Yalumba: Introducing Samuel’s Collection, Part I

19 11 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Yalumba is tidying things up a bit.  The Barossa stalwart, now on its 5th generation of family ownership dating back to 1849, traces itself back almost the entire length of the history of its region (whose first Shiraz vines were planted in 1847).  But 170 years of growth and development later, Yalumba’s impressive lineup of wines was starting to lack some internal organizational cohesion, with some forming part of a demarcated grouping or collection (the wildly successful Y Series being a key example of why this can be a boon to consumers) and others standing on their own, without clear delineation as to their place in the company hierarchy.  This would not be much of an issue for a smaller-scale producer, but when you make 52 different bottlings, it’s nice to know where things fit.  Enter Samuel’s Collection.

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This new mid-tier range is both a corporate reorg and a celebration, a way for a number of excellent but disparate Yalumba offerings to find a home as a tasteful homage to the winery’s founder Samuel Smith.  The Collection, featuring all-new clean, modern label art, features seven wines:  four reds from the Barossa Valley and three whites from the neighbouring Eden Valley.  The reds (Bush Vine Grenache, GSM, Shiraz, Shiraz Cab) all share measured ripeness, fermentation using ambient yeasts and a more lithe, transparent take on what can be a region known for muscle-flexing; the whites (Viognier, Roussanne, Chardonnay) are all similarly streamlined takes on sultry grapes, rooted in Eden’s cooler weather and acid spine.  I have had prior vintages of both of tonight’s reds, known back then as the Old Bush Vine Grenache and The Strapper GSM, and their packaging and branding was so divergent that it looked like they came from different wineries.  No longer.  The threads that unite now take centre stage…even the price, as every wine in the new Samuel’s Collection should hit the shelf at a $25ish mark.  As will be seen below, it is a group worth seeking out. Read the rest of this entry »





Amulet Wines: Vinous Talismans

6 11 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

When the intrepid Dwight Sick left his longtime position as winemaker at Stags Hollow Winery and took up the same role at the Naramata’s Moraine Winery, he took two things with him:  (1) a trailblazing sense of adventure, forcing drinkers to check their premises regarding which grapes can work best in the Okanagan Valley, and (2) access to the best and most established plantings of Grenache in Canada, from the Kiln House Vineyard near Penticton.  That combination could never lie dormant for too long.  Sick helped plant the Kiln House Grenache vines over a decade ago, and he nurtured them into the Okanagan’s first bottling of varietal Grenache after years of effort and patience.  It didn’t seem right to let the red Rhone dream die, so soon after it had been realized.  So Sick didn’t.

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Enter Amulet Wines:  a special new side project that Sick has undertaken in collaboration with Dylan and Penelope Roche of the thrilling recent Okanagan venture Roche Wines, fulfilling a vision 15 years in the making.  Amulet is focused solely on Okanagan-grown Rhone varietals, a lesser-known but burgeoning (and shockingly effective) subset of British Columbia’s melting pot of grape influences.  The inaugural Amulet release is a duo of bottlings, both blends, both heavily featuring the Kiln House Vineyard, both aimed at proving that Canada is (or at least can be) a New World Rhone haven.  As Dwight Sick was one of the first to make me believe the truth of this latter proposition, I was eager to see how far an entire brand focused on this goal, and inspired by his vision, could carry it.

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First things first:  god damn are these visually commanding bottles of wine.  I don’t know how gripped I am by the “good versus evil” thematics that pervade the Amulet branding, but I am entirely enthralled by the bottles themselves, which harken back somewhat to Sick’s old Cachet bottlings from Stag’s Hollow in their transparent monochrome-and-red colour scheme.  However, what particularly elevates these new offerings are their centrepieces:  the curved golden metal coins emanating from the heart of each bottle, which are apparently replicas of Elizabethan-era “Gold Angel” coins, depicting St. Michael slaying a dragon, that were carried or worn as amulets to ward off evil.  Whatever these coins added to the overall production cost of the bottles, it was worth it — they are simply stunning.  I tried to pry mine off the bottles once they were empty, but to no avail.  I’ll look for a dragon next time.  Were the wines equally as compelling as their packaging? Read the rest of this entry »





Volcanic Hills II: Eruptive Reds

13 10 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

The Volcanic Hills story is a charmingly Canadian one.  Founder Sarwan Gidda’s father Mehtab moved to the Okanagan Valley from East Punjab, India in 1958 with his wife and children, becoming the first Indo-Canadian family to settle in West Kelowna.  After a few years, Mehtab and family were some of the most prolific apple farmers in the valley, but from the late 1970s onward, slowly but surely, their agricultural vision began to drift to grapes.  Ray’s excellent introduction to Volcanic Hills Estate Winery outlined how Sarwan took the next step from grape farming to wine production in the 2000s, and how his children are now helping to carry on this burgeoning family legacy.

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Volcanic Hills is largely a grower-producer, making the bulk of its portfolio from its own 68 acres of estate vineyards in the West Kelowna area, carrying on the Gidda family’s initial farming mission.  Not only are all of VH’s Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Zweigelt (yes, Zweigelt) and Marechal Foch (oh yes, Foch) wines made from 100% estate fruit, but all such grapes are own-rooted, planted on their own original rootstocks as opposed to being grafted onto disease- and pest-resistant rootstocks from non-vinifera species, as is the case with the bulk of wine grapes worldwide.  However, while the other two posts in this producer series will focus largely on what Volcanic Hills can do with its own fruit, the four reds below are exceptions to the VH rule and are instead sourced from warmer climes with longer growing seasons which can reliably ripen them.  The Giddas have contracts with other growers in Oliver and Osoyoos from which they obtain their Bordeaux reds and their Syrah, all of which are on offer at the winery for well under $30.  The price points of the entire Volcanic Hills library are such that John Schreiner was moved to name a recent article about them “Wines You Can Afford”.  But price is only one part of the equation; do they deliver for what they cost? Read the rest of this entry »





PnP Panel Tasting: Weird Canada – BC Carmenere Supremacy (Plus Special Guests)

21 09 2019

By Peter Vetsch & Raymond Lamontagne

It all started with Carmenere.  It snowballed from there.

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Sometime last year we became aware that there was at least one winery growing and making Carmenere in the Okanagan.  (I am now aware that this has been the case since at least 2005, but allow me my joy of discovery nonetheless.)  Then we were told of another.  And then another.  Then we decided, emphatically though without particular reason, that we MUST gather and taste all of these Canadian Carmeneres, even though we had no real plan for achieving this goal — it will not surprise you to learn that these idiosyncratic bottles are small-production, not in the Alberta market and often produced for winery club members only.  Then one such winery club member, who I had never previously met, happened to be IN the Okanagan while chatting with us about this now-fanatical obsession and picked up a couple of the Carms for us, along with some of the other weird vinous glory you will see below.  Then another local benefactor, who I had also never met, traded us the final piece of our Carmenere puzzle from her cellar.  Thanks to the kindness of electronic friends, we now had ourselves a proper comparative tasting, an honest-to-goodness BC Carmenere showdown.  The first ever?  I can hardly believe it myself.

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The Carm contenders:  Black Hills Estate Winery, which normally plays it fairly strait-laced but which allowed itself a foray into the wacky with this Club-only offering; Moon Curser Vineyards, whose entire portfolio is dedicated to oddities like this which fall outside of the Canadian mainstream (stay tuned for a future Panel Tasting when we dive into their Touriga Nacional and Dolcetto, among others); and Lariana Cellars, which has made Carmenere its signature red and a focal point of its streamlined offerings.  In addition to the main event wines, we couldn’t help but test-drive some other intriguing bottles from these producers, as well as a…Canadian Brunello?  Frankly, if you start a tasting premise at “Canadian Carmenere”, why stop there?  Tyler, Ray and I were born for this.  Bring it on. Read the rest of this entry »





Spain, Old and New, Part III: The Wines of Vina Real

9 09 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Nearly a year on from the start of this review set, through three different seasons of write-ups, I am closing in on the full story of the Cune wine lineup.  We started with the mothership itself, the Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana (C.V.N.E.), the Riojan stalwart whose expressions cross four separate brands.  We then ascended to Imperial, the Cune adjunct focused on Reserva- and Gran Reserva-level wines from the top vineyards of Rioja Alta, the core of what most people know of Rioja as a wine region.  Tonight we move from the centre of the heartlands to Rioja’s outskirts, and from the centre of attention to a group of producers tired of being overlooked.  Cune’s Vina Real label is rooted in grapes sourced from the ever-ignored yet consistently impressive Rioja Alavesa.

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This least-known Riojan subregion lies in the north-central portion of Rioja, bordered by the Ebro River to the south and the Sierra de Cantabria mountain range to the north, which protects the vineyards from the cool coastal winds above.  It is both the smallest and the most elevated of Rioja’s three sub-zones, its hilly and terraced vineyards influenced by the nearby mountains, its 40 x 8 km surface area a relative pittance compared to its much more expansive siblings Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja.  Being the smallest and most neglected in the family also tends to make you the scrappiest:  Rioja Alavesa has recently, and ever more vocally, been seeking to carve out its own identity within Spain’s most prominent wine appellation.  There has been some talk of leaving Rioja altogether, which has not been all that well-received by the region’s governing body.  Rioja Alavesa is craving respect and recognition, and that is part of what Vina Real seeks to deliver.

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The winery is named for its vineyards’ proximity to the Camino Real, the “Royal Road”, a renowned traditional highway; its relation to the Camino de Santiago walking trail which crosses all of northern Spain is not immediately clear to me, though that pilgrimage road goes right through Logrono, the closest city to the winery.  Much of my discussion of the Cune-brand wines has alighted on that intersection between traditional and modern approaches that they seem to exemplify, but in none of Cune’s labels is this more clear than Vina Real.  The winery is part of Rioja Alavesa’s historical fabric, being among the first in the area to employ barrel aging for wines (which is now a hallmark of the whole Rioja region) and to make Crianza wines for earlier release.  But its present incarnation is unabashedly modern:  the magnificent new puck-shaped winery building, constructed out of cedar and inaugurated by the king of Spain himself in 2004, was designed as one of the first gravity-flow operations in the country and has bored out the surrounding hilltop to create state-of-the-art underground cellars.  Even this cutting-edge operation does not lose sight of its past, however:  the winery’s circular shape (as seen on Vina Real’s labels) is an homage to a traditional large Riojan fermenting vat, a physical representation of the old-meets-new dichotomy that defines this set of producers.  Do the wines follow suit? Read the rest of this entry »





By The Glass: Domaine de Pellehaut’s Harmonie de Gascogne

18 08 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Back!!  I have returned from overseas, feeling as refreshed as one can after multiple weeks of intercontinental travel with two kids under 9, and ready once more to dive into the glass and find words to go with it.  This return post takes me somewhere I have not often gone in the world of wine, somewhere that does not usually immediately cross my mind as a source of bottle options:  that broader informal wine zone in southwest France aptly yet uninspiringly called “Southwest France”.  (Admittedly, if all regions were so named, learning about wine would be SO much easier.)  Within the Southwest, an area nestled roughly in between Bordeaux and Languedoc-Roussillon, lies IGP Cotes de Gascogne, a quality wine area best known by a wide margin for a spirit.  As it turns out, the borders of the region precisely mirror those of Armagnac, although its production rules are far more open-ended on the non-distilled side of the spectrum.

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If you don’t recognize the term “IGP”, you’re not alone:  it didn’t exist when I first started studying wine with any seriousness back in 2011.  Previously wines within this classification were known as “Vin de Pays”, or “country wine”, a step up from the lowly standards-free French table wine called “Vin de France”, displaying some regional quality and character but without quite the level of history or distinction befitting a full AOC (now AOP) classification.  “IGP” stands for “Indication Géographique Protégée” (Protected Geographical Indication), which, while much harder to remember than “Vin de Pays”, probably communicates its purpose a little bit better.  The AOP-lite rules surrounding the IGP designation allow for a little more freedom when it comes to grape selection and production methods, freedom that tonight’s producer uses to its full advantage, although the Rolodex of permitted IGP grapes for the Cotes de Gascogne (19 in all, 11 red and 8 white) already seems broad enough to permit significant latitude in what comes out of this area.  It is mostly a white hotbed, with well over 80% of vineyard area planted to white grapes, which is no surprise given that these are the focus of Armagnac as well.  Two of Armagnac’s four prominent standard-bearers, Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano) and Colombard, are protagonists below.

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Domaine de Pellehaut is one of those remarkable under-the-radar family-run European estates that has been passed down from generation to generation since the 1700s, is firmly rooted in carefully tended old-vine sites, produces remarkably honest and vivid wines, yet would have remained in complete obscurity from international audiences without amplification from a more recognized voice.  That voice in this case is Maison Sichel, owners of Bordeaux’s Chateau d’Angludet and part owners of Chateau Palmer, which in addition to its own wares markets the wines of other worthy partner estates, including this one, without ripping their owners’ names from the front label.  Brothers Mathieu and Martin Béraut tend the 300+ year-old Pellehaut sites and make the wine, which has gained critical attention yet suffers primarily from the fact that it doesn’t hail from one of the dozen or so major European wine regions that casual drinkers recognize.  These kinds of outsiders, it turns out, are where the bulk of the bargains can be found.  Domaine de Pellehaut’s “Harmonie de Gascogne” collection is a prime example. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Road 13’s Rare Whites

12 07 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

This may be the last post from me for a while, as I imminently prepare to head off of the continent for a little bit on a proper Viking vacation.  (If anybody knows a great wine shop in Copenhagen or Billund, let me know immediately.)  But fear not, Ray will still be here to keep the blog alive for the rest of July, and I have one last gasp of Canadiana in me before I bolt the country.  Tonight’s trio of whites from the Golden Mile Bench’s Road 13 Vineyards makes me realize that I should have been following this winery more closely before now, but I will try to make up for lost time.

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Clean and classic labels, eye-opening wines – but not sure about 2018’s italics.

Road 13 has had an interesting last 12 months, as it was named the Winery of the Year at Wine Align’s National Wine Awards of Canada in 2018 and was then promptly sold before the year was out.  Long-time proprietors Pam and Mick Luckhurst, who acquired the winery (then-called Golden Mile Cellars) and were responsible for first renaming it and then building it into a well-respected national brand, decided to move into retirement (the winery itself having been their first, not-that-relaxing-as-it-turns-out attempt to retire) and accepted an offer from Mission Hill’s / Mark Anthony Brands’ Anthony von Mandl to purchase the company.  The winemaking team remains intact, however, as does the winery’s vision and present focus on the potential of Rhone varieties in British Columbia, an endeavour that I back fully, having had enough marvellous Okanagan Syrah recently to make me wonder what else from the south of France would flourish here.  As it turns out, the white Rhone side of the equation is just as compelling as the red.  But we start with a scion of a Road 13 classic. Read the rest of this entry »








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