Cellar Direct: On To Italy!

24 01 2018

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

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Italy is not kidding around.

Over the past couple of years, I have come to know the wares of virtual Canadian wine merchant and weekly offer club Cellar Direct pretty well.  Over the course of half a dozen reviews and nearly twice as many bottles, I’ve grown accustomed to the Old World bona fides and seemingly effortless consistency of the wines sourced by CD founder Ron Van Schilt from family estates strewn across Europe:  France all day, Germany for sure, with a bit of Spain thrown in for good measure.  But I had never yet tasted anything from the fourth pillar of Cellar Direct’s traditional sourcing ground, the most glaring omission from the vinous Euro-stars above:  Italy, the focus of multiple prior online offerings but no corks popped at my kitchen table.  That changed tonight, and my perception of what this virtual venture is bringing into the country climbed ever higher.  The focus tonight is two dynamic, bombastic Italian reds, with a wild Cellar Direct white (Arneis!!) from the same country to come a bit later.  Let’s start where my Italian heart lies. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wine Review: It’s Go TIME!

17 01 2018

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

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NHL-licensed wine.  Bring on the themes!

No, that title isn’t me exhorting myself into giving 110% on this wine review, playing for the crest on the front of the jersey and leaving it all out on the ice.  It is in fact the actual, somewhat-punny name of a red and white wine duo made as a commercial and charitable collaboration between the Okanagan’s TIME Winery and my local NHL squad the Calgary Flames, with some of the proceeds from bottle sales going to the team’s philanthropic Flames Foundation.  Having recently been to a WHL Hitmen game, I can confirm that the Saddledome boards themselves officially confirm TIME as the team’s official wine supplier (yes, such a designation is a thing), and the bottles are both served at the arena and sold at a wide array of retailers across town.  TIME is a brand owned by Encore Vineyards, a group led by Harry McWatters, a Canadian wine pioneer who founded Sumac Ridge winery the year I was born (1980) and who already has 50 years of local wine business experience under his belt, perhaps more than any other living person in Canada.  After selling Sumac Ridge, McWatters launched TIME in 2013, basing his winery inside an old movie theatre in Penticton and focusing on grapes from the southern Okanagan for his production.

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It is a long-standing tenet of this blog that I am fully on board with a good theme wine, as long as the gimmick doesn’t come at the expense of the underlying substance.  When theme bottles are done well, you win twice, augmenting the already-pleasurable experience of drinking well-made juice with the added enjoyment of the marketing cleverness surrounding it.  When they are not done well, not only are you left drinking crappy wine, you end up feeling a bit like you’ve been had while doing it.  These two bottles stake a sort of middle ground between those extremes, but when combined with their inoffensive price tag ($19.99 SRP) and their charitable underpinnings, they take no steps to dampen my theme wine enthusiasm.  Let’s get into them; it’s go t– …well, you know what time it is. Read the rest of this entry »





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!).

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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 »





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 25

25 12 2017

Merry Christmas!  I am NOT blogging tomorrow.

49 different reviews, covering two totally different types of drinks and written by 4 different people, have now been posted on this site in the month of December.  It has been the most Herculean effort in the history of Pop & Pour and I’m unabashedly thrilled to be at the other end of it, but as these things always are, it has also been rewarding without measure.  It’s been a new experience to blog with others and share this space with alternate viewpoints and different frames of tasting reference, but to also be able to share what goes into getting something down on paper and then up on the site has felt like a weight off my shoulders, and when those other authors contribute as consistently and impressively as Tyler Derksen has, the burden lifts even further.  Massive thanks to Tyler for a killer blogging debut.

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Our Christmas reward.

I usually round off the KWM Whisky Advent experience with two things:  a heartfelt kudos to Andrew Ferguson and the Kensington Wine Market team for somehow making this remain fresh and interesting year after year, and the list of my top whiskies of the calendar.  I emphasize the first even more than usual this year, because the breadth and diversity of whiskies in 2017 surpassed any previous year I’ve tasted through, lacking only (IMO) something from Japan to round out the lineup – maybe next year?  I may de-emphasize the second this time around, because my whisky podium for this calendar ended up decidedly weird.  But I’m sticking with it, because that’s what you do with traditions.  Here goes.

  • Best Value Dram:  Glengoyne 15 Year (Day 21) — An utterly delicious 15 Year Single Malt Scotch, from a distillery that once invaded Islay as a marketing ploy, for $77?  In.
  • Honourable Mention:  Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 2004 Caol Ila (Day 5) — Tyler gave the most props to this out of his lineup of whiskies, and Caol Ila is one of both of our favourite distilleries, somehow managing to balance Islay peat and surrounding flavour just right time and again.
  • Honourable Mention 2:  Ardbeg Corryvreckan (Day 18) — Look.  I may have been in an apocalyptic mood while drinking this whisky; it may also be that this whisky inevitably puts anyone drinking it in an apocalyptic mood.  Ardbeg is decidedly not my thing, but a week later I can objectively recognize that this was the most layered, Ardbeg-est Ardbeg I have come across.  I will never buy it.
  • 3rd Place:  Cadenhead’s Dailuaine-Glenlivet 12 Year (Day 1) — This was as rugged and rustic as a lumberjack living on the beach, but there was something gripping and honest about it that I still remember 24 days later.
  • 2nd Place:  Hyde 1938 No. 6 Black Label Special Reserve (Day 6) — The best Irish whiskey I’ve ever had?  Almost assuredly.  Hyde keeps impressing calendar after calendar, and this was the most complex and noteworthy thing I’ve had from them.
  • 1st Place:  Shelter Point Artisanal Single Malt Whisky (Day 11) — OK, I’m seriously not trying to make this a Whisky Bible/Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye thing, and I’m not sure I would say that, if I blind-tasted all 24 calendar whiskies side-by-side, I would rate this as objectively the best one.  BUT:  without a shadow of a doubt, it incinerated my expectations far more than anything else I tasted in December, possibly in all of 2017.  Since Day 11 ended, I have gone back to KWM to buy more Shelter Point because it opened my eyes to the promise of Canadian whisky to such a degree.  And that is why it is my winner for 2017.

If you vehemently disagree with the above, just remember that I have no real qualification or standing to be evaluating whiskies.  Let me know what your top 3 was for #KWMWhiskyAdvent 2017! 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 24

24 12 2017

First of all:  Merry Christmas Eve everyone!  Thanks for following along down this long and windy Whisky Advent road — it’s been a thrill to discover and discuss these incredible whiskies along with you!  Second of all:  UGGGGHHHHHH.  I had thought that I might be able to skate through the 2017 calendar without encountering my nemesis distillery, the one I admire in so many ways but can’t quite wrap my head around hedonistically, the one featured in FIVE prior hopeful but ultimately unhappy PnP whisky reviews from calendars past.  I had thought that by reaching the prestige cardboard door #24 I would be officially safe.  I was wrong.  Kilchoman is BACK.

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Advent cannot escape.

To be clear, this is probably very good news for most calendar drinkers, and certainly most whisky connoisseurs.  Kilchoman is a fascinating new distillery, the first that has opened its doors on Islay in over a century (during which time a great deal many of them shut down or were bulldozed), and one of the only ones that plants and farms its own grains (as noted with respect to Vancouver Island’s Shelter Point and its identical approach on Day 11).  This particular bottling of Kilchoman is also a special, exclusive one:  retailing for $200, it is a KWM-selected 25th Anniversary Single Cask, and also the first 10 Year Kilchoman for sale anywhere in Canada (not a huge surprise, since the producer is only 12 years old).  Only 212 full-size bottles — and obviously 380-odd tiny sample bottles — were made out of Kilchoman Cask 255 of 2007, matured in ex-Bourbon barrels and clocking in at 56.6% abv.  I would be more hopeful were it not for the fact that this is the third straight Advent Calendar with a Kilchoman Single Cask in it, and no prior one has turned me around (see here, here, here, here and here if you’re a masochist).

The Kilchoman 10 Year KWM Single Cask is a strange aromatic mix of the refined and the rugged, peaches and cream on top of oily peat, a delicacy in a longshoreman’s vessel.  Tar, pitch, pepper and dank undergrowth roil around, with some of Bourbon’s friendly maple and vanilla trying to peek through.  That off-putting (to me) cheesy Parmesan-rind funk that I’ve come to associate with Kilchoman is the first thing that hits on the tongue, followed by heavy briny peat, scorched apple, iodine, liniment, charcoal and grime; anise and melted plastic predominate the finish.  The complexity is all there, the flavours impressively layered, and any Kilchoman fan will likely find this their finest hour.  It still just misses me, unfortunately.  It’s not you, Kilchoman, it’s me.





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.

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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 »








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