appellation” on a label affixed to the bottle neck. A personal favourite California appellation and yet another iconic producer? Sign me up.

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The Los Carneros AVA straddles both the Napa and Sonoma counties. Receiving official AVA status in 1983, Carneros was in fact the first California wine region to be demarcated based on climate rather than political boundaries. A true cool-climate wine region, it finds itself well-suited to the classic Burgundian varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Indeed, this region appears to have been the first in California to establish anything like a decent track record with the temperamental Pinot. Cool winds blow in from San Pablo Bay and early morning fog is commonplace, moderating the warm temperatures needed for ripening such that acidity in the grapes is preserved. Moisture-retaining fertile clay soils also contribute a cooling effect. This yields fresh wines characterized by an elegant precision and a quintessential purity of expression, albeit one not entirely devoid of a certain distinctive sun-kissed California sweetness. As Paul Lukacs explains in “The Great Wines of America”, an overly forceful winemaking hand can easily mar this purity. Fortunately, German emigre Walter Schug understood this.

The Schug Carneros Estate Winery got started in 1989, when Walter ended a 10-year winemaking stint with Joseph Phelps to forge out on his own. Walter had in fact been bottling Pinot Noir under his own label since 1980 and doing so with the blessing of Phelps, even as he continued on as the winemaker at Phelps’ estate. Walter attributed his persistence with the variety to “patience and urgency” in equal measure, with grace and balance in the finished wines being the end goal. His passion for Burgundy did of course extend to Chardonnay, and currently lives on under the guidance of Walter’s son Alex. As you might deduce from the climate conditions explained above, Carneros Chardonnay is notorious for high acidity, thereby providing a much-needed counterpoint to the fatter, round, and frequently buttery Chardonnays produced in warmer Cali AVAs.

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Perfectly consistent with my expectations, the 2017 Schug Carneros Chardonnay receives most aspects of the classic Burgundian treatment, being 100% fermented and aged on the lees in small oak barrels. Vineyard sources include the Schug Estate itself (49%), with contributions from the Ricci, Hi-Vista, Cornerstones, Lund, and Sangiacomo Vineyards to add complexity. The wine is aged sur lie for 8 months, with the oak regime including 16% new medium toast French Allier oak barrels. Malolactic fermentation was not induced, apparently a more recent trend in the Carneros, allowing the wine to retain a more acidic backbone despite many of the other winemaking decisions seeming to converge on a full body with the corners rounded. Let’s see how it all shakes out.

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Cork Rating: 7.5/10 (this is a great cork… Look at this graphic. Alas, the other side features the winery name and a phone number! For a good time call…)

The nose doffs its hat toward the old country, with wisps of smoky hay, yellow mustard, struck match, flint and nutmeg heralding something that is likely to be quite steely as opposed to histrionic. Sure enough, the palate harkens to Granny Smith but also Honey Crisp apple, lemon rind, lemon pepper, and pineapple skin, initially compact and linear but revealing a broader attack that falls just short of creamy over the course of multiple sips. The acidity is cross but not outright angry…well, maybe a bit angry, butting up against the toasty oak that is more prominent on the palate than the nose. Fortunately the wood fails to completely obscure the famed Carneros purity. Some nectarine and honeydew begin to vie with the apples and lemon, and I briefly conjure up thoughts of pear Jello (yes, that used to be a thing), underripe kiwi, and plantains before the acid clamps back down after this nearly tropical pulse. Perhaps a shade too stern and woody to be truly graceful, this is still certainly trying hard to jump over this latter bar, ultimately landing somewhere in the ballpark. I ponder those twinkling sparks of Carneros fruit and peach kernels lingering on my palate, a finish longer than expected. See you in a few.

89- points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 8

8 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

We begin week 2 of this Advent blogging saga with a bang, at least if you love Port. I will admit to being rather intimidated by this fortified wine style when I first started learning about wine. I had a vague recollection of trying Port for dessert years ago, long before any explicit attempts to develop an educated palate, and thought it tasted like NyQuil. I’m guessing this was a relatively inexpensive ruby example, one blended to match a particular house style and designed for early drinking. Since those dark times, and with the benefit of a few technical tastings under my belt (a few of those are detailed on this very blog), I’ve become an aficionado of good quality vintage Ports and tawnies. They remain a rare treat, but one much appreciated. I unwrap this bottle, see the phrase “10 Year Old Tawny Port”, and my mind is immediately jubilant with associations of toffee, nuts, and other sundry warm and festive sugarplum tastiness.

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All Ports are made by fermenting grapes (usually red) for a relatively brief period, typically to the point of around 5-6% ABV, at which point a neutral grape spirit known as aguardente is used to arrest the fermentation, boosting the alcohol content but also leaving residual sugar in the wine. At this juncture the “what type of Port am I making” decision tree becomes more complicated, and here our focus must be on tawny Port. These wines are aged in old wooden barrels called pipes, during which time exposure to oxygen and evaporation occur. This oxidation mellows the wine into a golden brown hue over time, and also imparts nutty flavours that distinguish tawnies from ruby and vintage ports. Although vintage tawny Ports do exist (they are called colheitas and are sublime), entry level tawnies are blends of different vintages, with most of the component wines being aged at least 3 years and then combined to yield a desired house style. Above this quality tier are bottles like the present one that carry an indication of age. Note that the age indication is in fact a “target age” based on desired characteristics in the wine: these aged tawnies still represent a blend of several vintages, and the Port house is looking to provide a wine that tastes characteristically like it has been aging for 10 years in barrel, for instance. Sure, some of the wine in the blend is legitimately quite old, but not necessarily all. It might help to think about the designated age as an “average” age, although technically even that is not correct. The basic notion is that a 10 year old tawny should be fruitier and less complex than a 40 year old tawny.

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You might now understand why I found this topic daunting when first learning about it. Despair not, for if these technical details threatened to put you to sleep, a half bottle of 19.5% ABV fortified wine should be just the thing to perk you up. Perhaps more compelling is the story of Porto Quevedo, a relatively small family winery based in the Douro. Historically families such as the Quevedos grew grapes and made wine that was sold  to merchants based in Vila Nova de Gaia, with such wines likely used as blending components by the larger houses. However, in 1986 legislation changed to allow growers and individual wineries to export their wines directly to the retailer. Oscar, a lawyer and notary by trade, first bought vineyards in 1977. After several years of helping his father João to make Port, in 1990 he built his own winery and was finally able to nurture his true passion, with son Oscar Jr. handling the business side of things and soccer-hating daughter Claudia (I hear ya) formerly handling the winemaking (she still helps with blending). The winery has a wonderful website and even a blog that is imbued with a real down-to-earth, non-pretentious human touch, right down to inviting critical commentary on the wines. Challenge accepted.

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Stopper Rating: 1/10 (oh, COME ON!!!)

The Porto Quevedo 10 Year Old Tawny Port is comprised of Touriga Franca (25%), Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo; 25%), Touriga Nacional (5%), Tinto Cão (5%), Tinta Barroca (20%), and other grapes (20%; over 100 grapes are sanctioned for Port production, including many rarities). Interestingly, the fermentation is described as “slow”, perhaps relative to other Ports. This is notably brickish in colour for a 10 year old tawny. The nose initially flashes some bright and fruity character, recalling maraschino cherries, raspberry jam, dried apricot, burnt orange peel, and pumpkin pie filling, with some nuttiness (pecans, chestnuts, sesame snap) and caramel that meld into a nice facsimile of Turtles candy. The palate largely echoes this array of aromas but is not purely sweet, with a gritty underlay of graphite, red rubber utility ball, and the ashy white ghosts of charcoal briquettes. With further air over the course of about an hour (hey, it’s a Sunday night, I’m sipping over here!), the palate softens to a more silky fine texture, and further oxidized characters emerge: sultanas/raisin or molasses pie, figs, ginger snaps, and a general deepening of the smooth toffee vibe. I like how this stitches together over time, with the wine showing better if you are patient.

88+ points








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