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 »

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Canada’s Natural Wine Club: Cellar Direct

1 09 2015

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

FullSizeRender-118It was not like any other sample box I have received.  This two-bottle sample pack showed up in a container that could have easily fit a full case of wine with room to spare.  Puzzled, I broke into the box to discover the wine inside was surrounded on all sides by multiple inches of insulated styrofoam, like I was being shipped radioactive isotopes instead of a European red and white.  The bottles in the centre of the box were encased in even more styrofoam, and sitting in between them was a liqui-gel cryopack, like the kind you would use to keep your camping cooler cold.  After a multi-day, interprovincial Canada Post voyage, the icepack was still completely frozen.  And the wine?  Precisely at cellar temperature fresh off the delivery truck, a constant, perfect 13 degrees Celsius.  As it turns out, Cellar Direct doesn’t just ship their wines out in a way that ensures temperature stability; it also imports them in from producers in a rigidly temperature-controlled manner too.  They officially had my attention. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2007 Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Reserva

2 10 2013

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

I heart traditional Rioja.

I heart traditional Rioja.

The closest I’ve ever come to having a wine from my birth vintage (1980, by all accounts an absolutely terrible vintage everywhere, which explains why I can’t find any) was a bottle of 1981 Bodegas Montecillo Gran Reserva from Spain’s famed Rioja region, a bottle that I randomly stumbled upon with a friend at Co-op Crowfoot.  His birth year was 1982, so we decided that we’d split the difference and share the wine.  Montecillo is primarily a value-based producer whose wines steer clear from the ultra-expensive, but despite its non-insane price tag the 1981 was still gracefully present 32 years later, a shade past its peak consumption window but still a tremendously enjoyable drinking experience.  This longevity is partly due to Rioja’s traditional winemaking style and lengthy legally mandated aging periods:  for all wines designated as Gran Reservas, minimum 2 years aging in oak barrels and 5 years total aging is required before bottle release, and for Reservas, minimum 1 year oak aging and 3 years total aging is required.  This maturation process leaves the young wines exposed to air and leads to some flavour integration with the barrels themselves, resulting in finished wines that forego primary fruit flavours in favour of oak- and oxygen-induced secondary characteristics and complexity and that often have extraordinary staying power in the bottle.  While almost all wines are not meant to age, and while that maxim usually applies even more broadly to inexpensive wines, some traditional Rioja can be found on the shelves for bargain prices and can last for ages. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2007 Luciano Sandrone Nebbiolo d’Alba Valmaggiore

24 01 2013
Some of my favourite labels of all time.  Classic.

Some of my favourite labels of all time. Classic.

If there’s anything better than a good bottle of wine, it’s a good bottle of wine that you got on sale.  While this particular bottle usually retails for around $50, I was lucky enough to grab it on special for a shade under $30, which made me ultra-excited to open it and greatly reduced my chances of being disappointed with what was inside.  Not that there was much of a chance of that, given who made it.

Luciano Sandrone is a Barolo legend.  If you were going to make an All-Star team of producers from the Piedmont region in northwest Italy, Sandrone would definitely be in the starting lineup. Ever since his first vintage in 1978, he has wowed the wine world with a slate of bottlings that are crafted in a more open, approachable manner than those made by the staunch traditionalists in the area but yet that remain elegant, complex and capable of aging and improving for a long time.  Most famous for his Barolos (Barolo is a subregion of Piedmont whose wines are made from the Nebbiolo grape), Sandrone also makes a Barbera (which is fantastic), a Dolcetto, a red blend and this Nebbiolo d’Alba.  Here’s a good rule of thumb for reading Italian wine labels:  if you see a label stating “_______ di _______” or “_______ d’_______”, odds are that the first word in the sequence will be the name of the grape and the last word will be the area where it’s from.  “Nebbiolo d’Alba” means “Nebbiolo from Alba”, which is the name of a Nebbiolo-growing region in Piedmont immediately adjacent to the great Barolo and the equally great Barbaresco appellations.  Since the soil and climate conditions in Nebbiolo d’Alba are similar to those in Barolo/Barbaresco, and since the same varietal is used to make the wine, Nebbiolo d’Alba can be a source of wines that give you a good sense of what Barolos and Barbarescos are all about but at a fraction of the price. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2007 Chateau de la Gardine Chateauneuf-de-Pape

9 02 2012

Try to fit THAT in your wine rack -- I dare you.

Tonight’s review was supposed to be posted last night, but some insomniac infant adventures from the night before made me more or less comatose by dinnertime, so I had to take a PnP rain check.  However, all is quiet in the house now, so fresh off a better night’s rest and a ton of caffeine, it’s go time…although I’m still tired, so I’d better write quick.  This blatantly asymmetrical bottle of Chateauneuf-de-Pape was a generous Christmas gift from a good friend of mine (thanks Josh!) and a wine that I couldn’t bring myself to wait to open.  Considering the last time I opened a weirdly-shaped bottle of CNDP, it was a wholly depressing experience, I was fervently hoping for better luck this time…I’d hate to be permanently pulled out of the sway of a good marketing gimmick.  Fingers crossed!

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WSET Celebratory Wine Review: 2007 Cayuse Cailloux Vineyard Syrah

6 02 2012

When people ask me what kind of wine I like, I'm going to pull out this pic.

Ever since I found out that I passed my WSET Advanced course last week, I’ve been wanting to break open something truly special to celebrate.  However, sickness intervened, so rather than crack a $100+ bottle and write stuff like “smells like nothing” and “my throat hurts” in a review, I decided to wait until the congestion clouds had cleared.  This weekend I pronounced myself fit to taste and rummaged through my cellar to find a suitable victory bottle, and as soon as I came to this one, I stopped thinking about any other.  However, it’s a bottle built for the long haul, so I was faced with the quandary that every wine lover about to pull the cork on an expensive bottle has had to face:  should I open the wine now so I can try it, or will I be undercutting its long-term potential by having it too early?  After getting some savvy advice from the amazingly-informed wine community on Twitter (thanks, @peterzachar and @nwtomlee!), I turned to Cayuse’s website for the final verdict.  On their FAQ page, there was a question that said:  “How soon can I open my wines?”  Cayuse’s answer?  “A Latin saying insists, ‘There are four reasons for drinking wine: the arrival of a friend; one’s present or future thirst; the excellence of the wine; or any other reason.'”  I opened the wine.

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Wine Review: 2007 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon

28 11 2011

Can a flower vase be an appropriate decanter? I say yes.

If the name of this wine sounds familiar, it should:  the ’07 Freemark Abbey Cab from the Napa Valley was my ultimate victor in the modern-day Judgment of Paris blind tasting I took part in at Co-op Wine & Spirits a month ago.  Matched up against 9 other top Cabernets including a couple of First Growth Bordeaux (2002 Chateau Haut Brion and 2007 Chateau Mouton Rothschild) and some iconic Napa Cabs (2007 Ridge Monte Bello and 2002 Heitz “Martha’s Vineyard”), by far the cheapest wine of the bunch (average bottle price of the 10 reds:  $277), this $47 little wine that could knocked both my tasting companion and I over and emerged the clear cut JoP winner for each of us.  As soon as the identities of the various wines were unveiled, I knew I had to get my hands on some — a reaction that probably would have been more subdued had the $928 Mouton Rothschild taken the title.  Thankfully for me (and all of you), the Freemark Abbey Cab is currently on sale at Highlander Wine & Spirits for just over $40, which is absolute robbery for a bottle of this quality from a premium region.  If you’re a Cali Cabernet fan, or if you’re not yet done your Christmas shopping, this is your winner.  Thank me later.

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