Co-op Wines: The Social Collection, Bin 105

17 02 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Here is the final installment of our Co-op Social Collection feature, and we are ending with a potentially big wine, one that I would not expect to see in a curated series such as this: the 2015 Bin 105 Amarone della Valpolicella. There is something seemingly incongruous about an Amarone inclusion in a line of negociant wines intended for affordable easy drinking, although with the Social Collection there appears to be a well-intentioned and laudable desire to preserve some degree of regional character and varietal typicity. I’m intrigued. I support the notion of an Amarone “for the people”, or at least an introduction to the style at a lower price point (lower, not low!) for those who are unfamiliar with what can be a daunting, polarizing, but ultimately rather compelling wine. It is worth noting that this bottle won an Alberta Beverage Award for Judges’ Selection in Veneto Blends, as adjudicated by the stellar Culinaire Magazine.

The Valpolicella region is close to Verona and produces a sequence of red wines that ascend in degree of concentration and power. At the top of the density hierarchy, Amarone is a blend of red grapes, of which Corvina Veronese is typically the most dominant, with DOGC regulations mandating that this thick-skinned grape constitute 45% to 95% of the blend. Partner Corvinone, a grape with larger berries and clusters than Corvina, was long thought to be a clone of the latter but instead turns out to be an entirely distinct variety. This vine can occasionally serve as the foundation of an Amarone, but is more commonly used to provide additional tannic structure to Corvina’s base of cherry-like red fruit. Corvinone can substitute up to 50% of a similar percentage of Corvina. Rondinella, which generally can comprise 5% to 30% of the blend, provides a key seasoning in the form of herbal notes that add a savoury character. Only Corvina and its progeny Rondinella are mandatory in Amarone, but the law permits other native “non-aromatic” red grapes to be included as up to 25% of the blend, with none of these individually exceeding 10%. Some of these grapes are fascinating but fall beyond the scope of the present review. Read the rest of this entry »


Calgary Wine Life: Barone Ricasoli Luncheon @ Alloy Fine Dining

10 02 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ growing up. Amongst the many fond memories (including my grandmother’s never-ending tolerance of my boundless energy and predilection for getting into various forms of trouble), I can recall that there were always a few fiascos kicking around the house, those round-bottomed bottles covered with a close-fitting straw basket that shall be forever associated with one of the world’s great wines: Chianti. Although the wine contained in most of these vessels was far from remarkable, over time a serious quality revolution occurred, one that led to the creation of the Chianti Classico DOCG designation. This important development was associated with a renewed commitment to meticulous winemaking as well as the elimination of winemaking techniques that were eventually appreciated to hinder quality (e.g., blending white grapes into a must that was largely red). At the same time, there was a dedication to preserving a unique identity; Chianti was and is a Sangiovese-dominant blend, not a varietal wine (at least usually…it turns out that Chianti Classico can be 100% Sangiovese!). As a newly christened regular contributor to Pop & Pour, I could not have been more keen to draw this tasting assignment, hosted by none other than Francesco Ricasoli. You see, Francesco’s ancestor Bettino actually invented the style.

IMG_0808When Francesco, a professional photographer, finally entered the world of winemaking, Bettino Ricasoli’s beloved Castello di Brolio estate had spent some time being passed from one multinational to the next. Enter a “contractual loophole” that gave Francesco a chance to purchase his family’s legacy from Hardy’s, based in Australia. Although he was initially unsure about whether this was a good idea, some helpful advice and prodding from a friend at Castello di Fonterutoli sealed the deal. Alas, there was much work to do. Francesco wanted to restore his wines to glory. He commissioned a three-year study to clarify the agronomic potential of his property and conducted trial plantings of fifty different Sangiovese clones, eventually determining which would perform best in his vineyard soils. The latter are largely calcareous clay with additional stony components and occur at a wide range of altitudes. Francesco was careful to explain his philosophy of “precision viticulture”. Under this approach, every vineyard parcel is a distinct entity yielding a unique vinous product. Parcels are each farmed according to their individual characters. The wines are all vinified separately to preserve their distinct attributes and are then thoughtfully blended. It became clear that Francesco does not like leaving winemaking to chance. “Why make mistakes that can be avoided?”, he asked, in response to a question about whether he uses selected yeasts for fermentation. However, he is passionate about preserving grape character. This is a highly intelligent man who thinks deeply about his wines, one who has the utmost respect for nature’s raw materials but who is not shy about steering vinification exactly where he wants it to go, according to his vision. Read the rest of this entry »

Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 23

23 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

We have reached the penultimate day of what was occasionally a rather hectic yet still always fun endeavor (for me, in any event … I did not have to write one of these suckers every single day). This is my last advent entry, at least for this year, and our loyal readers (I know there are at least three!) can probably predict the country from which this special wine hails. If it is me writing about Advent wines this year, there’s a solid 50% chance the wine is Austrian. If that were not enough, I have also ended with the same producer with which I started, Gruber Roschitz, neatly closing the circle. Its been a wild ride, if one defines wild as cracking wine books, doing many Google searches, and, you know, drinking. These are three things I do rather frequently anyways, and it was a pleasure to share it with the world. Thank you Peter and Dan. And thank you to everyone who reads our musings.


Who me, peek? It was clearly the cat.

The Grubers are three siblings:  Ewald, Maria, and Christian. Ewald provides the winemaking philosophy and oenological know-how, Maria is the marketing genius, and Christian handles the important work in the vineyards. Gruber Roschitz does not shy away from modern technology, although the winemaking remains anchored in low intervention principles such as moving the liquid as little as possible, using no fining, and no fertilizer in the vineyards except compost. I’ll also admit that I love the critters on the labels. The Grubers offer several theories as to the nature of these goblins or sprites. I prefer the “little children of Bacchus ensuring joy and pleasure” account. YMMV.IMG_0536

Botrytized or noble-rotted Chardonnays are not particularly numerous, although if you go looking you will find a few from around the world. Although some argue that Chardonnay is less susceptible to noble rot than Riesling or Semillon, other sources state that this varietal’s tight clusters make it one of the most susceptible grapes. Regardless, a non-Riesling trockenbeerenauslese is rather intriguing. TBAs are explicitly made from late harvest grapes, all of which are botrytized and painstakingly picked by hand. My powers of deduction lead me to conclude that these grapes hail from the Hinterholz vineyard. Here the soil lies over bedrock and an adjacent woodland helps to regulate temperature, producing a large contrast between day and night and yielding a smooth Chardonnay. Of course, the noble rot is going to be a game changer. Read the rest of this entry »

Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 19

19 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

There had to be a Bordeaux in here somewhere! Due to all kinds of understandable economic, availability, and supplier-based reasons, and maybe just garden-variety sanity, you knew that a 375 mL bottle of Bordeaux in an Advent Calendar was not going to be something prestigious and expensive. Indeed, the best Bordeaux has been priced right out of everyday grasp (for most of us). I have two special bottles (a 2014 Margaux and a 2012 Mouton Rothschild) that together cost about half of what I paid for one of my Magnum Cellars over/under wine coolers, and rest assured they will not be consumed anytime soon. I occasionally have nightmares where one turns out to be corked, or where I take one out to gaze longingly at the label, fantasizing about the glorious bouquet within, only to have it slip out of my clumsy grasp and go full shard all over my hardwood floor. Bordeaux bottles are robust, but still. I’d lick first and get my tongue stitched up later. I also have one 1986 second growth bottle that I purchased on sale (a Ducru-Beaucaillou) and this should be enjoyed soon. Probably now, as I write this. Logically I know it is time to drink up, but emotionally I still succumb to that treacherous wine geek logic of “But should I wait just a weeee bit longer??” … Cheaper options might be less titillating, but they are far simpler to navigate from a drinking perspective. I am a Burgundy lover who nevertheless visits the world of Bordeaux often, and although the chateau model of classification is easier to learn than Burgundy’s tortuous terroir-based system, there are still a galaxy of options to master. In this case, fear not: the Bricks team did their research (of course!). Good value Bordeaux from the lowest ranked Bordeaux Rouge AOC and Bordeaux Superieur Rouge appellations can be found, and Chateau Recougne might just be one of the best of the Bordeaux Superieur wines.IMG_0523

Bordeaux Superieur covers the same huge geographic area as Bordeaux AOC, namely the entire region. However, Superieur must hail from vineyards that are more densely planted than garden variety Bordeaux. Crowded vines are more stressed and yield fewer but better quality grapes. Superieur grapes are also riper at harvest, resulting in higher alcohol levels. Many Superieur are “Right Bank” wines from the areas north and west of St. Emilon and Pomerol. If one wishes to strike a balance between quality and price point (quality as defined within the rubric of “everyday drinking pleasure”), this strikes me as a wonderful option. It turns out I am not alone: one analysis concludes that thirteen bottles of Bordeaux Rouge or Superieur are consumed every SECOND somewhere on the planet.IMG_0525

According to legend, Henry IV visited Chateau Recougne and was extremely impressed by the quality of the wine made there. He declared the land “Terra Recognita” or “recognized land”. Today winemakers Xavier and Agnes teach their children the wine-making art, producing reds, whites, and roses. Recougne falls within Fronsac, an area highly regarded in the 18th century and now sometimes panned for producing Merlot-dominant wines that taste hard and crudely earthy in contrast to the plush offerings of St. Emilon. Fronsac has made a comeback, however, and I’ve recently had a 2004 Chateau Villars that aged marvelously and was top-heavy with notes of “sous bois” (forest floor), plum, spice, and sundry caffeinated beverages, punching well above its weight class. Recougne itself seems to be in good hands, with the family managing several parcels of old vines of 50+ years, using environmentally friendly viticultural techniques including minimal spraying, and working to reduce yields through green harvesting and careful canopy management. Read the rest of this entry »

Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 16

16 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

Day 16 and we are still in California. Today we leave behind the high ABVs from grapes grown in the hot interior but vinified in Napa, to get a look at what Jon Bonne calls the “new California wine”. Rutherford is considered to be among the finest Napa Valley AVAs. It lies on the valley floor, getting ample sunshine and warm temperatures, two factors that translate into optimally mature grapes that yield opulent, richly-flavored wines. However, a cooling fog also moves northward up the valley from the Bay area, modulating the sunshine that would otherwise napalm the grapes into a watery oblivion. The results are ageworthy wines that display a precise balance of fruit and acidity. Although Cabernet Sauvignon is the undisputed king across the region, more traditional California variety Zinfandel retains a few toeholds here and there. At Frog’s Leap, Zin is the favourite.


Interestingly enough, the same Riedel varietal tumbler glass is used for Sauvignon Blanc/Riesling on the one hand, and Zinfandel on the other. Maybe they mean white Zinfandel?

John Williams and Larry Turley started Frog’s Leap in 1981, ultimately creating a successful boutique winery that grows only organic grapes and practices dry-farming of vineyards (no irrigation, which many believe leads to sickly vines and bloated grapes that contain less acid, more sugar, and fewer of the  phenolic compounds that make wine worth inspecting, as opposed to crushing). They also incorporate at least certain aspects of biodynamics. Although these guys do not take themselves particularly seriously, stewardship of the land is another matter. Careful attention to yields, the aforementioned dry-farming, and respect for terroir work together to spawn Zins that show restraint, high-toned acids, earthy flavors, and (thankfully for the Advent-soaked liver) more reasonable ABVs. All of this emerges with minimal use of intervention. John Williams believes that nature makes wine, rather than man or woman. Finally, some of Cali’s fascinating grape-growing heritage is reflected in the fact that these old school Zins are often technically field blends: Other black grape varietals grow amongst the Zinfandel vines and are tossed into the pot to round out Zin’s corners and provide additional aromas, flavors, and mouthfeel. These can include various teinturiers (grapes with red flesh, historically used to provide more colour) as well as old warhorses that might be consigned to the dust bin of history were it not for a recent (positive!) trend toward preserving the past. The 2015 Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Zinfandel is 79% Zin, 19% Petit Syrah (or Durif), and 2% Carignan. Let’s delve in.


Cork Rating: 6.5/10. I like the Frog’s Leap swoosh, but otherwise this looks a bit like a cigarette butt.

This is a truly smoky, meaty wine upon first impression. One quick sniff yields powerful hickory smoke BBQ sauce and fresh ground beef. A few more sniffs reveal bramble jam, complete with canes and leaves, pumice stones in a sauna, dill seed and weed, allspice (maybe I should just say pickling spices across the board). I taste mealy Saskatoon berries, blackberries purchased in winter when they are rather tart, strawberries, raspberries, maybe a dab of peach conserve and a sprinkle of sweet dried chilli. None of these fruits are overly ripe or cooked, and everything is just a day or two past green. Peter and I exchanged Instagram messages while tasting this wine, and in addition to what turned into a rather wonderful conversation about the twists and turns of life, he helped provide this take on the primary fruit. Somewhat sweet but far from jammy, and every bit as balanced as Rutherford promises to deliver. Fresh acidity lifts everything up, and the tannins have some grip and just enough stem. This is what I absolutely love about an old fashioned Cali Zin: bright fruit but with ample old thorn-bush shrubbery, robust smoke and spice, tons of country character, nothing blowsy. Curry spices (star anise, cumin, coriander) show up late. Finish is persistent and features another perfect symmetry between fruit and aromatics. After last night’s alcoholic explosion, this is a breath of fresh air. Incidentally, some of my favorite wines are those that trigger bittersweet memories. This one takes me back to the raspberry patch in my old backyard in NW suburban Calgary. I do not live there anymore and I am happy in the downtown core. But the memories remain.

92 points

Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 14

14 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

We’re back in DAC. The Old World classics continue to roll with an Austrian red, and I’m on deck for my third Austrian wine of the blogging campaign. The Calgary wine scene has seen a recent proliferation of Austrian sips, many natural or biodynamic, and the vast majority that I’ve sampled are charming, characterful, and delicious. A few have been stunningly superb. The entry level Krutzler Eisenberg Blaufrankisch is a textbook example that the winemaker describes as a “people’s wine”:  uncomplicated, approachable, congenial, and Krutzler’s best seller, yet still hearty enough to pair with richer meals. This is the Reserve, however.


I wonder if its Austria??

Blaufrankisch is often deemed “the Pinot Noir of the East” due to its proliferation across Eastern Europe and presumably also its taste characteristics. I can see the analogy, although to my palate, crossing partner St. Laurent often seems more quintessentially “Pinot”. Blaufrankisch can yield densely tannic wines (see Fox Run’s offering from the Finger Lakes, NY, which was sublimely floral but excoriated my tongue). This young impetuosity often gives way to a velvety mouthfeel and deep cherry and woodland berry flavors with age, while retaining a pronounced acidity. So yes … A Pinot relative at least in spirit.

One of Blaufrankisch’s parents is the fascinating Gouais Blanc. Gouais is a vinous Genghis Khan: decried as a barbarian, but sowing its seed far and wide. This white grape was deemed coarse and far too rustic, banished to the hinterlands early in the Middle Ages. This ill will almost rendered it extinct. Gouais did however have ample opportunity to cross with Pinot numerous times, perhaps imbuing the latter with some degree of hybrid vigour, and those crosses live on as some of the top wine grapes in the world today (Gamay and Chardonnay!). Fortunately extinction was forestalled and Gouais persists as a prime source of genetic diversity, if not a stellar offering in the glass. The other parent of Blaufrankisch is the ultra-rare Blaue Zimmettraube, recently re-discovered in the German Rheinhessen region. Most evidence suggests that Blaufrankisch itself originated in Lower Styria (in present day Slovenia), spreading to Germany (where it is called Lemberger, the name also used in NY and other US states), the Czech Republic (where it is called Frankovka), Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, and even Italy. Finally, Blaufrankisch is a rising star in Hungary, where it goes by the pert handle “Kekfrankos”. Some claim that these names lack market appeal. I say slap on an appropriately Gothic font and let the flavours speak for themselves. Besides, “Lemberger” sounds like a cheese. Read the rest of this entry »

Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 11

11 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

One certainly learns a lot working through an advent calendar. Providing a detailed commentary for each wine puts this learning into hyperdrive. There are producers and methods to investigate. Sometimes there are grape varieties that I need to research further before delving into the tasting per se. This is one of those times, although this grape is far from rare and I know I’ve had it before. Learning a little beforehand or refreshing one’s knowledge base provides scaffolding for those treasured “in the moment” experiences. This enhances memory for what you taste and smell. The act of paying careful attention on purpose is hard work. Although I prefer to share actual tasting impressions with others after I’ve partaken, to avoid (added) sensory bias, I am a firm believer in having this framework of semantic knowledge ready to go beforehand. This allows one to note the expected structural features and aromas quickly, freeing up mental processing resources for focusing on anything that seems out of place. One could debate the merits and drawbacks of this approach. It works well for me.


Party up top, business below.

In his encyclopedic opus of Italian wine grapes, Ian D’Agata makes a solid case for Verdicchio being Italy’s greatest native white. Versatile, capable of aging, full of aromas described as lemony and almond-like, and showing an affinity for oak, this bright green wonder typically produces lighter and highly floral wines in Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, one of the major DOCGs in the Marche. The latter has been described as producing “cheerful and simple” fare, although this may downplay how good these wines can be. The New York Times recently identified Verdicchio as a “hip varietal”. Yields have dropped and the region is starting to shed its reputation for frivolity due to a previous emphasis on cheesy amphora-shaped containers. These latter vessels look like a cross between King Tut’s scepter and something one could find in an adult novelty store. Circuitous geographical musings and botanical studies of both genetics and morphology have revealed that this grape is identical to the well-regarded Trebbiano di Soave and therefore probably originated in Tuscany, brought to current alternative stronghold the Marche by Tuscan farmers who resettled the land after a severe bout of plague.


Italian wine label with an f-ton of script. Don’t sweat it. Key details explained below!

D’Agata and myriad wine critics regard Villa Bucci as one of the finest di Jesi producers. Bucci offers age-worthy bottles full of finesse, floral perfume, and primary fruit. “Classico” means the grapes were grown in a traditionally favored hilly area near the town of Cupano. Grapes hail from four organically farmed high altitude vineyards (Villa Bucci, Bellucio, Montefiore, and Baldo), each vinified separately. Vines are about 45 years old. Although DOCG rules allow for up to 15% Malvasia Toscana to be included, this is 100% Verdicchio. Grapes are gently crushed under cold temperatures and aged in large used oak barrels for four months, permitting micro-oxygenation but minimal seepage of flavors into the wine.


Cork Score = 8.0 … Actual winery is named with decent font. Some empty space but lofts are still “in”, no? Not depicted: A funky graphic intended to evoke a very pleasant farm.

The Villa Bucci Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore 2016! Nose features a stark minerality right out of the gate … Wet gravel with flecks of table salt and potash. Some low key fruits emerge next: Green apple (including a slight whiff of brown apple oxidation), lemon rind, maybe green tangerine, white blossoms (gardenia, a personal favorite scent, or the aforementioned apple). Palate largely echoes the nose but with more tangy fresh fruits: Bitter orange and almonds, lime, lemon, Granny Smith. Like a Five Alive or similar beverage without any sugar, if said beverage featured a few additional flagellations of acid and some serious added calcium. This has more minerals than it does vowels in the entire handle that I typed out above. Crisp, taut, and broad, with enough primary fruit to save it from an experience not far off rock climbing in a glass. I dig. Or rather, I chip away at a frozen orange entombed in gypsum. We’re back, baby.


You cannot deny that it was an effective marketing tool … From

89 points

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