Wine Review: Taylor Fladgate 325th Anniversary Limited Edition Port

9 01 2018

Happy New Year!  Pop & Pour returns after a lengthy and dearly needed post-Wine-and-Whisky-Advent break with a bottle that would have graced this page last year but for the 49 other calendar-based things that had to do so in December instead.  Rest assured that the delay is no commentary on what’s in the bottle.  2017 would have been a preferable year to write up Taylor Fladgate’s 325th Anniversary special-release Tawny Port, if for no other reason than that it was the actual year of the 325th anniversary in question, thanks to Taylor’s founding way back in 1692.  Thankfully, the juice is just as delicious in 2018, and there are still a number of stores in town that have stock remaining (though this Limited Edition is sold out at the import agent level, so act fast if you want some!).


Happy (belated) anniversary, Taylor Fladgate!  We’re back!!

Unlike most fancy commemorative releases from leading lights in the world of wine, Taylor Fladgate has done something daring and remarkable and borderline audacious with this celebratory flask:  it has made it accessible to the drinking audience at large.  Rather than building this one-off Tawny from ultra-rarified sources and then pricing it into the stratosphere (which it could easily have done, and quite successfully), it instead opted to take the top component lots of wines otherwise destined for its 10 through 40 Year Tawny lineup, blend them to about a 15 Year average, then age them together for 18 months so that it could release this (utterly spectacular looking) bottle at a shade below $50 retail.  Taylor intended this to be celebratory and drinkable at large, a monument for the masses, a conversation piece rather than a museum piece.  If this does not instantly become the next birthday gift you want to buy for the wine lover in your life, I worry for you. Read the rest of this entry »


Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 24

24 12 2017

Well, the children are tucked all snug in their beds — not sleeping yet, of course, as that would be asking for a miracle — so the time has come to close the curtain on a riotously fun Wine Advent experience and give some kudos to the bottles and people that made it all happen.  The first thank you obviously goes to the remarkable team at Bricks Wine Company, who eagerly took on this half-bottle Advent challenge and then went all out foraging through a not-all-that-overflowing 375 mL market to put together 24 quality bottles reflective of their identity as a shop and their value proposition to their customers.  Way to go — all of your effort clearly showed through over the course of this month.  I would also be remiss not to thank my ultra-awesome co-collaborators Dan Steeves and Ray Lamontagne for their blogging prowess and oh-so-necessary assistance that allowed PnP to forge through two parallel booze Advent calendars at the same time. I’m hoping this won’t be the last time you see their work on this page.


As for the bottles that shone brightest, I asked each Wine Advent writer to give me their thoughts about their 3 favourite wines of the 2017 calendar and separately made up my own podium of winners for comparison purposes.  There was a lot of jostling in the silver and bronze spots, but the gold medallist was a runaway unanimous victor:

Ray Lamontagne’s Top 3 Wines

1.  2011 Raventos i Blanc “De La Finca” (Day 12):  Buzzsaw acidity is the lens through which all that spiced sourdough and fruit is focused.

2.  2015 Frog’s Leap Zinfandel (Day 15):  A down-home BBQ in a bramble patch.

3.  2010 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant (Day 22):  Peppered blueberries baked into a gingersnap, this can hover by anytime.

DARK HORSE – 2014 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Rouge (Day 20):  Oh look, another Pinot from…Sancerre??  Don’t injure yourself on all those stony outcroppings.


Dan Steeves’ Top 3 Wines

1.  2011 Raventos i Blanc “De La Finca” (Day 12):  Beautiful acidity with complex layered nutty and toffee flavours with an exceptional finish.

2.  2015 Gruber Roschitz Chardonnay TBA (Day 23):  Great balance for being lusciously sweet, with mouthwatering acidity and an incredibly long and lingering finish.

3.  2015 Schug Carneros Pinot Noir (Day 13):  Beautiful fruits with powerful structural elements that showcases the value that New World Pinot Noir can offer.

DARK HORSE – 2012 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino (Day 2):  The later wines are fresher in my memory, but this was a beautiful bottle.


Cork Rating:  7/10 (Score bumped by the awesome shade of blue on the metal cap.)

My Top 3 Wines

1.  2011 Raventos i Blanc “De La Finca” (Day 12):  Just a clear notch above the rest in terms of complexity, structure, power and soul.  A true emotive experience.

2.  2015 Krutzler Eisenberg Reserve Blaufränkisch (Day 14):  So effortlessly refined, luxurious yet precise, an eye-opening reason why you should all be drinking more Blaufränkisch.

3.  2015 Stuhlmuller Vineyards Chardonnay (Day 21):  California Chardonnay is largely responsible for giving itself its own reputation for blowsy, overoaked, overripe, overblown wines, but bottles like this show why everyone made such a fuss about it in the first place.

DARK HORSE – 2016 Bella Sparkling Rose “Westbank” (Day 1):  This showed me something that I hadn’t yet seen in Canadian wine; I can still vividly picture its live-wire energy.  It was our first bottle and I remember it more than most of the others.

The fact that three generally like-minded wine lovers picked nine completely different wines to round out their podiums after all zeroing in on the same winner gives you some indication of the overall quality of the wines in this calendar.  The diversity of great bottles in this 24-day span has been phenomenal.


Merry Christmas from my family to yours!!

There’s not much time or space left to talk about bottle #24, which was the De Venoge Cordon Bleu Brut Select NV Champagne, an appropriately celebratory finish on the night before Christmas.  That ends up being a blessing in disguise, as my bottle was not showing I expect it should have.  It was a VERY dark gold coming out of the bottle and had almost no mousse or carbonation to speak of, smelling heavily of dulce de leche, Kraft caramels and hot sandpaper and tasting flat and roasted and bitter, like coffee left too long on the burner.  Blowtorched black jellybeans, soggy parchment and molasses rounded out a Guinness-like flavour profile.  If I had to guess, I would say this cork didn’t sufficiently hold its seal as the wine sat for some time after bottling but before sale; it’s not as ragingly faulted as my unlucky Brunello on Day 2, but since I highly doubt it’s in condition, I’m not going to score it.  I will instead set it aside and remember the other remarkable bottles that I enjoyed so much, and hope that we’ll get to do it all again next year.  Until then, thanks for following along!

Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 23

23 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

We have reached the penultimate day of what was occasionally a rather hectic yet still always fun endeavor (for me, in any event … I did not have to write one of these suckers every single day). This is my last advent entry, at least for this year, and our loyal readers (I know there are at least three!) can probably predict the country from which this special wine hails. If it is me writing about Advent wines this year, there’s a solid 50% chance the wine is Austrian. If that were not enough, I have also ended with the same producer with which I started, Gruber Roschitz, neatly closing the circle. Its been a wild ride, if one defines wild as cracking wine books, doing many Google searches, and, you know, drinking. These are three things I do rather frequently anyways, and it was a pleasure to share it with the world. Thank you Peter and Dan. And thank you to everyone who reads our musings.


Who me, peek? It was clearly the cat.

The Grubers are three siblings:  Ewald, Maria, and Christian. Ewald provides the winemaking philosophy and oenological know-how, Maria is the marketing genius, and Christian handles the important work in the vineyards. Gruber Roschitz does not shy away from modern technology, although the winemaking remains anchored in low intervention principles such as moving the liquid as little as possible, using no fining, and no fertilizer in the vineyards except compost. I’ll also admit that I love the critters on the labels. The Grubers offer several theories as to the nature of these goblins or sprites. I prefer the “little children of Bacchus ensuring joy and pleasure” account. YMMV.IMG_0536

Botrytized or noble-rotted Chardonnays are not particularly numerous, although if you go looking you will find a few from around the world. Although some argue that Chardonnay is less susceptible to noble rot than Riesling or Semillon, other sources state that this varietal’s tight clusters make it one of the most susceptible grapes. Regardless, a non-Riesling trockenbeerenauslese is rather intriguing. TBAs are explicitly made from late harvest grapes, all of which are botrytized and painstakingly picked by hand. My powers of deduction lead me to conclude that these grapes hail from the Hinterholz vineyard. Here the soil lies over bedrock and an adjacent woodland helps to regulate temperature, producing a large contrast between day and night and yielding a smooth Chardonnay. Of course, the noble rot is going to be a game changer. Read the rest of this entry »

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 21

21 12 2017

This is my second last wine post of Advent 2017:  the coming two days will see Dan and Ray post their Bricks calendar wrap-ups, and the next time you hear from me will be on Christmas Eve, for the grand half-bottle Advent finale.  It’s almost hard to believe our countdown to Christmas is almost done; it’s almost harder to believe that I actually survived it (though perhaps I shouldn’t say that yet).  And Bricks appears determined to send me off in style, because Day 21’s wrapping comes off to reveal an absolute firecracker of a Chardonnay:  the 2015 Stuhlmuller Vineyards from Sonoma’s Alexander Valley.  I think this grape is still in a down phase when it comes to much of the consumer world, but we seem to be entering a period where many of the regions previously responsible for Chard’s worst oaky boozy excesses have started to dial it in just right, at least on the quality wine side of the spectrum.  And there is no better representative of this evolution than California.


Stuhlmuller Vineyards was founded by a husband and wife team who got their start in 1982 growing and supplying grapes to neighbouring wineries.  They didn’t become a full-fledged estate winery until 2000 but have already developed a reputation in the crowded California wine scene, particularly for Chardonnay, which makes up over half of its acreage.  The Alexander Valley is in the northeast corner of Sonoma, inland from the coast and due north of the better-known Russian River Ralley; its eponymous Russian River runs up and along the eastern edge of Stuhlmuller’s vineyards in Alexander’s southwest corner, where it and the Russian River Valley come together with Dry Creek Valley.  Much like Napa, the grape-growing conditions in the Alexander Valley are helped by two separate ocean-induced effects:  morning fog coursing in daily through the Chalk Hill gap, and cool nights spurred by ocean breezes, both of which provide the grapes relief from the scorching California heat, help preserve precious acidity and lead to more balanced ripening.  This bottle shows the results of all that climatic effort, clocking in at 13.9% abv.


Cork Rating:  3/10 (Friendly advice – no phone numbers or websites on corks. This has both.)

This is Stuhlmuller’s “entry-level” Chardonnay, but it’s clear from the start that no shortage of care went into its creation.  It was fermented sur lie (on its spent yeast cells) over 8 months and matured in French oak, mostly small-barrel barriques but only 5% new.  It is a rich golden colour in the glass and finds that perfect harmony between Chardonnay’s careful fruit and oak’s at-times exuberant influence, mixing fresh pear, peach and Granny Smith apple pie with ginger chews, almond shortbread, oatmeal cookies and rubber boots.  Simultaneously full and cutting on the palate, the Stuhlmuller’s oak-aided roundness is run through with a table saw of slicing acidity.  It is beautifully poised on the tongue without losing the weight and body that is a defining feature of Chardonnay, a honeyed swirl of caramel apple, white flowers and a bracing quality on the finish like a cool sea breeze.  Refined and restrained but still California in essence — exactly what New World Chardonnay should be.

92 points

Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 20

20 12 2017

When the days hit double digits starting in 2s, I know our calendar work is almost done.  I’m not going to lie:  I’m ready not to be writing tasting notes and blogging on a daily basis, at least for a little bit.  But then I unwrap a bit of an Advent mystery and find myself sucked in all over again, pulled once more into the insatiable curiosity that goes with loving wine.  This time it came from revealing a bottle bolding displaying “Sancerre”, likely THE Old World heartland of Sauvignon Blanc and a renowned white region in France’s eastern Loire Valley…but then noticing things that seemed off.  Did it seem kind of dark inside?  Is that a maroon neck foil?  Wait – does that say Sancerre ROUGE?  (Granted, I have already had a white wine in this calendar say that it was a red wine by mistake, but this bottle actually IS one.)


It turns out that red wine makes up close to 20% of Sancerre’s yearly production, all of which is required by appellation rules to be 100% Pinot Noir.  And there is perhaps no estate in Sancerre that takes its reds more seriously than Domaine Vacheron, which plants 11 hectares of Pinot alongside 34 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc and doesn’t treat it like an afterthought in the cellar.  The Domaine is now in its fourth generation of family ownership and has revamped all of its vineyard practices in the hands of the two young cousins who now direct its operations, Jean-Laurent and Jean-Dominique Vacheron.  They converted the estate to biodynamics in the early 2000s and now only fertilize the chalk and silex soils with composts made on the property, harvest by hand, ferment using only native yeasts and bottle according to the lunar cycle.  Their Pinot Noirs are partly matured in stainless steel tanks to preserve their fruit and partly in large neutral barrels for oxidative effect without oak flavours.


Cork Rating:  2.5/10 (Not only is it boring as sin, it doesn’t do that great a job at its primary function of holding in liquid.)

This is my first ever bottle of Vacheron, the 2014 Sancerre Rouge, from a property that is almost at the literal centre of France.  I was a little leery from the outset as the cork came out of the bottle completely sodden and squeaky, but the wine inside seemed to bear no ill effects.  It was a fully transparent ruby in the glass and emitted a distinctive and attention-grabbing set of aromas:  beyond the more expected Pinot smells of cranberry, underripe raspberry and violets, there is a pronounced vegetal greenness (dill/pickles; Ray says nettles), a tangy citric bite (tangerine, gooseberry) and a base industrial rockiness (flint, car tire skid marks) that differs markedly from your run-of-the-mill Old World Pinot earthiness.  The palate adds salted watermelon, pomegranate, lava dust and crushed roses on a light, deft body structured mainly by prominent papery tannins.  This is a compelling mirror of its rocky soil and a suggestion that Pinot has the potential to ascend from its eternal Sancerre understudy status.

88- points

Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 19

19 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

There had to be a Bordeaux in here somewhere! Due to all kinds of understandable economic, availability, and supplier-based reasons, and maybe just garden-variety sanity, you knew that a 375 mL bottle of Bordeaux in an Advent Calendar was not going to be something prestigious and expensive. Indeed, the best Bordeaux has been priced right out of everyday grasp (for most of us). I have two special bottles (a 2014 Margaux and a 2012 Mouton Rothschild) that together cost about half of what I paid for one of my Magnum Cellars over/under wine coolers, and rest assured they will not be consumed anytime soon. I occasionally have nightmares where one turns out to be corked, or where I take one out to gaze longingly at the label, fantasizing about the glorious bouquet within, only to have it slip out of my clumsy grasp and go full shard all over my hardwood floor. Bordeaux bottles are robust, but still. I’d lick first and get my tongue stitched up later. I also have one 1986 second growth bottle that I purchased on sale (a Ducru-Beaucaillou) and this should be enjoyed soon. Probably now, as I write this. Logically I know it is time to drink up, but emotionally I still succumb to that treacherous wine geek logic of “But should I wait just a weeee bit longer??” … Cheaper options might be less titillating, but they are far simpler to navigate from a drinking perspective. I am a Burgundy lover who nevertheless visits the world of Bordeaux often, and although the chateau model of classification is easier to learn than Burgundy’s tortuous terroir-based system, there are still a galaxy of options to master. In this case, fear not: the Bricks team did their research (of course!). Good value Bordeaux from the lowest ranked Bordeaux Rouge AOC and Bordeaux Superieur Rouge appellations can be found, and Chateau Recougne might just be one of the best of the Bordeaux Superieur wines.IMG_0523

Bordeaux Superieur covers the same huge geographic area as Bordeaux AOC, namely the entire region. However, Superieur must hail from vineyards that are more densely planted than garden variety Bordeaux. Crowded vines are more stressed and yield fewer but better quality grapes. Superieur grapes are also riper at harvest, resulting in higher alcohol levels. Many Superieur are “Right Bank” wines from the areas north and west of St. Emilon and Pomerol. If one wishes to strike a balance between quality and price point (quality as defined within the rubric of “everyday drinking pleasure”), this strikes me as a wonderful option. It turns out I am not alone: one analysis concludes that thirteen bottles of Bordeaux Rouge or Superieur are consumed every SECOND somewhere on the planet.IMG_0525

According to legend, Henry IV visited Chateau Recougne and was extremely impressed by the quality of the wine made there. He declared the land “Terra Recognita” or “recognized land”. Today winemakers Xavier and Agnes teach their children the wine-making art, producing reds, whites, and roses. Recougne falls within Fronsac, an area highly regarded in the 18th century and now sometimes panned for producing Merlot-dominant wines that taste hard and crudely earthy in contrast to the plush offerings of St. Emilon. Fronsac has made a comeback, however, and I’ve recently had a 2004 Chateau Villars that aged marvelously and was top-heavy with notes of “sous bois” (forest floor), plum, spice, and sundry caffeinated beverages, punching well above its weight class. Recougne itself seems to be in good hands, with the family managing several parcels of old vines of 50+ years, using environmentally friendly viticultural techniques including minimal spraying, and working to reduce yields through green harvesting and careful canopy management. Read the rest of this entry »

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