The Vinebox Cometh: 12 Nights of Wine

14 11 2018

After 7+ years of blogging about and immersing myself in wine, I am in many ways an open book about what I like and don’t like, vinously speaking — there are now over 450 posts on this site, and other musings elsewhere, that spell out exactly what gets me pumped about a new product or wine experience.  Three of the things that rank high on the good side of my ledger, backed up emphatically by past history, are (1) savvy labelling and branding (my love of which is the basis for every Cork Rating I’ve ever done), (2) clever alternative packaging (bring me your wines in cans, your 1L bottles, and everything in between), and (3) Advent calendars.  If you rolled your eyes about the last one, feel free to consult PnP’s 125+ December postings over the past four years and then get back to me…if I’m not a boozy Advent authority by now, I never will be.  As we approach another holiday season, little did I expect to be dumbfounded by a sleek, shiny, downright sexy combination of all three of these things.  Meet Vinebox:

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Oh yes.  It gets better.  Take a look inside:

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OH YES.  Bring it.  That’s what I’m talking about.

Vinebox is a San Francisco-based company that, up until right this minute, was a US-only subscription service for by-the-glass-sized portions of new, interesting, high-quality wines.  This special holiday release box marks their first foray into the Canadian market, and luckily for us locals, it is exclusive to Richmond Hill Wines and a select few other boutiques right here in Calgary.  Given my prior history of Advent proselytizing, I would be remiss if I did not point out that Vinebox’s 12 Nights of Wine holiday kit is not technically an Advent calendar, as it offers 12 different holiday wine offerings instead of the classic Advent 24-day December countdown to Christmas.  It is instead intended to mirror the 12 days of Christmas (which, I was shocked to discover, all actually occur AFTER Christmas — they run from December 25th through January 5th, marking the time in Christian lore that it took the three wise men to arrive and visit the newborn Jesus…mind formally blown).  Practically speaking, this means that you can either crack a glass on every even day in December as a sort of quasi-Advent replacement (or get two and create your very own full-scale Advent calendar, with a critical revisit of each offering every second day) or get the coolest Christmas gift ever for somebody to enjoy on Christmas Day and the next eleven following.

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In recent years, because the progress of the species is a real and abiding thing, we have seen a proliferation of wine, beer and spirits-based Advent and holiday calendars in a variety of shapes and sizes.  What sets the Vinebox addition to this growing December lineup apart is the unique and patented way the wines are delivered, in Stelvin-enclosed, test tube-like — yet still amazingly labelled and producer-branded! — 100 mL glass cylinders that make a stunning visual impression. Read the rest of this entry »

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Burrowing Owl Fall Release Trio

8 11 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

I have now been receiving and reviewing Burrowing Owl releases since 2015, and in addition to some minor shock about my blogging longevity, this has also given me enough familiarity and enough reps with the wines to truly help me understand the winery’s house style.  The whites tend to be creamy and generous, often buoyed and propelled by oak but not at the expense of the underlying fruit.  The reds are bold and ripe yet not overdone, a strong reflection of the scorching desert-like climate of the estate’s Oliver, BC home.

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Year over year, the releases and the winemaking choices behind them come across as impressively consistent, part of the reason why Burrowing Owl has long been on the short list of top quality wineries in the Okanagan Valley.  Now that the snow on the ground here in Calgary seems permanently settled in until April, it feels like there’s no better time to tuck into this trilogy of warm, rich, classic bottles, which always seem to be best enjoyed with a notable chill in the air, starting with a wine that just might be setting a new PnP record. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Maison Sichel Masterclass with James Sichel

3 11 2018
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James Sichel of Maison Sichel

James Sichel is on a mission.  One of five brothers who comprise the sixth generation running the family-operated Maison Sichel, born in Margaux to English parents, James grew up among the history and legacy of Bordeaux and is now charged with connecting a whole new generation of wine drinkers with the fruits of his family’s labour, and rekindling the passion of those who think Bordeaux has passed them by.  There is a view among some modern drinkers that the region has ossified, become beholden to ancient classifications and over-reliant on score-chasing, stratospherically priced speculative investment bottles that are detached from the land and the soil and everything human and natural that goes into making great wine.  There are parts of such a criticism that may stick, but there is so much more to Bordeaux than four-figure futures bottlings and producer tiers; it is a massively prolific producing region and has somehow become an under-the-radar source of superb Tuesday night offerings (particularly, in my opinion, on the white side of the ledger) and sub-$100 luxury splurges.  James’ quest is to bring value Bordeaux back to the rest of the world, to steer the focus away from the elitism that can accompany 1st growth price tags and to allow a fresh audience to rediscover the true beating heart of Bordeaux.  The audience seems to be responding:  Bordeaux sales in Alberta are up 24% this year as compared to last.

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Maison Sichel is a complex entity.  Based in Bordeaux since 1883, they are part estate producer (they own over 350 hectares of vineyards in various different appellations), part winemaking negociant (they work with and source grapes from a series of smaller growers in southern Bordeaux then make wine, including their value flagship Sirius, from the fruit) and part discerning merchant (they sell other hand-selected partner estates’ wines other those estates’ own labels).  On the whole, if you search for the whole Sichel range on its website, you end up with 189 producer results, from straightforward cheap and cheerful offerings all the way up to Chateau Palmer, one of the premier wine estates in the world.  The Sichel family’s pride and joy, however, and James’ current home, is Chateau Angludet, a Margaux estate that is now highly regarded but was on the verge of ruin when the family purchased it in 1961.  It is now their hub and the pinnacle family pursuit.  Aside from Angludet (and a highly savvy prior investment in Palmer in the 1930s), the Sichels own Chateau Argadens in Bordeaux Superieur and Chateau Trillol down in Corbieres.  James’ brother Benjamin Sichel is the winemaker for all three family-owned estates.

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Foreshadowing.

James was on day 10 of a Canadian tour when he took the time (ahead of a sold-out black tie dinner) to lead his Alberta import agent through a portfolio tasting of many of the Maison Sichel offerings available in the province.  I was fortunate enough to sit in on the session and experience my own reacquaintance with a region that too often bypasses my attention.  There were ELEVEN wines poured, so from here on out I will try to be brief.  [Editor’s Note:  I did not succeed.] Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2016 Buena Vista North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon

17 10 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

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A rare sighting.

The $25 California Cabernet Sauvignon is an endangered species nowadays; once a stalwart gateway drug for luring novice wine drinkers into a lifetime of vinous enlightenment, it has now been superseded in that endeavour by numerous other New World crowd-pleasers that are managing to offer similarly accessible and overt pleasure at wallet-friendlier prices.  The combination of rising land costs, fire- and drought-inspired production difficulties and the utter shredding of the Canadian dollar as compared to the US greenback on world currency markets has more or less eliminated California as a source of solid value wine in our market.  Buena Vista Winery is trying to change that, but with this series of factors arrayed against it, it’s fighting an uphill battle.

I have previously written about the remarkable, riotous, barely credible but actually true history of Buena Vista, the proud owner of the label “first commercial winery in California”.  It is well worth refreshing your memory about, but the Coles Notes version must at least mention:  (1) Agoston Haraszthy, who may have been the first Hungarian to emigrate to the United States, who founded the winery and who essentially crammed six lifetimes of zaniness and adventure into one shortened 19th century thrill ride; (2) 1857, the year Haraszthy founded Buena Vista, part of a major ambition to establish high-quality vitis vinifera grapes in hospitable California soils; (3) Nicaragua, where Haraszthy fled barely a decade after Buena Vista was first established, with angry and misled company investors potentially at his heels; and (4) alligators, which apparently ate him there.  Never a dull moment at Buena Vista in the 1850s and 60s. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct: RMW&F Festival Edition!

11 10 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

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Find the booth, for wines like this!

It’s October, and here in Calgary we’ve already been bombarded with two feet of snow in the last week and are craving the spring that’s a winter away, which can only mean one thing:  it’s coming up to Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival time.  The massive tasting event, now in its 21st year in the city, is kicking off tomorrow in Calgary (Oct. 12-13) and is heading north to Edmonton the following weekend (Oct. 19-20).  In addition to a massive number of wineries, breweries and restaurants, in attendance for the first time this year will be our blog’s favourite national wine club Cellar Direct, the Old World-focused provider of finely crafted low-intervention traditional-styled wine that ships its offerings across Canada and has been known best on this page for never yet providing a bad bottle over multiple years of tasting experiences.  If you happen to be attending the Festival (which you should, if you can), stop by the Four Corners booth (#309 in YYC, #903 in YEG) to say hi to the founders and brainchildren behind the Cellar Direct venture and sign up for their mailing list, which will give you access to wines like the ones below, which I recently received as a sort of Festival lead-up.  It will likely be the only place you can find these bottles in the country. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Finca La Linda Malbec Tiers

26 07 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

In some ways, trendy grapes have it tough.  Malbec has a proud and lengthy heritage as one of the six permitted grapes in red Bordeaux (yes, I’m still counting Carmenere, and shall ever continue to do so) and as the dauntingly famous Black Wine of Cahors, and it is almost single-handedly responsible for giving an entire country a vinous identity that has led to the rediscovery and cultivation of astonishingly high-altitude decades-old vineyards and a re-imagination of what grapes are capable of achieving in Argentina.  It is both an Old World stalwart and a New World trailblazer, pulling off both with equal aplomb and giving itself new life in the process.  But with raging-wildfire levels of success comes an inevitable fight against consumer boredom, particularly amongst the more avant-garde and adventurous in the wine world, which creates a sort of quiet undercurrent of peer pressure to steer clear of what is currently painfully a la mode.

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Great labels, but why is one bottle a third taller than the other??

I feel this way quite a bit, pulled away from the customer staple of the day in part because of my own desire to see what else is out there, but in part because of some innate resistance that I see amongst other wine geeks, some refusal to go along with what is everywhere.  So it was with Australian Shiraz; so it is with Argentinian Malbec; so it will be with whatever comes next.  I don’t really have a hard stance on this, but I have recently tried to make sure that my efforts at open-mindedness in wine extend equally to those grapes and styles that are suddenly ubiquitous as to those that remain esoteric.  I have also tried hard to remember that I once relied very heavily on the Shiraz-laden fads of the day as a gateway that set wine’s hooks into me for the first time, and I enjoyed the living hell out of them.  Fifteen years later, I have a WSET Advanced certification and have been publishing reviews on a wine blog for seven years.  Trends can lead somewhere.  So let’s start somewhere. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: White Australia

19 07 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

Sometimes your moneymaker becomes your millstone.  Australia, which had been making wine for a couple centuries without raising much of a global fuss about it, burst onto international liquor store shelf traffic jam within the past two or three decades thanks to a flamboyant, fruity, brash, ripe style of Shiraz, buttressed by a New World-friendly Cabernet Sauvignon that was easy on the pocketbook.  A mammoth export industry emerged, but typecasting of Australian wine as a whole inevitably followed, leaving those longstanding producers with histories older than the Dominion of Canada stuck in their own misleading shadow.

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Now the Shiraz spotlight has pulled back a bit, giving everyone a bit of room to breathe and again find comfort in the space of their own natural identities; for longstanding affiliates Pewsey Vale and Yalumba, this has meant a continued push to enhance the white side of Australia’s wine spectrum, and perhaps the sowing of a few carefully nurtured seeds which might ultimately settle the debate of what should be known as Australia’s signature white grape.  Two deserving contestants, from two benchmark wineries, lie below. Read the rest of this entry »








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