Malbec Maelstrom, Part II: Malbec World Day

17 04 2021

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Happy Malbec World Day! Hopefully you read Peter’s review of the first seven bottles of this 14-bottle bacchanal, so that you are up to speed on this day’s origins. I’m certainly ready to do my part. I unabashedly enjoy Argentinian Malbec, even if in some examples I can struggle with its ubiquity, its oft-simplistic bent toward pure hedonism, and (said another way) its purple Popsicle crowd-pleasing “Golden Retriever of wine” stylings. Crack a frown once in a while, will ya? Still, Argentina is rife with high altitude wine regions where true greatness is possible. I would propose that much potential remains to be realized, particularly as some middle path between confectionary and brooding smoke is hewn. Today, though, we can and should celebrate what a decidedly unique wine culture has already delivered. I don’t think the vintners in Argentina who decided to take a chance on these extremely inclement sites ever dreamed that international superstardom was possible. Or that Malbec would be the vehicle to get them there.

Malbec likely originated in Cahors, where it goes by the name “Cot”. Apparently the “black wines” from this region, an obvious reference to Malbec’s intense colour, were sometimes used to add pigmentation and body to the wines of Bordeaux, at least until Cot itself made the jump to that famous region in the late 1800s. The handle “Malbeck” apparently refers to a vintner who wound up cultivating the grape throughout the Medoc region of Bordeaux. A half-sibling of Merlot, Malbec (which at some juncture lost the “k”) is a vigorous vine that can easily yields large crops of relatively watery berries, particularly when clones are selected for such productively, a feature that according to Stephen Brook led to Malbec’s drastic decline as a Bordeaux variety. Fear not, however. Malbec was introduced to Argentina by French agricultural engineer Michel Pouget in 1868, where is yielded smaller, tighter clusters of berries than in Bordeaux. Pouget seemed to have chosen better clones, or at the very least Argentina’s extreme viticultural climate was just what was needed to resurrect Malbec into the dark-fruited, violet-scented, slightly gamey wines we can enjoy today. As I write this, it is 8:00 am here in Calgary. What can I say? I’m thirsty, and it’s Malbec World Day.

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Culmina Winery: The Bordeaux Varietals

9 04 2021

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

It is with great pleasure that I pick up where Peter recently left off, following up his batch of Culmina curiosities by exploring a tidy package of three Bordeaux varietals from this esteemed producer, all hailing from the same 2016 vintage. This affords a unique opportunity to compare the three grapes across the same vintage conditions, and as it turns out, with vineyard held constant as well. All grapes featured here come from Culmina’s estate Arise Bench, a southeast-facing site along British Columbia’s vaunted “Golden Mile”. Culmina founder Don Triggs subjected this site to a bevy of temperature, water retention, and soil analyses to determine that it shared many similarities with famous sites in Bordeaux. The stage seemed set for making these varieties shine in the Okanagan, but not before further precision was sought in terms of a detailed mapping of terroir variations within the Arise Bench area itself. This designation of “microblocks” means that grapes can be meticulously calibrated to viticultural parameters in order to help ensure a good balance between ripeness and fresh acidity. This sort of obsessive attention to detail has long drawn me to this winery, as does its willingness to pair the classic wine heritage that underpins Bordeaux-style red wines with a trailblazing spirit, as Peter recently documented. Let’s investigate the classics end of the equation.

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Vinnified: A Great Canadian Wine Club in the Making?

26 03 2021

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with wine clubs. This is despite belonging to several. I value freedom of choice. I don’t necessarily love having to select bottles form a constrained number of options as compared to a shop, particularly if the lineup is purely crowd-pleasing and humdrum. On the other hand, a well-curated wine club can be a godsend: one doesn’t have to exert much effort to get a cool haul, particularly if the club is not afraid to offer some libations that tread well off the beaten path. My personal preference is for a roster of old school (albeit perhaps lesser-known) regional offerings coupled with some avant garde, dare I say edgy, selections. Not much to ask, is it? Meet Vinnified.

Vinnified was co-founded by Prince Edward Island-based Andrew Murray and Montreal wine consultant Dave LeBoeuf. Although the website states that the wine club brings “Canada’s best wines” directly to your door, digging a little deeper reveals that the intent is to highlight small-scale producers who identify as farmers rather than manufacturers. One can receive either a 3-pack (for $119) or a 6-pack (for $235) of selected wines once per month, for a fixed price that appears to include shipping charges. You can adjust your monthly subscription at any time to adjust your incoming bottle load. The reach is nationwide. Although Ontario provides the initial focus, the plan is to draw from BC and Nova Scotia producers some time this year. The sleek website is user-friendly and clearly designed to port one quickly and efficiently into the fold. Perhaps the first rule about wine club is that you do not talk (a lot) about wine club. However, some other press materials evoke concepts like “quaint” to describe the wines, which needless to say piques my curiosity. There is a desire to disseminate at least a modicum of wackiness. The first bottle showcased here from my monthly example subscription set provides more than said modicum.

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Burrowing Owl: Avian Miscellany

26 10 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Oh man. September and October are tough months, at least this year. I dislike keeping people waiting for new entries on here, particularly after I tasted my way through some bottles with the purest of intentions to share my thoughts in a timely fashion. When you work in health care and run a business during COVID, however, it is quite likely that some of your good intentions around pastimes are going to fall by the wayside, at least temporarily. It is fortunate that I take decent notes and have a good gustatory memory. Burrowing Owl…where did we leave off? Oh yes. This one will be a bit of a grab bag offering that details the possible king of the Calliope value line, two whites, and a lone medium-bodied red whose provenance I particularly favour. Let’s delve in.

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Culmina: R&D Summer 2020 Releases

9 08 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Welcome back to our coverage of Culmina’s newly released summer offerings. Peter recently guided us through two classic Culmina bottlings and a unique saignée rosé. Now I get to analyze the winery’s new R & D offerings. Do not presume that such wines are necessarily experimental or cutting-edge in style, although admittedly that’s where my mind goes as well, and it turns out that “R & D” might actually stand for “research and development”. It is also possible that it stands for “Ron and Don”, representing Don Triggs, the founder of Culmina, and his twin brother Ron. The charming labels of these wines would seem to shore up this hypothesis, particularly since pushing boundaries seems to be more the purview of Culmina’s limited release “Number Series”. The R & D line represents wines that are fairly easy on the pocket book, less serious in their general demeanour than the upper-tier Culmina offerings, and intended for early consumption. In short, they are fun, cheerful, and not the sort of thing you are likely to encounter in dusty old cellars curated by the sorts of folks who only buy Bordeaux futures.

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Before we rock out, I will mention that Peter provided coverage of the prior 2018 vintages of both the R&D Riesling and rosé. Although we are course different tasters, this still allows for some assessment of how these wines vary across vintage. I made a point of revisiting Peter’s write-ups only after doing my own tasting notes, and I may pull in a few observations here and there around vintage variation or other comparative musings. To the crucible that is the most enjoyable type of study: wine research. Read the rest of this entry »





Castoro de Oro: The Beaver Resplendent

15 07 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Familiarity tends to breed appreciation, at least to a point, and I am pleased to revisit Castoro de Oro in bottle form, after Peter’s informative trek through their new canned offerings. Although you can find more detailed background information on this exuberant Okanagan winery in our previous posts linked above, I will mention here that I harbour a special appreciation for its primary mission to deliver wines of good value: crushable and tasty, yet with just enough complexity to take them beyond the omnipresent mass-commodity products on many liquor store shelves. These are still wines, ultimately agricultural produce, but you will not find much in the way of rusticity here. I like rustic wines, but I don’t wish to drink them every day. Sometimes it’s nice to sip something that doesn’t taste like soda pop but is still shot through with a certain sunny, carefree joie de vivre.  In my prior encounters with them, the wines of Castoro de Oro filled this niche well, coming across varietally correct yet not too dense or serious, aromatically enticing but sporting compact palates that did not require a boatload of cognitive work to decipher. I’m pleased to report that this new round of vintages does little to shift my schema. I was able to meet new vintages of two old friends, but first, a new acquaintance.

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NV Castoro de Oro Vidal (~$25)

We begin with a 100% Vidal. I’ve long been intrigued by dry wines made from this hybrid much better known for ice wine production, an offspring of Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano Toscano) and the now totally obscure Rayon d’Or, itself a hybrid. This means that Vidal is more vinifera than not, perhaps accounting for its uncanny ability to be cold-hardy while also avoiding the foxy aromas that typically plague varieties with too much American ancestry. Dry Vidal wines tend to be redolent with fruity pineapple and grapefruit aromas, with high acidity. What’s truly curious in this case though is the absence of a vintage! This merits further investigation, but alas, this wine is not currently featured on the Castoro website. Another review references grapes “saved from the ice wine harvest”. Perhaps some of these grapes were picked late one year when a proper ice wine harvest did not seem likely, were vinified, and were then blended with further Vidal grapes picked the following year? Whatever the true origin, I’d be lying if I claimed I wasn’t dead curious to taste the curiosity that is non-vintage dry Vidal. Read the rest of this entry »





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?

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.

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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 »








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