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?

Don-Triggs-checks-leaf-vigour-in-Margaret's-Bench-vineyard_MG_6242

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.

griggrapes

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.

Taste-Hungary-Cabernet-Franc-harvest

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.

IMG_4643

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.

IMG_7164

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.

IMG_7523

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.

malbec

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.

IMG_1415

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.

ken-wright-cellars-co-2-500x500

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.

IMG_1419

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

IMG_1418

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.

map

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 »








%d bloggers like this: