Calgary Wine Life: Domaine Chandon Sparkling Wine Dinner @ Elwood and the Rabbit

13 04 2018

By Dan Steeves

Chandon is a name that instantly makes me think of the luxurious Champagnes from the famous (and largest) Champagne house Moët & Chandon, but its North American offspring Domaine Chandon is not just a clone of its majestic parent company.  It has a vision to be different and create its own legacy by providing a pure expression of what California is all about, while at the same time maintaining the quality that is inherent in its French pedigree.

When Domaine Chandon was established in the Napa Valley in 1973 it was not the first international venture for Moët & Chandon (Chandon Argentina was established first in 1959, and California was succeeded by Brazil in 1973, Australia in 1986, China in 2013, and most recently India in 2014) but it was the first French-owned sparkling wine venture into the US, which now hosts operations from many of the large Champagne houses. Moët & Chandon recognized the potential of the area for sparkling wine production, especially Carneros, which at the time was seen as too cold and infertile to grow grapes (coming from Champagne, they knew it’d be perfect). Moët & Chandon purchased 400 acres of Carneros vineyard land for mere pennies on the dollar in today’s market. It was a humble California beginning for the M & C Winery on March 26, 1973, whose official address was John Wright’s garage, but within a few years the current winery facility was built and opened to the public and the house’s name was officially changed to Domaine Chandon. The 45th anniversary of Domaine Chandon just passed a few weeks ago with the winery holding firm as a longstanding powerhouse in Napa Valley, seeing over 200,000 visitors a year and likely holding the honour of being the largest producer of traditional method sparkling wine in the US.

The line up of Domaine Chandon California wines available in Alberta –  Blanc de Noirs, Brut, and Rosé

Having visited the Moët & Chandon mothership in Épernay (the heart of Champagne) a couple years ago and being fan of all their Champagne wines, I was ecstatic at the opportunity to try the Chandon California wines alongside some delicious food from Bridgeland’s Elwood and the Rabbit. The dinner was hosted by Brian Fairleigh, the Brand and Wine Educator for Domaine Chandon, whose infectious passion for sparking wines is matched closely by a wealth of knowledge about every aspect of Domaine Chandon. Brian made it clear that comparing Moët & Chandon Champagne with Domaine Chandon is like comparing apples to oranges: the two are very different, although they share the same adherence to quality and excellence in the vineyard and cellars. Domaine Chandon aims to showcase the fun, vibrant, sunny California fruit flavours and builds wines that are accessible, enjoyable, and made for everyone to enjoy all year round. Many people only reserve sparkling wines for times of celebration, and although they are perfect for those times, they are equally as enjoyable for a casual sip with friends or an accompaniment to almost any meal. Brian was happy to show us some great pairings. Read the rest of this entry »


Wine Review: Winter Warmers, Part 1

23 02 2018

By Dan Steeves

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

The end of February is slowly approaching and we are less than a month away from the first day of spring. That means warmer weather is in our sights and we soon won’t have to deal with any more snow, right? That might be wishful thinking, but we can certainly hope it is the case! Until that warmer weather shows up and takes permanent residency in the prairies, we will need to keep staying warm and spending our evenings huddled around the fireplace with a nice glass of full-bodied red wine. Although I personally drink all types of wines all throughout the year (nobody should deprive themselves of rosé for months on end), there is no doubt that I enjoy more red wines over the cooler winter months, not only for the warming effects of a 15% ABV Cabernet Sauvignon, but also because we tend to eat more hearty full-flavoured comfort foods during this time and less light and refreshing fare.

To get you through the next month until you start seeing green on the ground, we have reviewed a few robust red wines that will be great at keeping you warm and satisfied until the spring flowers start blooming. We kick off this two-part series with reviews of great value reds from two regions known for their big red wines:  Bordeaux, France and the Colchagua Valley, Chile.

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Calgary Wine Life: Famille Perrin Tasting with Thomas Perrin @ Avec Bistro

15 02 2018

By Dan Steeves

Excited is an understatement of how I felt yesterday as I was on my way to an amazing vinous and culinary experience at Avec Bistro featuring the wines of Famille Perrin and proprietor Thomas Perrin. I have always been fond of the wines of the southern Rhone, especially after travelling through the area a few years ago an experiencing the culture, the landscape…and, of course, the wine! Being guided through a tasting by any winery owner is always a privilege. Hearing directly from them about the history of their area, small details of their wines and their actual impressions of each bottle creates a personal connection that makes it such a memorable experience. Combine this with impeccably paired cuisine and it is elevated to a new level of sublime indulgence.


Famille Perrin is a family-owned and -operated producer (Thomas, the 5th generation, along with his siblings and cousins, all work for the family business) in the southern Rhône Valley which is most notably known for their flagship label from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Chateau de Beaucastel, although they have an extensive collection of wines from many other areas in the southern Rhone. They have been established for just shy of 110 years and are the leading organic grape grower in the area after Thomas’s grandfather, Jacques Perrin, pioneered organic farming practices in the 1950s which was followed by biodynamic practices in the 1970s. All wines produced by Famille Perrin are blends consisting of at least two grape varieties which are grown, vinified and matured separately and then blended to create a harmonious wine.  With there being 13 different grape varieties allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (all of which are used in the Chateau de Beaucastel CdP, one of the only estates to do so) and still other varieties used in other wines elsewhere in the region, you can imagine how long and busy the harvest season is for Perrin. The harvest starts in August with the early ripening Cinsault and ends two months later with Mourvedre and Counoise. Vinification is then done separately using stainless steel, concrete, or wooden tanks with very limited oak ageing done, at least in the sense that no new oak is used to avoid imparting oak characteristics in the wines.

The tasting consisted of six wines from the Famille Perrin collection – a rosé aperitif, followed by a white and four reds, each accompanied with their own food pairing. Below are details for each wine (and food pairing). Read the rest of this entry »

Co-op Wines: The Social Collection, Bin 107

14 02 2018

By Dan Steeves

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

As a follow up to Peter’s review of the first Co-op Social Collection bottle, the Bin 101 Cabernet Sauvignon, we now move onto the second bottle of our trio, Bin 107 Pinot Blanc, which hits a little closer to home.  This bottle’s front label clearly shows it is a product of Canada, and upon examining the back label, you notice further clues as to the wine’s origin. Underneath the grape variety is written “Golden Mile – Oliver, BC Canada”, and further down it shows that the wine was exclusively produced and bottled by Castoro de Oro Estate Winery in Oliver BC.

The region south of the town of Oliver and north of the town of Osoyoos is commonly referred to as the Golden Mile due to the amount of wineries off the highway between the two towns. However, stating “Golden Mile” on a label does not have an official meaning — this term shouldn’t be confused with the very-similar label designation “Golden Mile Bench”, which an area up off the valley floor that shows unique climate and soil types and which is now recognized as an official sub-Geographical Indication within the Okanagan Valley GI. That said, all wines made in this part of the Okanagan are well known for their high quality due to the ideal climate:  hot daytime temperatures, cool nights, and limited rainfall (it is for all intents and purposes a desert).

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 22

22 12 2017

By Dan Steeves

It’s hard to believe that we are so close to Christmas Day, which means the end of the Advent calendar is also quickly approaching. It has been such a great experience trying so many new wines and being able to share some information and tasting thoughts on Pop & Pour. I didn’t originally think that enjoying (and reviewing) a split bottle every day for 24 days would take much effort, but I must admit it’s harder than you might think! That said, each time I’ve unwrapped a bottle to reveal the treasure contained within, I am overcome with excitement and eagerness to dive in and try it, as was the case again this evening!

Day 22… So close to the end!

Initially, I wasn’t sure what to think when I unwrapped the top of the bottle to see an alien face on the top of a screw cap. With such graphics, is this some gimmicky bottle of wine? Further unwrapping showed a 2010 vintage with an old-looking label with the title Le Cigare Volant, which, from my rusty French, I knew translated to The Flying Cigar. A quick turn of the bottle discloses that the wine is a southern Rhone blend (think Chateauneuf-du-Pape) from Santa Cruz, California, and produced by Bonny Doon Vineyard, a name I have heard of before but never tasted any of their wines. Also included on the back label was an explanation of the name of the wine which is an interesting and surprising story. In 1954, a law was passed in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region banning unknown alien aircraft known as flying saucers (or, in France, flying cigars) in the area and stating that any such craft landing within the area will be held in custody. Yes, this is an actual law in Chateauneuf-du-Pape! Ok, everything is starting to make sense now, and it definitely has my attention.

A name incorporating UFOs and an alien screw cap is pretty awesome!

Bonny Doon Vineyard was started in 1983 by founder Randall Grahm and is known for pioneering the use of Rhone varietals in California. After purchasing land in the Santa Cruz mountains, Grahm originally sought to follow a dream for creating great Pinot Noir but quickly found Rhone varietals to be much better suited for the area, and the inaugural vintage of the now-flagship blend, Le Cigare Volant (1984), was released in 1986. The winery has embraced biodynamic farming practices and been transparent in labelling the ingredients on every bottle of wine since the mid 2000s, when the winery focused on producing more terroir driven wines. Grapes are grown, or sourced, from regions where achieving optimal ripeness is a struggle each year, allowing the grapes to produce deep flavours while maintaining their acidity. This viticultural approach, combined with non-interventionist winemaking, creates a more pure wine, giving a sense of place or terroir. Read the rest of this entry »

Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 17

17 12 2017

By Dan Steeves

Day 17 of the Bricks Wine Advent Calendar brings us back to Italy for a taste from the iconic region of Chianti Classico, located south of Florence in central Tuscany. For me, Chianti is synonymous with pizza and rich pastas and is my go-to wine for such fare. It can be quaffable yet complex and its strong acidity makes it easy to pair with a lot of different foods, especially most of my favourite Italian dishes.

One of the many sub-zones located within the greater Chianti region, Chianti Classico has a long history of winemaking going back thousands of years; the region was officially delimited back in 1716. At the time, it was known solely as Chianti, and as popularity of the wine increased in the early 20th century, the region had to expand to further adjacent towns to meet demand. In 1932, “Classico” was added to wines made within the original delimited Chianti area and in 1984 it was established as its own DOCG. Chianti Classico is generally known as a higher quality wine compared to its neighbouring Chianti wines due in part to the more strict rules on its production, including longer aging (minimum 1 year vs 3 months), grape varietal content (Classico must have a minimum of 80% Sangiovese and no white grapes are permitted), and higher alcohol (minimum 12% vs 11.5%). Further quality tiers also exist in Chianti Classico with Riserva and Gran Selezione wines. Riserva wines must be aged for a minimum of 2 years, while Gran Selezione wines must be aged a minimum of 2.5 years, are comprised of the best fruit from the estate’s own vineyards, and have to be approved through a tasting panel to ensure they meet the strict quality threshold.

Tonight’s wine, the 2014 Félsina Berardenga Chianti Classico, comes from a relatively young producer which started in 1966 and whose vineyards are located on the southeastern edge of the Chianti Classico border at Castelnuovo Berardenga. All of Félsina’s Chianti Classico wines are made with 100% Sangiovese and throughout the years they have worked to ensure the best possible matches between various Sangiovese clones and the terroir of their lands. Out of the 600 hectares of land held by Félsina, only just 15% is under vine with the remainder farmed for other crops (olives, grains, fruits, etc) as they believe strongly in maintaining biodiversity on their land. This passion and respect for the land carries through to their wines, which showcase rich and dense flavours with an elegant structure.

The wine has a medium ruby colour with a fairly deep core, more than what you might expect for a Chianti (Classico). With a medium intensity, the wine comes out of the gates with an assortment of fruit aromas including plum, raspberry, dried dark cherry, and red licorice. The fruit isn’t overbearing though, and is layered over a strong core of developing notes of wet stone minerality, leather, clove, a light medicinal aroma and uncooked pie dough. This beautiful nose is equally matched on the palate, which shows much more earthy flavours of dried leaves, leather, clove, tomato leaf, vanilla, and walnut. The cherry and plum fruit come through on the tongue as well, but more the skin of the fruit than the flesh. Structurally the wine is solid with strong acidity, fleshy tannins, and a finish that provokes you to fill up your glass and take another serving of spaghetti.

89+ points

The easily recognizable black rooster seal of Chianti Classico. If you don’t know the story behind it, check out this previous post on Pop & Pour here.

Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 13

13 12 2017

By Dan Steeves

We are now officially into the second half of the Bricks Wine Advent Calendar! It’s been a fun ride so far with some fantastic wines, which for the most part (10 of 12 bottles) have all been from Old World wine regions. Tonight, we go back to the New World (perhaps New World wines will have a larger influence in the second half of the calendar?) with a wine from Sonoma County, California: the 2015 Schug Carneros Estate Winery Pinot Noir.

Day 13 wine was not an unlucky one!

Los Carneros AVA (commonly referred to as just Carneros) spans across the southern part of both Sonoma and Napa counties just north of San Pablo Bay. The region has low hills and relatively low elevation and is known for its moderate climate that is heavily influenced by cool winds blowing in from the Bay. The stress from the cool, windy conditions draws out the growing season which promotes crisp acidity and flavour development in the fruit and makes it an ideal location for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and for sparkling wine production. The region is so well suited for sparkling wine production that a number of famous Champagne houses (Moet & Chandon – Domaine Chandon, Taittinger – Domaine Carneros, and GH Mumm – Mumm Napa) have set up operations in Carneros for producing high quality sparkling wines.

The Schug Winery is a family run operation, started by Walter Schug and his wife Gertrud in 1980, and is now headed by their son Alex Schug although all of their children are involved in the operation. Walter and Gertrud moved to California from Germany in 1961 to start working in the developing California wine industry. In 1966 a position working with the northern California portfolio for E&J Gallo allowed Walter to forge relationships with hundreds of growers in the region and gain insight to the prime vineyards in Napa and Sonoma. This experience was sought by Joseph Phelps in 1973 and Walter started a 10 year tenure as VP and winemaker for the new winery (next time you see a bottle of Insignia or Backus vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, you now know who was behind it). In 1980, Joseph Phelps ceased production of Pinot Noir but made an arrangement with Walter that he could continue to produce it under his own private label while still the winemaker at Joseph Phelps. A few years later, Schug went out on his own, and in 1989 purchased land in the Carneros appellation and started the Carneros Estate which runs today.


2015 Schug Carneros Pinot Noir – WS Tribute Vintage – Remembering founder Walter Schug who passed away in 2015.

The 2015 Schug Carneros Pinot Noir has a medium ruby colour and a pronounced nose of cherry, raspberry, bramble, and cranberry along with nutmeg, vanilla, and slight smoky and medicinal aromas. The wine shows its cool climate upbringing with its crisp and earthy aromas, and it is a delight to take in all the scents. On the palate, the wine attacks immediately with a spicy character and nicely balanced crisp acidity and silky tannins. Flavours of dark cherry, cranberry, currant, leaf, tree bark, and clove persist with a rather long finish. I am a big fan of cool climate New World Pinot Noir and this wine most certainly does not disappoint! At the $30 price point it offers tremendous value for a highly regarded region like Carneros and a winery with deep roots in the development of the regional wine industry.

90 Points


“Bliss” by Charles O’Rear 1996

P.S.  If you’ve ever used a PC, there should be a 100% chance you recognize the above picture. The picture of a relaxing green field with the rolling hills on a beautiful sunny blue sky day, which was a default background for Windows XP. The photo, aptly named “Bliss”, was taken on film in 1996 by Charles O’Rear while driving through Carneros. There are no vines in the picture, as they were all ripped out a few years prior due to a Phylloxera outbreak, but this area is now once again under vine.

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