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 »

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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 »





The Ultimate Wine & Chip Pairing Showdown

26 11 2018

By Peter Vetsch

The event was almost a year in the making:  a one-versus-all challenge for pairing supremacy, putting the food-matching skills of eight local wine enthusiasts to the test against a backdrop of one of the more ubiquitous (and delicious) foodstuffs to grace a pantry.  Through extensive research and experimentation, and more than a little trial and error, we sought to answer the question: what wines pair best with the most common flavours of potato chips?  And who could best elevate a chip flavour with a pairing match that ticked all the right boxes?

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Here’s how our game was played.  After some market research, we first agreed on the top chip flavours that would participate in the competition:  BBQ, Salt & Vinegar, All Dressed, Sour Cream & Onion, Dill Pickle, Ketchup, Jalapeño Cheddar, and Bacon.  (A couple notes on these flavours:  1. “Plain” is not a flavour.  It has to HAVE a flavour to BE a flavour.  2. Americans, I don’t want to hear any complaining about All Dressed – it is a pantheon chip and no chip-based contest is complete without it.)  We were then each randomly assigned a chip flavour as our pairing muse and were tasked with finding the perfect pairing for that chip.  When we gathered together, we tasted through each flavour one at a time (again in randomly drawn order) and graded each potato chip/wine duo out of 10 on the strength of the pairing only:  the individual merit of each wine and each chip were disregarded, and the only question was how well they meshed together.  The top average score out of 10 took home the prize (which was nothing, other than eternal bragging rights and a pervasive sense of wellbeing).

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I should add before diving into the results that potato chip and wine pairing is WAY harder than you might think (and that the bulk of the articles that you can Google on this point almost surely did not go as far as to actually taste their recommended pairings with their chips), as once you put glass to lips with a bowl of chips you realize it does not quite unfold as expected.  With very limited exceptions, potato chips are crammed full of bold, potent, concentrated flavours meant to pack a punch, which can lead to them overwhelming many a potential pairing match that might otherwise be complimentary from a flavour perspective.  Chips also contain an array of particularly exaggerated spicy, sour, sweet and/or salty notes that can pose pairing challenges on their own, let alone in combination (or, in the case of All Dressed, which features ALL of these flavours at once, in accumulation).  A successful chip pairing wine is either one that has the firepower to match the lab-tested amplitude of Old Dutch’s natural and artificial flavours, or one that can do enough to comfortably neutralize them and provide some palate relief without getting lost itself.  Neither are easy targets to hit.

Below I will set out (in the order that the tasting took place) each brave contestant in this inaugural PnP Wine & Chip Pairing Showdown (complete with Twitter handle), their assigned bag of fried potato destiny and their vinous gladiator.  Then I will include a brief explanation of basis for the pairing and the thought process behind it in each competitor’s own words, before assessing how it all worked out in practice.  Finally, I will reveal the outcome of the pairing in question, both on my personal ballot and in the overall official group tally.  You will see that my scores tend to be lower than the group’s across the board, which is more a personal reaffirmation of the difficulty of the mission on my end, a confirmation that a perfect processed potato pairing can be elusive.  Without further ado — let’s eat some chips. Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





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 »





Global Champagne Day Taittinger Technical Tasting @ Alloy Restaurant

21 10 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Happy (belated) Global Champagne Day! There is probably no better way than a champagne tasting to shake off what has become a considerable amount of wine writing rust. Tasting bubbles, bantering with a few friends, listening to a knowledgeable and engaging speaker — good for the soul. As usual I arrive at the restaurant too early, a neurosis that rarely extends to other important engagements in my life but one that seems omnipresent where wine events are concerned. I simply do not want to miss anything. Right away there is a glass of Cuvee Brut Reserve NV (non-vintage) in my hand, Taittinger’s entry level offering, and at this point I do not mind waiting. IMG_2148Taittinger’s Mikael Falkman comes highly recommended, although on this occasion he seems more inclined to let these majestic wines speak for themselves. He does come to life near the end of the tasting with an exuberant blend of knowledge and humour.  Mikael makes sure to provide a concise history of this famed house, but I particularly appreciate his expositions of the Taittinger family’s winemaking philosophy. I will provide these gems and nuggets along with my tasting notes for each wine. Read the rest of this entry »








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