Spirits of Calgary: Flor de Caña Tasting @ Murrieta’s

3 07 2018

By Tyler Derksen

Last Thursday I had the privilege of attending a Flor de Caña rum tasting at Murrieta’s, hosted by enthusiastic Brand Ambassador Jeffrey Meyers.  I’m going to level with you:  I’m relatively new to the world of rum.  Until recently, much of my experience has been limited to highballs, but I am thoroughly enjoying learning more about this surprisingly complex sugar cane-based spirit.  For whatever reason, I have generally associated rum with two things:  the Pirates of the Caribbean movie and the Caribbean islands (although now that I write this, I’m guessing the former informs the latter).  Flor de Caña, however, is produced in the Central American country of Nicaragua, most definitely not an island or a Disney franchise of any kind.

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If you look closely, you’ll see the volcano…  (Photo Credit: The Whisky Exchange)

Flor de Caña traces its roots back 125 years, when was founded by the Pellas family, who moved to Nicaragua from Italy in 1875.  Originally intending to found a sugar cane plantation, the family began to distill spirit to celebrate the end of the harvest season with the area’s farmers.  Their distillation facility is located at the base of the San Cristobal volcano, which is featured prominently on its label.  Despite producing rum for local farmers for many years previous, it was not until 1937 that product from Flor de Caña became available for purchase by the public, and even then it was only in Nicaragua.  The company now exports internationally, remains family-owned and is now on its fifth generation of rum producers, which is a remarkable feat in today’s age of beverage conglomerations.

The name Flor de Caña translates to “flower of the cane”, which is a tip-of-the-hat to the practice of harvesting the sugar cane for rum distillation when the flowers that grow on it bloom.  Jeffrey Meyers took great pride in the Flor de Caña production process and emphasized that the distillery uses 100% molasses (a byproduct of the sugar refining process) for the production of its rum and does not use any added already-refined sugar.  Before being aged in American white oak ex-bourbon barrels, the spirit is distilled five times (which is, I think, the most that I have heard of a spirit being distilled and would almost surely result in a nearly neutral spirit pre-barrel maturation).  So, how does it taste? Read the rest of this entry »

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Spirits Review: Hennessy V.S. Cognac

15 06 2018

By Dan Steeves

There is something about sipping on an exquisite fine spirit that provides a sense of sophistication and high class. It wasn’t always like that for me though. What was once an exercise of trying to stomach such liquids in the presence of my older and wiser siblings, a rite of passage you might say, eventually grew into an appreciation of their flavours and aromas once I was finally able to see past that burning sensation in my throat. I slowly gained a preference for whisky, single malt scotch, aged tequila and brandy, and these have been staples in my liquor cabinet ever since. When I was recently sent a sample bottle of Hennessy Cognac for review, I was pleasantly surprised and excited at the opportunity to taste and write up a spirit, instead of a wine, especially a bottle from one of the most iconic and best known Cognac producers (a place on the podium it has rightfully earned).

The unmistakable bottle shape of the Hennessy Very Special Cognac

Cognac is a type of brandy, a spirit made from grapes and the distillation of wine, that is produced is the Cognac region of France, just a short drive North from the famous Bordeaux wine region. The art of distilling the traditionally neutral and low-alcohol wines from the region has been practiced for hundreds of years and was originally done by Dutch merchants as a means of prolonging the life of the wines for transport to other markets. By law, Cognac must be produced using a specific copper pot still (the Charentais pot still, which is named after the Charente river that passes through the region). The base wine used for the production of Cognac can be made from up to eight different grape varieties, with the most popular being Ugni Blanc (more broadly known as Trebbiano). Grapes are grown at high yields which produce rather simple and, frankly, boring base wines with high acidity and low alcohol. The low alcohol levels in the initial wine mean that the finished spirit must be heavily concentrated through the distillation process to meet the legally required minimum alcohol levels for the spirit, which in turn also means a significant concentration of the aromas and flavours as well.

No additives (chaptalisation, sulphur dioxide, etc.) or other shortcuts are allowed in the production of the base wine so as to keep it as pure as possible and prevent any potential off flavours and aromas being emphasized in the final spirit. After distillation, the spirit (also known as the “eau-de-vie”, or “water of life”) is then placed into oak barrels for maturation for a minimum of two years before it can be called Cognac. Similar to the large Champagne houses, Cognac producers each have a signature style and character that is dutifully replicated every year through masterful blending of various aged eaux-de-vie, such that finished Cognacs are non-vintage (or, more accurately, multi-vintage) creatures, each classified according the age of the youngest spirit in the blend. The three main designations are V.S. (Very Special, 2 year minimum aging), V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale, 4 year minimum aging), and X.O. (Extra Old, 6 year minimum aging).  If only all legal alcohol designations had such cool acronyms. Although these minimum aging requirements are relatively low, it is very common for the blends to have eaux-de-vie with an average age far exceeding the minimum.

A five star label on the Hennessy V.S. (originally called the three star)

Cognac is dominated by a small handful of large producers that account for over 90% of the production in the region. Although all of these top producers are well known (Remy Martin, Courvoisier, Camus, etc.), Hennessy is the most well known and popular producer, especially in North America, where it has been exported for over 225 years and is the #1 market for the brand. Hennessy has also been at the forefront of Cognac innovation,  being one of the first spirits producers to offer its product in bottles rather than shipping oak barrels and also being the creator of the amazingly named Very Special, V.S.O.P and X.O. designations. Hennessy sets a benchmark with all their Cognac, be it the Very Special or Extra Old,  and thanks in part to the largest collection of eaux-de-vie in the world has created some of the most premium Cognac in the world. It’s no wonder it is part of LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) group representing all of life’s luxuries. Read the rest of this entry »





Spirits of Calgary: Buffalo Trace Tasting @ One18 Empire

1 06 2018

By Tyler Derksen

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Drew Mayville of Buffalo Trace.

It’s not every Wednesday that I get to leave work in the middle of the day to try nine whiskeys (if you’re being pedantic, actually eight whiskeys and one whisky, as the spelling of the spirit varies with its location of production), but this past Wednesday was one of those days.  I had the absolute pleasure to attend a tasting of Sazerac offerings chaired by Buffalo Trace’s Master Blender, Drew Mayville.  Buffalo Trace is part of the larger Sazerac company, whose myriad of other brands we also got to enjoy.  While the whiskey was the star of the show, it was Drew’s presentation and engagement with the subject matter and with all of us that really made the tasting special.  Drew is a Canadian who began his career in spirits at the Seagram’s plant in Waterloo, Ont. in 1980, eventually becoming the company’s fourth ever Master Blender.  After Seagram ceased to be, Drew then took his talents to Buffalo Trace, which at the time he joined was a relative unknown in the whiskey world, a fact that is hard to believe now that it has earned over 500 awards nationally and internationally over the last decade.

Drew’s passion for whiskey was readily apparent.  As Buffalo Trace’s current Master Blender, it is his job to take the aged spirits created by the Master Distiller and weave them into both established product lines and new and exciting projects.  Drew’s favourite whiskey is “the one he hasn’t made yet”.  In answer to the follow-up question “how do you make a better whiskey?”, Drew immediately said, “I don’t know”, reflecting his continuous stretch for further improvement.  Perhaps my biggest takeaway was Drew’s love of experimentation, embraced by both Buffalo Trace and Sazerac, which has created at least 50 different bottling “experiments” since 2006.  He freely acknowledges that not all of the experiments are successful and lead to new product lines, but this adventurous spirit is part of the fabric of Sazerac.  This is all the more impressive when one considers the extended aging process in the creation of whiskey.  Sazerac has even built a warehouse, Warehouse X, solely for the purpose of manipulating the many variables that go into the creation of whiskey (including light, temperature, air flow, wood grain, and others) to better understand the impact of those variables on the finished product and to use that knowledge to create that elusive “better whiskey”.

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Drew’s other point of emphasis was the recipe for the whiskey, which he came back to with each successive whiskey we tried.  Buffalo Trace’s bourbons are made of a combination of 6 main ingredients (Drew would never tell us exactly how much of each).  First, any bourbon must legally be made from at least 51% corn, which gives the spirit its sweet and fruity characteristics.  Next is rye, which adds spice, pepper and herbaceous notes.  Third is barley malt, which doesn’t add flavour so much as enzymes vital to the fermentation process.  As an alternative to rye, wheat can also be used, but this is far less common and wheat bourbons make up less than 5% of the overall spirit created.  Add limestone-filtered water and yeast and you’re almost finished.  The one ingredient that is not often talked about with bourbon, but that has a profound impact on its character, is time.  As was made clear when we started sampling, Buffalo Trace ages its whiskey longer than many of its competitors.  Speaking of sampling, now would be a good time to shine a spotlight on the fantastic whiskeys we tried. Read the rest of this entry »





PnP Panel Tasting: The Hatch – Library Release

28 05 2018

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

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(Re)Entering The Hatch.  In stereo.

It had been far too long since we last held a panel tasting, and we were missing it – there’s something about tasting outside of the echo chamber of your own brain that is gloriously refreshing and invigorating.  Plus multiple wines and multiple friends is generally a guaranteed recipe for a proper time.  One of us (Ray) wondered about reaching out to his friends at the Okanagan’s weirdest and most interesting winery, The Hatch, for inspiration.  We naturally assumed that we would get some intriguing and tasty wines from this divergent, artistic, even edgy winery (the latter word is drastically overused but still rather works in this case).  The common approach would have been to send a set of current releases, bottles that the reading public could come scoop if they were so inclined.  Well, The Hatch is not common.  PnP’s second ever Panel Tasting turned into a library release celebration, focused on a trio of bottles with a few years on them, from the mysterious and mildly depraved depths of the winery’s cellars.  It not only allowed us to get a sneak peek at what the future might hold for some more recent bottles that we were holding, but it also gave us a chance to answer a question that nags at a number of people in our home and native land just getting into wine:  can Canadian wine age?  Does it improve?

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The answers, in order, are “yes” and “it depends”; in the upper echelons of our national wine industry are scores of producers who are creating layered, complex, long-term wines that easily stand the test of time.  The eye-opening part of this tasting wasn’t so much that ageworthy BC wine was possible, but that it was starting to be accessible even at lower price points, another sign of the province’s rapid progression into a globally competitive wine power.  After this, there will be far more local bottles that spend more cellar time before seeing the light of day.  It made sense for us to each choose a bottle to write up, but rest assured there was much group analysis of everything we were tasting, making the below report a true joint effort. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: The Fladgate Partnership 2016 Vintage Port Release Tasting @ La Chaumiere

9 05 2018

By Dan Steeves & Raymond Lamontagne

Vintage Port, undoubtedly one of the crown jewels of the wine world, is celebrated as one of the Earth’s most complex and robust wines, one that has a superior ability to age and mature in bottle, often only fully revealing itself after several decades. Having never tasted a vintage Port with less than 10 years of age on it, we were very interested in the opportunity to preview the brand new 2016 Vintage Ports from The Fladgate Partnership (literally, they were just bottled a couple weeks ago for sampling purposes, well before what will be their commercial release).

The Fladgate Partnership includes three iconic Port houses: Croft, Taylor Fladgate, and Fonseca. Each house enjoys centuries of history producing Port, and between them they hold the most revered vineyards in the Douro, giving the Partnership the ability to make some of the best and most sought after Ports on the market. Croft, founded in 1588 and thus the oldest Port house in the world, possesses the Quinta da Roêda estate, which has been termed the “jewel of the Douro Valley”. Taylor Fladgate has three main estates: Quinta de Vargellas (well known as a pinnacle wine estate), and two Pinhão Valley estates (Quinta de Terra Feita and Quinta do Junco). Fonseca, the relative newcomer in the Fladgate trifecta at the fresh age of 203 (founded in 1815), also has three significant estates: Quinta do Panascal in the Távora Valley, and Quinta  de Cruzeiro and Quinta de Santa António, both located in the Pinhão Valley. It is these special estate vineyards, with their prime soil, ideal climate conditions, and significant plantings of decades-old vines, which contribute most to the style and personality of each House’s classic vintage Port. As we shall see, there are compelling genuine differences in house style.

Vintage Port is made only in the very best of years when the fruit is exceptional and the wines are determined to be monumental in character, showing early evidence of the ability to age that all great Ports should have. It is a house by house decision, made in the second spring following the harvest once the wines have undergone initial aging and blending. If the producer believes the wine has the characteristics of a great Vintage Port (and the regulating body agrees), they make a formal vintage declaration and begin preparations for bottling. For Fladgate, this declaration occurs on April 23rd and it historically happens roughly three times each decade. The last vintage declared for Fladgate was 2011, which followed 2009, 2007, 2003, and 2000. Taylor Fladgate has declared 32 Vintages from 1900-2016, whilst Croft has declared only 24 vintages in the same period.

Jorge Ramos, the export manager for The Fladgate Partnership, led us through a tasting of three vintages (2003, 2007, and the new 2016) from each of the Fladgate Partnership houses. The opportunity to taste various Vintage Ports from all three producers, side by side, really brought into stark relief the differences in their identities. From the luscious fruit flavours of Croft to the soft yet strong complexity of Taylor Fladgate and the muscular power of Fonseca, these were all stunningly delicious with their own personalities. We’ve summarized our tasting notes below by vintage year, in the manner they were tasted. First up, the 2003 vintage, which had a near perfect start to the growing season and periods of intense summer heat in August which allowed for perfect ripening of the fruit. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Paul Jaboulet Aine Tasting with Adrien Laurent @ Calgary Petroleum Club, Part II

2 05 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

To read Part I of this epic tasting write up, click here.

IMG_1356I was attempting to pace myself until the second half of this tasting, wishing to avoid palate fatigue and endeavoring to preserve a fresh mindset for the crown jewels near the end. That delicious St.-Joseph in particular made this sort of patience challenging. I glance to the end of the written materials and there’s even a dessert wine to close things out. Wow. We did move quickly and this was a good thing. There was just enough time to analyze and enjoy some brief discussion about each wine. Part II begins with the “roasted slope”, peaks on Hermitage hill (the big reason we are all here!), and ends in … Beaumes de Venise?! Read on, faithful.

2015 Cote Rotie Domaine des Pierrelles (~$123)

Cote Rotie could serve as the centrepiece in a tasting such as this, and no one in the know would complain much. An appellation short on geographical landmass but long on excitement, some of the steepest viticultural slopes in France are found here, so much so that the region became moribund in the 1970s: The back-breaking labour required did not provide sufficient economic returns. Eventually the folly in this view was recognized once and for all. The vineyards are angled so as to maximize the ripening effects of the sun (thus the moniker), although the wines are not baked in what is still a rather stark and harsh climate, instead evidencing a sublime savoury perfume. These grapes hail from a 1.5 ha biodynamic plot in Cote Blonde, known for graceful wines suitable for early consumption (relatively speaking). The vines are 40+ years old and are rooted in soils composed of mica-schist and dusty old exposures of iron oxide. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Paul Jaboulet Aine Tasting with Adrien Laurent @ Calgary Petroleum Club, Part I

29 04 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Not a bad way to dust off my blogging chops after a lull. A chance to taste a 100-point wine? Sure thing. The fact that said 100-point wine happens to be the 2015 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle causes my already surging excitement to soar into the stratosphere. Although I am not personally enamoured with the Parker-style point system nor its myriad effects on winemaking and consumer preferences, such a feat STILL means something even to this skeptic. I am truly happy for winemaker Caroline Frey. My sincere congratulations! This was a generous enough spread of wines that two posts are in order. I shall try to do the first set of these marvels justice here, stricken as I have been (by Bacchus himself?) with some sort of virulent bug that makes my bones feel like rheumy old birch twigs stashed away in a mausoleum. And I was hoping to sip something while writing this … Discretion is probably the better part of valour.

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We were greeted with some entry level Jaboulet Parallel 45 Cotes du Rhone bottles … A red, a white, and a rose … I sampled them all, of course. 😉

Our host Adrien Laurent felt like a kindred spirit, keeping things scholarly while occasionally flashing an understated charisma or busting out some hilarious off-colour jokes about the French distaste for monarchies (you had to be there). This tasting featured not just the one legendary new release but THREE Hermitage selections, plus an additional spread of whites and reds in what turned out to be a guided tour of nearly the entire Northern Rhone, through the lens of a single producer. How utterly marvellous. I shall cover them all, after first providing some background on the region and this historic producer. Read the rest of this entry »








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