Wine Review: Virgen del Galir

24 01 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

Mencia and Godello.  While perhaps not yet fully household names (in North American households, at least), these high-quality, high-potential vinifera grapes based in northwestern Spain are starting to slide into the popular consciousness on this side of the Atlantic.  Mencia may already be there, after a recent swath of global exposure has seen it grace local wine lists and liquor stores alike; Godello is trailing its white neighbour Albarino in trendiness and recognition factor and has not yet caught on as a viable bottle option in most places outside of Galicia, but its time is coming.  I have wrongly predicted its meteoric rise on a couple of previous occasions, but I am a patient sort when it comes to worldwide taste revolutions.

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One recent hint that these northern Spanish grapes have been pegged for future expansion is the 2017 acquisition of small Valdeorras producer Virgen del Galir by Rioja legends CVNE, which has indirectly led to the introduction of the winery’s offerings into our market.  Virgen del Galir (“Virgin of Galir”, named for the nearby Galir river and potentially for a bit of religious double entendre, as the winery founder’s mother’s name was Mary) was founded in 2002 in a small village along the famed Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail and focuses exclusively on making wines from its 20 hectares of estate Mencia and Godello vineyards scattered across a multitude of plots.  The vineyards are all steep and terraced, planted on soils of slate and decomposed schist, and all hand-harvested.  CVNE immediately invested in significant improvements to the winery facility to allow these local grapes to better tell their story to a world audience.  Here they are, half a world away; let’s see what they have to say. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Stephane Rousset Crozes-Hermitages

18 01 2020

By Peter Vetsch

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

The Cellar Direct offer train rolls on this weekend, and obviously they have my personal wine preferences bugged:  after offering my favourite kind of white wine (Mosel Riesling) last offer, they have moved on to my favourite red grape (Syrah) this week, straight from its spiritual homeland in France’s Northern Rhone.  This relatively compact, narrow winegrowing area runs north-south and is split in half by the Rhone river, with the regions of Cote-Rotie, Condrieu, St. Joseph and Cornas tracking the river’s west bank and Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage hugging the east.  There is a part of the Rhone that curves gradually out to the east before almost immediately swerving back to the west; right at that cut-back bend lies the mighty hill of Hermitage, the most esteemed appellation in the Northern Rhone, with its understudy Crozes-Hermitage spreading out in concentric circles to the north, south and east behind it.

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Crozes-Hermitage is both literally and figuratively in the shadow of its namesake, both considerably larger (1,700 hectares of grapes under vine as compared to Hermitage’s 136 hectares) and more varied, a hodgepodge of sites and soils, its wines varying widely in ambition and quality.  Given this level of variety, it’s hard to know what you’re going to get in any given bottle of Crozes; the region itself lacks the automatic pedigree and heightened standards of its neighbours.  So how to approach this appellation, the Northern Rhone’s biggest, which is often promoted as a budget-friendly alternative to its neighbouring luminaries?  Hook your wagon to specific producers or sites as opposed to the region as a whole.  Find those in the most compelling areas with the best soils and sites, those with a relentless focus on quality vineyard and winemaking practices.  I’m aware that this can be easier said than done.  Don’t know where to start?  Start right here. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Karthäuserhof Riesling

4 01 2020

By Peter Vetsch

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Happy New Year!  I hope you all had a restful and joyous holiday season.  My post-Advent blog-free recovery time has been punctuated by catching the pernicious chest cold that my kids have had the entire month of December, which seems to be the natural consequence of getting out of fight-or-flight mode for any period of time.  Thankfully, I can still smell and taste just fine, and so even though this write-up had to be assisted by a spit cup (don’t get me started on how agonizing it is to taste and then have to spit amazing Riesling), the show must go on, especially for a bottle and a producer like this.

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If you know anything about me from a wine perspective, you likely know that Riesling is my first and most enduring vinous love, particularly the electric, agile, sweet-meets-sour ballet that is Riesling from Germany’s Mosel Valley.  My first “I didn’t know wine could taste like that” moment was born from a Kabinett-level (low to moderate sugar ripeness) sub-10% ABV single-vineyard Mosel Riesling that made time stop and effortlessly balanced my entire mind and heart on the head of a pin — so pure, so chiselled, yet so light and free.  The Mosel is most known for these low-alcohol, off-dry, dainty Rieslings at varying degrees of ripeness, from Kabinett to later-harvested Spätlese and Auslese to dessert-focused and often nobly rotten Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese (better known as TBA, for obvious reasons).  This specialty in sweetness has in recent years been something of a detriment to the region, at least for PR purposes; while the energetic back-and-forth between acid and sugar is one of my favourite parts of the Riesling experience, many casual drinkers still reeling from a decade or two of flaccid Liebfraumilch continue to view the combination of German wine and residual sugar with disdain.  While other production areas of Germany have increasingly turned their attention to drier pursuits to counteract this lasting stereotype, the Mosel has remained steadfast.  Yet even here there are some quality producers that have always focused on the drier side of the country’s star grape. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Clos Siguier Cahors

28 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Today’s release is a fun one. You’ve probably had this grape variety before, or have at least heard of it. Malbec has become the premier grape variety in Argentina, and such wines remain immensely popular. But I’m willing to bet that you haven’t had Malbec from this wine region, which is far closer to its likely place of origin in northern Burgundy, although the grape is far better known as one of the six classic permitted black grapes of Bordeaux (due to climate change, a few more are now being trialed there). Let’s investigate further.

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Malbec

Malbec is often described as inky purple and tannic, although the tannins are typically round and mouth-filling rather than scratchy and abrasive. In the glass, Malbec often yields correspondingly dark fruit flavours as well as some smoky notes. The grape became less popular in Bordeaux after 1956 when frost slaughtered around 75% of the crop. Malbec’s reputation in Bordeaux has only continued to decline since then. According to Stephen Brook, the variety has “little to contribute” to the Bordeaux blending regime, offering large berries that yield dilute, soft wine. There is actually more current interest in reviving Carmenere (!), the obscure “sixth Bordeaux grape” that all but disappeared after phylloxera, a pest that did Malbec no favours either. Rest assured though, all is not lost. If fortunes are decidedly bleak in Bordeaux, the wine region featured here, Cahors, seems hell-bent on ensuring that Malbec will always have a place in its native land. The same frost that wiped out the variety in Bordeaux also devastated the grape in Cahors, the difference being that the latter vignerons dutifully replanted with the same grape. Although the region remains besieged, one of many rustic bastions in a world of homogenized commodity beverages, this enclave of winemakers refuses to go without a fight. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 24

24 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Another year, another Advent, another calendar complete, and another December blogging marathon brought to the finish line.  After 24 days and 24 different half-bottles, I am left partly eager to again regain access to my own cellar and my own agency in terms of nightly wine selections, but mostly impressed at the tremendous range and consistent quality of the 2019 Bricks Advent Calendar.  For my money, this third edition of Bricks’ December crate was by far the best to date, with no bottle (other than the one impacted by the Chateauneuf-du-Pape curse, a mystic force beyond mortal defences) a disappointment and all of them compellingly showcasing their varietal and region with admirable typicity, all for a price tag averaging a shade under $20 per split.  That’s not an easy feat, but it was accomplished with flair — mark me down for next year’s calendar already.

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Our annual Pop & Pour Advent tradition is to wrap up our calendar coverage with each author’s Advent podium wines, as well as a dark horse candidate that particularly captured their attention.  In order to ensure neutrality and avoid cross-contamination of opinions, all three of us separately wrote down and submitted our lists; any overlaps (and there were many) are a testament to the wines involved and not a function of any groupthink.  If you had a Bricks calendar for 2019 and have been following along, let us know your top 3 wines in the comments below!  Without further ado, our list of winners:

Ray Lamontagne’s Top 3 Wines

  1. 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 23):  A  pure, seamless meld of power and complexity.
  2. 2016 Kettle Valley Winery Pinot Gris (Day 11):  The freshest side of orange wine.
  3. 2017 Robert Biale Vineyards “Royal Punishers” Petite Sirah (Day 14):  A purple behemoth that is not without subtleties.
  4. DARK HORSE — Porto Quevedo 10 Year Old Tawny Port (Day 8):  An old style from a small yet classic house.

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Tyler Derksen’s Top 3 Wines

  1. 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 23):  Bold yet structured, this wine delivered at every level.  Perhaps a bit predictable after last year’s Top 3 lists from Peter and Ray, but this bottle deserves the top spot.
  2. 2016 Kettle Valley Winery Pinot Gris (Day 11):  Easily the biggest surprise of the calendar for me.  Mild disappointment (I’m not a huge fan of Pinot Gris) turned a complete 180 when I brought the glass to my nose.  Wonderfully balanced, this exemplifies what orange wine can be when done right.
  3. 2016 d’Arenberg “The Noble” Wrinkled Riesling (Day 22):  This made my list for pure hedonistic pleasure.  It may not be perfectly balanced, but a flower-shop nose keeps this from being one-note.
  4. DARK HORSE — 2017 Robert Biale Vineyards “Royal Punishers” Petite Sirah (Day 14):  This was definitely in the running for the podium until the last few days.  Evilly dark, the myriad of notes on the nose and palate made this both delicious and interesting.

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My Top 3 Wines

  1. 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 23):  A Ken Wright back-to-back calendar sweep.  He takes no Advent prisoners.  The biggest point of intrigue this year was the remarkably stark difference between this dark, rocky Freedom Hill Pinot and last calendar’s bright, elegant Shea Vineyard Pinot, especially since each hail from the same 2015 vintage!  Terroir indeed.
  2. 2016 Kettle Valley Winery Pinot Gris (Day 11):  Probably my most memorable calendar wine, that perfect combination of orange wine’s bitter phenolics and white wine’s purity of fruit.
  3. 2017 Robert Biale Vineyards “Royal Punishers” Petite Sirah (Day 14):  A true statement of identity, and a clarion call of Petite Sirah’s suitability in California.  A deep, dense, gritty, lasting experience.
  4. DARK HORSE — 2016 K.H. Schenider Dornfelder Trocken (Day 2):  The World’s Best Dornfelder™ is an old friend whose acquaintance I made a while ago, but it never ceases to thrill and impress.  Each successive bottle is a reminder of the potential of this grape when grown in the right spots and handled the right way.

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All I know is that I will be heading out and grabbing some Ken Wright (full bottle versions) during Boxing Week — no Advent calendar will ever be the same unless he’s involved.  As Advent reaches its zenith, consistent with Bricks tradition, we finish off the long and winding road of the calendar with both a toast to the journey of the past 24 days and a half-bottle of bubbles to allow us to make it.  Tonight’s wrapping paper slips off to reveal the Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV, probably the most compelling sparkler to grace a calendar to date, from one of my favourite Champagne houses.  I first tried Pol Roger in WSET class, where it was held up as an exemplar of what classic Champagne should resemble.  This Reserve version of Roger’s standard NV Brut bottling takes its status as comparison reference seriously:  it is a roughly equal blend of all three grapes of Champagne (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay), with 25% of older reserve wines from Pol Roger’s cellars added to the base vintage (2013 or 2014, if I had to guess).  After blending, secondary fermentation and disgorgement takes place 33 metres below ground after regular hand-riddling and around 4 years maturation on lees.

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Our collective Christmas Eve present is a deep straw colour run through with millions of racy pinpoint bubbles that continue their ascent to the top of the glass even after over an hour’s worth of exposure to air.  The eager and festive nose combines vanilla bean, tapioca, butter croissant, lemon drop, black jujube, aloe and toasted almond, albeit in a more focused and chiselled way than the largely confectionary descriptors might suggest.  Rich and almost custardy on the tongue, the Brut Reserve is firmly structured on rails of electric acidity, the only thing restraining the expansive flavours of salted butter, charred lime, matchsticks, Golden Delicious apple, crystallized ginger and fresh caramel.  An extended persistent finish allows for plenty of reflection on where are now are and how far we have come.  A delightful toast to the season, to the upcoming joys of tomorrow morning, and to the sheer lazy pleasure of not having to blog for the rest of the month!  Merry Christmas, all.  Until next Advent.

90- points

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Cork Rating:  7.5/10 (I love the little “PR” logos ringing the metal cork cap. Classy and classic.)





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 23

23 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

“Great wines taste like they come from somewhere. Lesser wines are interchangeable; they could have come from anywhere.”      – Matt Kramer in “Making Sense of Wine”

YES. Just yes. Last year we were universally astounded by the Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard bottle from Day 17, a mind-blowing flashpoint of the sort you might not expect in a wine Advent calendar, even ones as carefully curated as these have been. I open today’s squat bottle almost reluctantly, flooded with fatigue and all kinds of associations that converge on how done I am with wine blogging, at least for a month or so, because DAMN, this is a labour of love but still requires fortitude in what is already a busy December for me… And poof. All that is gone, burnt away like a flammable fog suddenly detonated by a struck match. I remember why I love wine. My whoop of delight startles the cat in the den where my wine fridges live, and Ken Wright is BACK, baby. And it is not the cuvee from last year.

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Ken Wright has been described by friends as a “brinksman”: someone who can pull off miracles just when it seems all hope is lost. Wrestling competitively from the 6th grade until his first year of college, Ken discovered wine while waiting tables in Kentucky, suggesting to the restaurant owner that they could likely sell more bottles if they knew how each wine actually tasted. A fascination with Burgundy and Pinot Noir was born, with Ken and his roommate Alan Holstein cutting their teeth on such bottlings as La Tache and Richebourg. I am trying to fathom the very notion of university students being able to afford such wines, and this only serves to reinforce the oft-present feeling that I was born in the wrong era. In any event, Ken gave up his pre-law studies to pursue enology and viticulture at the University of California, Davis. He struggled with the chemistry components of this program, although for the quiet but shrewd Ken that was no real obstacle when it came to learning how to make wine. He got by with a lot of help from his friends. Dying to leave California after concluding that the place was simply too hot for top-shelf Pinot Noir, Ken arrived in Oregon in 1985 with barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon to sell as the inaugural offerings of his own winery, Panther Creek. Selling such undocumented wine was illegal, but the silver-tongued Ken got a pass.

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Alas, Panther Creek fell upon hard times and had to be sold. Ken got a divorce, fortunately an amicable one. Financial difficulties associated with the sale of Panther Creek got sorted, and Ken Wright Cellars was born in 1996. The mission? To showcase Pinot Noir from 13 single vineyard sites, wines with precise flavours and sharpshooter finesse, unencumbered by booziness or excesses of other structural components (tannins, acid). All wines are made using the same cellar regime, so that terroir is maximally accentuated and facilitating direct comparisons across the sites. Grapes are hand sorted and always de-stemmed, as Ken states that including the stems with these various sites yields wines that are too angular. Fermentation takes place in open vats, with the wines seeing around one year in new French oak barrels (albeit barrels specially treated with salt and hot water to mitigate resinous notes from the wood). Supple and seamless. “Grippy and tannic does not provide pleasure”, he says. Ken encouraged growers to farm for quality by paying them for each acre instead of by the ton. He introduced vertical shoot positioning in Oregon to expose grapes in the relatively cool climate to more sun. He continues to use research links between microbiological activity and soil quality to rehabilitate tired old sites such as Bryce, working closely with vineyard owners so the latter can sell quality fruit to wineries across the state. To top it all off, Ken himself petitioned growers to create six sub-appellations in the Willamette Valley: Yamhill-Carlton, Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge, Dundee Hills, McMinnville, and Eola-Amity Hills. Yes we Ken. Burgundy comes to Oregon.

IMG_1417I should be careful with such statements. Oregon Pinot will probably have more bright fruit than your average Cote d’Or. But one cannot escape the comparison when it comes to such fine-grained mapping of vineyard sites. The 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir hails from a Willamette Valley AVA site said to yield the most firm and structured Pinots in the Ken Wright stable. Occupying a gentle southeasterly slope that is conducive to ripening, the soils are known as “bellpine”, a mixture of uplifted ancient seabed and siltstone that is said to contribute to the aforementioned structure in the wines, even as freshness is preserved. Ken states that such soils yield more floral and spicy characters in the finished wines, as compared to nearby volcanic soils that enhance fruit. One might be forgiven for wondering if this site manages to capture the best of both worlds.

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This is darker than expected colour-wise but not opaque. The nose does pop with Bing cherry and black raspberry, high-toned wild blueberry and plum, but there they are as advertised, a few floral squadrons filling the skies of my Burgundy Zalto glass with Thrills gum, Parma violet candies, lilacs, rose hips, iris, cinnamon toothpicks, allspice, cola, cinder blocks, warm pavement, and an earthy verdant wreath of Irish moss, English breakfast tea and old growth underbrush. Less cerebral and pretty than the Shea Vineyard, this is more bold and powerful, a Pinot Noir Tony Soprano…but do not confuse power with a lack of complexity. The finish lingers with watermelon Jolly Ranchers and a few dirty pan drippings. What more can I say? The calendar has probably peaked. I’ll see you fine folks next year, barring unforeseen circumstances. Bring it on home, Peter.

91+ points

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Cork Rating: 4/10 (Nomacorc plus washed-out graphic. Ken Wright has to do one thing wrong, I suppose.)





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 22

22 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Here’s a crazy stat:  this is my FIVE HUNDREDTH published post for Pop & Pour.  The blog itself passed this threshold some time ago thanks to the remarkable contributions of Ray and Tyler in recent years (as brilliantly evidenced by their kick-ass daily Advent coverage this month), but this is my personal milestone post.  It’s been close to nine years since I started this blog with limited direction or aspiration, as a vehicle for a passion I didn’t fully know how to express.  I don’t know what I was expecting out of it, but to still be dutifully doing it so many years later (and to have at minimum elevated myself to a self-professed connoisseur on boozy Advent calendars while I’m at it) probably already surpasses any initial blogging goals.  Thanks for reading along; if it wasn’t for you, this probably wouldn’t still be happening.

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Perhaps Bricks cosmically knew that this was going to be a more monumental night of blogging, or perhaps I subconsciously lined up my name on the Advent schedule to align with the one bottle in this year’s calendar that was definitively not like the others, but it became apparent almost immediately that this was not a standard half-bottle of wine.  First, it was taller than a standard-sized 750 mL bottle (!!), a good 3-4 inches taller than any other bottle in the Bricks crate.  Second, it was slender throughout, a thin lengthy cylinder without curves.  Before the wrapping even came off, only one style of half-bottle seemed to fit:  dessert wine.  But it wasn’t in a Germanic flute shape or a standard Bordeaux bottle, and I had my doubts that the calendar would culminate in ice wine, sooo…what’s left?

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The 2016 d’Arenberg “The Noble” Wrinkled Riesling, that’s what; a continuation of Australia’s surprisingly rich tradition of sweet winemaking.  This particular bottling began by pure circumstance:  in 1985, one of d’Arenberg’s Riesling vineyards was discovered to have become infected with the beneficial mould botrytis cinerea, which grows on the surface of the grape berries and gradually leaches the water out of them, leaving them shrivelled, dehydrated, fuzzy and rather gross-looking but internally composed of ultra-sweet, ultra-concentrated, ultra-flavourful essence (all of the acids and sugars and flavours of the grape, without the extra water to dilute them) that when vinified creates the most majestic sweet wines known to man (for my money, anyway).  There’s nothing to be done when you discover botrytis but to (1) make wine out of the result and then (2) try to duplicate the conditions to have it show up again next year:  humidity, especially fog, in the morning, followed by sun and drier conditions later on, so that the cinerea fungus attaches to the grapes but does not accelerate into full-blown grey rot.  It is a difficult balancing exercise that results in precious little wine (imagine pressing and vinifying juice out of a raisin to understand why), but the reward is emphatically worth the risk and the effort.

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Size comparison: a standard 750 mL bottle (L) and this freakishly tall half-bottle (R).

After their initial accidental introduction to the world of botrytized winemaking, d’Arenberg has become something of an old hand at it, now producing three different nobly rotted dessert wines under their “The Noble” lineup.  This bottling used to simply be known as The Noble Riesling before later being revised to the Wrinkled Riesling to reflect the physique of the grapes after botrytis has had its way.  I would have loved to be in the marketing meeting where that decision was made.  Not that I have any doubt about d’Arenberg or its branding, all of which is specifically selected to tell a story.  The winery is named for the maiden name of founder Frank Osborn’s wife Helen, who died tragically immediately after childbirth at the age of 31; the child who was born healthy just before this event was Frank and Helen’s son Francis d’Arenberg Osborn, who everyone simply called d’Arry, partly in honour of his mother’s lineage.  It was d’Arry who give the winery its current name (in 1959, well after Frank started growing grapes in 1912, or making wine in 1928), as well as its distinctive red label stripe on a white background, representative of the crimson and white striped school tie that d’Arry wore in college.  The d’Arenberg coat of arms features that stripe, a symbol of fertility, a bunch of grapes, and the motto “Vinum Vita Est” — “Wine Is Life”.  Says it all.

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Stelvin Rating: 9/10 (The colour, the coat of arms, the motto – pure poetry.)

Every single one of d’Arenberg’s myriad of wines is fermented via traditional basket press, including this one, and all the reds are foot-trodden to this day.  The Wrinkled Riesling is a 50/50 blend of McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills Riesling, hence the dual-appellation labelling that I’m not sure I’ve ever previously seen on any bottle.  The tech specs beggar belief:  a 2.98 pH and 10.8 g/L of Titratable Acid run smack dab into an astonishing 253.3 g/L of residual sugar at 9.5% ABV — this was surely the alcohol level where the fermenting yeasts simply gave up and died in such a densely sweet environment.  This is unbelievably viscous emerging from the bottle, like motor oil, and eventually settles in the glass a majestic steeped-tea-meets-maple-syrup deep amber colour.  Then the fireworks begin.

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An explosion of florals is the first sensation I record — Easter lily, daisy, marigold, daffodil.  Then comes the cavalcade of dessert aromas, in rapid-fire fashion:  key lime pie, Fuzzy Peaches, manuka honey, marmalade.  This intoxicating mixture is cut only by that telltale orange peel, lemongrass, apple cider vinegar citric/herbal tang that botrytis cinerea leaves behind at the scene of the crime, the calling card of its dehydration caper.  After I resign myself to the fact that I can’t possibly drink this all in one sitting, I settle into its exquisite, eye-opening sweetness and its sensual lusciousness, sliding in slow motion down the throat and coating every square inch with layers of lemon curd, salted caramel, rosehips, dried mango, apricot and pineapple upside-down cake, still pulsating for at least a minute after I swallow.  The recorded acid is elevated, but it is barely present in the field, not quite able to maintain a sense of liveliness in the face of the torrent of glorious sugar.  This leads to a slight yet growing sense of heaviness as the wine warms up and the sips multiply, so enjoy in moderation…but that can be the hardest thing to do when what’s in the glass is this unspeakably delicious.  Two days left and we’re headed to a crescendo.

90- points








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