Wine Review: The Whites of Castoro de Oro

31 07 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

It’s alive. The blog, that is. Peter is enjoying some much needed R & R overseas and got to sample hybrid grape Solaris for the first time. Don’t get too jealous of that particular detail. Although I’d welcome a chance to add this one to my life list, apparently we aren’t missing out on all that much. Meanwhile, let yours truly guide you through another Pop & Pour Okanagan run that will span two posts and six wines. I’ve enjoyed tasting these, particularly as I reflect on how this family owned winery has seamlessly melded careful viticulture, whimsical yet clever branding, and an earnest appeal to passion and hard work. All this yields a singular focus on making award-winning handcrafted wines from grape to glass. It seems warranted to begin with the whites. But first, some further background.

IMG_E0849The Castoro de Oro estate vineyard was planted in 1980. Located in the esteemed Golden Mile, this site seems engineered by Mother Nature to deliver full ripeness in the grapes, yet not at the expense of acidity. Here we have vines facing southeast to provide ample sunshine, with the grapes also growing on a slope right next to a lake, factors that together work to mitigate any effects of frost. This is all well and good, but too much heat can cause flabby wines that lack precision. Fortunately, a mountain provides evening shade that permits the grapes to cool off during the summer, preserving tartness and resulting in a key balance between acid and ripe fruit flavours. This is particularly important for white wines, for which acidity is the only source of freshness and structure (well… for the most part. Tannins from wine skins and barrels sometimes play a small role).

Enter Bruno Kelle and (Calgarian) Stella Schmidt, self-described “partners in life and wine-making”. They acquired this site and launched the Castoro de Oro winery in 2006, farmers who like to make wines that most people can afford. I can jive with that, although I can find it hard to relinquish the role of “guy who is supposed to assess these wines in a serious way according to certain criteria”. I’m going to wear that black hat here, because to some extent I have to… AND, I’m also going to attempt to appreciate these wines based on the winemakers’ own vision. Here we go. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Technical Tasting with Barolo’s Claudio Viberti

26 05 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

It all began when Cavalier Antonio Viberti purchased a restaurant, the Locanda del Buon Padre. In 1923, Antonio decided to start making wine in the basement, as many do in this region. The original intent was to keep things simple and just sell the wine to patrons in the restaurant. Well, Antonio’s son Giovanni had other ideas. Things began to expand. Eventually cement tanks for fermentation were installed, and in 1955 wines were sold in nearby markets for the first time. By the 1970s the operation had become a full scale winery, even if the family never forgot their roots as restauranteurs. Giovanni’s son Claudio Viberti, who was our host at this past week’s tasting event at Willow Park Wines & Spirits, took over management of winery and restaurant operations in 2008. He hasn’t looked back since. The man is a dynamo.

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Claudio tells a few of us early birds the story behind the rosé served before the beginning of the formal proceedings. First off, and much to our surprise, this rosé is 100% Nebbiolo. Secondly, the wine is made first as a white wine from Nebbiolo juice obtained via an extremely gentle press. Claudio also makes a small amount of red wine from the same batch, using this to fix the colour of the end product. No combined maceration on the skins was involved, à la pink Champagne. I start scribbling notes. This is dry as a bone but does yield a subtle candied character, with the robust illusion of a sweet finish after a rather dense midpalate. Fairy-like whispers of strawberry, raspberry leaf, and nectarine flit about a more solid core of Parmesan cheese and those pink wintergreen mints, a rather burly rosé with a shimmering coppery finish. This is a rare wine but seems unlikely to remain so. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Blaufrankisch Masterclass with Georg Prieler of Weingut Prieler

1 05 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne and Peter Vetsch

Austria is renowned for the fruit purity and fine minerality of its wines, and Blaufrankisch is the premier black grape of the region. Grown across Central Europe and going by various monikers (the wonderful “Kekfrankos” in Hungary, and the more prosaic “Lemberger” in Germany), Blaufrankisch is an early-budding, late-ripening variety sometimes dubbed the “Pinot Noir of the East”; its elegance and dexterity earns it that nickname, but its hallmark savoury mineral wildness forges an identity all its own.  Some grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Campania’s Aglianico are said to swamp or overshadow terroir with their sheer varietal character, while others are more protean and can serve as a lens through which the story of their soils and site and climate are reflected.  Blaufrankisch falls firmly into the latter camp, although through its various land-driven expressions one can commonly find dark berry aromas and flavours, vibrant acidity, a pronounced spiciness and that “other” wild rocky character that can set this grape apart.  We were extremely excited to do a specialized tasting of this varietal with Georg Prieler, owner and winemaker of Burgenland’s Weingut Prieler, a dynamic, charismatic, insightful winemaker who carries his family’s history with aplomb…and who might just make the best Pinot Blanc in the world.

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Georg Prieler, Weingut Prieler

Yes, Pinot Blanc. We both first came to know this producer by being absolutely floored by how stunning and utterly fascinating Weingut Prieler’s Pinot Blancs can be.  This particular grape rarely wins this sort of accolade and is often considered a paler, strait-laced shadow of Chardonnay, never fully given the opportunity to take a star turn in any region…except, as it turns out, in Burgenland, where Prieler exalts it among whites and where Georg calls it “the Riesling of the Burgundy varieties”.  That got our Riesling-loving attention, and Prieler’s single-vineyard Pinot Blanc which capped off our tasting held it,  transfixed.

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All that said, Pinot Blanc remains both the winery’s and the region’s “second most important” variety, according to Georg, as nothing in Burgenland knocks Blaufrankisch off its throne. Georg himself hails from (and still lives in) the village of Schützen am Gebirge, population ~1500, known for steely Pinot Blanc but also the sublime Goldberg vineyard, where Blaufrankisch might reach its pinnacle.  He closely oversees operations in both vineyard and winery, inheritor of a legacy that runs from his grandfather to father to sister and now, as of 2011, to Georg himself.  The family’s time in the vineyards predates their work in the cellar — the Prielers have been planting and tending grapes in Burgenland for 150 years, which perhaps is what leads Georg to immediately describe himself as “just a farmer who takes planes and drinks wine”.  After his inaugural visit to Calgary, and with the voice of his wines preceding him, it’s clear that this particular travelling farmer has a global reach. Read the rest of this entry »





Ripasso and Appassimento in Niagara: A Virtual Tasting with Barclay Robinson, Winemaker at The Foreign Affair

15 04 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

As a wine lover, I often feel I am walking a tightrope of sorts between appreciation of bare-bones, terroir-driven wines of place on the one hand, and esoteric, funky winemaking techniques on the other. My allegiance gravitates implicitly to the former camp, populated by relatively pure expressions of soil and grape variety that eschew the muddying effects of various vinification tricks of the trade. Then again, I can be a sucker for the weird, particularly if there is true intent behind the decision to use a particular cellar technique: the careful realization of a particular vinous vision can be every bit as compelling as what results from a more hands-off approach. It turns out that in some cases, particular techniques are the tradition. And traditions, like other aspects of culture, are meant to be shared, applied to new contexts, and ultimately celebrated.

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Enter Barclay Robinson, winemaker at Ontario producer The Foreign Affair, who recently shared the story and results behind some of these techniques and traditions in a personal virtual tasting.  This was a lot of fun, Barclay being exactly the sort of guy I like tasting with: erudite yet down to earth, funny yet quick to impart knowledge. The winery, situated in the Vineland area of the Niagara Peninsula, is completely unique in the Canadian context. Founders Len and Marisa Crispino lived as expats in Italy, where they fell in love with the Amarone wines of Valpolicella. These burly concoctions are made using the the appassimento process, in which the grapes are dried after harvest for to up to 6 months, typically resting on bamboo racks or straw mats, or alternatively strung up from the ceiling where air can circulate and work its dehydrating magic. These raisined grapes provide a very concentrated must (the juice to which yeast is added after crushing to make wine), which makes fermenting the resulting wine to total dryness quite a challenge. I have grown to appreciate Amarone over the last year or so, although its combination of high alcohol, intense flavour concentration, and a unique nut-like bitterness can be polarizing. The Crispinos decided to bring this winemaking approach to Ontario, albeit using the Bordeaux varietals known to do well in the Niagara Peninsula (alas, Niagara Corvina is not a thing at this juncture). Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Taylor Fladgate 1969 Single Harvest Port Release

8 03 2019

By Peter Vetsch

“All wine would be Port if it could.”

And with that, Cynthia Opsal, Brand Manager for The Fladgate Partnership at Pacific Wine & Spirits, kicked off this year’s rendition of one of my favourite annual tastings in the Calgary wine calendar, perhaps the only one to have now been blogged four separate times on this site.  On a quiet Thursday afternoon in Calgary, a small group of us became the first people in Canada to taste Taylor Fladgate’s most recent 50 year-old Port release, the 1969 Very Old Single Harvest Port.  It was worth the half-century wait.

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I’ll back up.  Taylor Fladgate was founded in 1692, is now 327 years old, and is still being run by the same family that started it all, whose holdings have since expanded to include three other legendary Port houses.  In 1998, The Fladgate Partnership acquired Fonseca, whose winemaker David Guimaraens now crafts the Ports of all of the houses, and in 2001 it acquired Croft, the oldest active Port producer in the world (now 431 years old and counting).  The last acquisition was Wiese & Krohn, a relative baby compared to the others, having only been founded 154 years ago in 1865, but possessed of considerable cellar stocks of Tawny Port dating back decades.  This fact was particularly relevant for Fladgate’s desire to go beyond the standard 10, 20, 30 and 40 Year Tawny Port designations and create a novel 50 Year Port.  It is likely not coincidental that the Krohn purchase came in 2013 and the initial 50 Year release followed a year later.

IMG_9833Of course, wine laws being what they are and no story being remotely as interesting without some twists and turns, it wasn’t as easy as just slapping a “50 Year Tawny” label on a blended Tawny whose average wine age hit the half-century number.  This designation did not and does not exist — there is no permitted vintage-blended aged Tawny Port designation above 40 Year.  Presumably Portuguese wine lobbying is not a productive pursuit.  So what to do?  There is a separate recognized class of Tawny called a Colheita (“kohl-YAY-ta”) Port:  a Tawny Port whose constituent wines were all harvested in the same single vintage, effectively a Vintage Port that is oxidatively aged like a Tawny instead of being bottled early.  Other than a requirement that Colheitas have to spend at least 7 years in barrel, there was no other limit on how old a Colheita could be and when it had to be bottled, so as long as The Fladgate Partnership had access to enough back-vintage Tawny to bottle a batch for each successive vintage (which they now did), their 50 Year dream could be realized.

The first Taylor Fladgate Very Old Single Harvest Port was the 1964, released in 2014.  We are now on year five of the program and the inaugural release of the 1969, a wine which almost didn’t come to be due to the significant challenges associated with the vintage (any rough edges of which seem to have been smoothed away by fortification and 50 years to relax in barrel).  We began the afternoon tasting Single Quinta Vintage Ports from the crown-jewel vineyards of each of the Partnership’s main three houses, and ended off with a running four-year vertical of the most recent Very Old Single Harvest releases, which I almost immediately realized were the four prior releases that PnP has covered, putting me face to face with my own history as well as that of the estates in the glass. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: A Field Guide to the Wines of Albert Bichot

10 02 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

Peter has kicked off the 2019 blogging campaign in style, with an intriguing comparison of wine preservation methods that will make a significant contribution to the annals of Pop & Pour science. And me? Well, I’m back doing one of the things I do most frequently on this blog: covering a tasting. This one was a casual drop-in scenario, bypassing the formal sit-down presentation, and on this date that was just fine by me. The frigid weather has left me irascible and more than a little crabby. Fortunately, we’ve got a prescription for those blues… and its not more cowbell. It is glorious, glorious Burgundy.

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I’ve mentioned my love affair with Burgundy (and Pinot Noir more generally) enough times on PnP, so I won’t belabour the point here. I had not tried any wines from Albert Bichot before, but I was promptly faced with 15 (!) of them, in a carefully curated sequence of whites and reds, from Chablis to Grand Cru, complete with a bonus round detour into Beaujolais Cru territory. Fifteen! I was titillated and daunted in approximately equal measure. How the hell is a guy supposed to keep these all straight, what with the small pours, limited analysis time, and numerous distractions around the table? I like to meditate on a half-bottle or more, savouring and seeing how the wine develops over time, as one’s palate habituates to the initial impressions. This is another kettle of fish entirely, with a pace more like Whac-A-Mole than a game of chess, although I do have my tricks, particularly a powerful secret weapon: “Beginner’s mind”. This is an application of mindfulness, where one deliberately pays attention to the present moment, concentrating the attention into a laser beam focused only on the wine in the glass, and then seeing what associations are dredged up. With beginner’s mind, you explicitly adopt a form of make-believe in which you imagine that the liquid in the glass is foreign, entirely novel, never before encountered, and see what this clean slate provides. Might sound hokey, but give it a try during a tasting. It’s like a palate cleanser for the brain. All this aside, I will not take much credit for the fact that I WAS ultimately able to keep all these wines distinct in my mind’s eye. This was more testament to the artistry of the 6th generation producer Domaines Albert Bichot. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Dom Pérignon Luncheon with Winemaker Nicholas Lane

13 12 2018

By Dan Steeves

It’s hard to believe that almost six months has passed since my last post on Pop & Pour (I’m still getting used to the deprivation of free time with a further expansion to our family!) and I was thrilled at the opportunity to get back into it by attending a luncheon with the beautiful wines of Dom Pérignon, paired with stellar cuisine from Chef Dave Bohati at Murrieta’s Bar & Grill Calgary.  Thrilled is definitely an understatement, actually. I’ve always enjoyed Champagne, but after travelling to the region a few years ago, I really fell in love with the bubbly concoction for which the region is so famous. Seeing with my own eyes the vineyards, the massive underground cellars, how these magical wines are actually made, and tasting many different bottles from various Champagne houses, all gave me a connection with the region that I am reminded about every time I pop open a bottle. So having the opportunity to try the legendary wines of Dom Pérignon with one of the actual winemakers…well, let’s just say it was more of a dream come true!

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A throwback to the time we were crazy enough to vacation in Champagne with a 6 month old baby. Luckiest baby ever? Definitely!

Dom Pérignon is the prestige brand from Champagne giant Moët & Chandon, and is one of the oldest prestige cuvees to be marketed by any of the top Champagne houses, with the first vintage being the 1921, which was released in 1935. It is named after the Benedictine monk, Dom Pierre Pérignon, who in 1668 became the cellarer at the Abbey of Hautvillers, located just outside the Champagne capital of Épernay. Although he is commonly credited as being the creator of Champagne, Dom Pérignon did not invent sparkling wine (at the time it was considered a fault), but he did provide many advances to wine production in Champagne. His goal was to create the best wine in the world, an ambitious task for anyone and especially those in the cool and harsh Champagne region, but his work perfecting the science of blending various grape varieties and pressing to create white wines from black grapes set the foundation of the great Champagne wines we have today. Read the rest of this entry »








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