Rioja Quality Ladder: Bodegas Montecillo

11 11 2015

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

Crianza vs. Reserva.  And one of the hardest sets of labels to photograph well.

Crianza vs. Reserva. And one of the hardest sets of labels to photograph well.

If I had to pick one European red wine region that was my Old Faithful, that always delivered quality and intrigue, regularly delighted and rarely disappointed, it would be Rioja.  Something about the wines coming out of Spain’s original star region just speak to me, offering up traditional character and depth and a unique voice at often-amazing prices.  Rioja is perched at altitude in north-central Spain, closer to Bordeaux (a 4 hour drive north) than Barcelona (5.5 hours east), and has long been the king of the Spanish wine world:  it was the first D.O. (Denominacion de Origen, or classified geographical quality region) in the country to be granted super-elite D.O. Calificada status in 1991, the highest quality category in Spanish wine law.  Only one other region, Priorat, has been awarded the designation since.  There are always challengers for Rioja’s crown in a country with soils, grapes, styles and traditions as rich and varied as Spain, but at its best, there is nothing quite like it. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Venus La Universal Dido

16 01 2013

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

This must be tasted to be believed.  Just give yourself a couple days.

This must be tasted to be believed. Just give yourself a couple days.


Almost a calendar month from my last real post, things have finally returned to some semblance of normalcy in my household and all family cold and flu issues are mostly a thing of the past, leaving me free to kick back with a (highly intriguing) glass of wine and blog to my heart’s content. Luckily for me, PnP’s revival from the ashes of neglect comes in the form of a review of a bottle that I could write about for days, a wine that you can buy here for less than $30 and which has been constantly opening and evolving since I opened it over a day ago. I’ve tasted it over many hours and still can’t entirely figure out how to put it into words, but here goes.

Venus La Universal is one of many vinous projects currently being undertaken by Sara Perez, who is considered by many to be the most important female winemaker in Spain. Her roots in wine are familial: when she was young her parents moved the family from Barcelona to the nearby (and now-renowned) area of Priorat, located due west of the city in northeast Spain. Her mother and father became the founders of Priorat’s School of Oenology and early contributors to the wine boom that now envelops the region. Perez’s wines are all driven by a sense of place and a deep connection to the vineyards from which they are derived. I don’t usually include quotes in my review, but this one got to me: in a 2005 interview with Luis Cepeda, Perez maintained that “[t]here has to be absolute complicity between land and winery.” The land that ultimately resulted in this wine is a 4 hectare piece of farmland found in the southern end of the oddly donut-shaped region of Montsant, which forms a complete ring encircling the bullseye of Priorat (and thus can offer wine drinkers Priorat-level taste experiences for value prices). It’s a harsh landscape featuring nutrient-poor granitic soils, high altitudes, hot days and cold nights, terraced vineyards that must be harvested by hand, and vines that have to struggle to survive. Unlike most agricultural crops, however, with grapevines this constant battle to thrive leads to deeper, stronger roots and higher-quality, more flavourful fruit, making areas such as this prized for their ability to coax the most character out of their grapes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Il Palagio Casino delle Vie

14 11 2012

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

This is a pic of a real acrobat doing a real balance pose, albeit probably not on a bottle of wine.

Many celebrities have wine ventures.  For the most part, they are side hobbies at best and branding exercises at worst, usually making it hard to see what the famous name on the label has added to the wine inside.  Not so with Sting and the lineup of wines coming out of his old-made-new estate in Tuscany.  When he and his wife Trudie Styler first came across the historic Tuscan Il Palagio property in the late 1990s, it was dilapidated and poorly tended, in a vast state of disrepair.  After they purchased the estate and the 350 acres of land forming part of it, they spent an entire decade restoring the buildings and revitalizing the land, bringing on viticultural experts to convert the property to biodynamic growing methods (a pesticide- and herbicide-free holistic philosophy that focuses on ensuring the vine thrives in harmony with its surrounding environment and ties patterns of vine development to lunar phases, among other things) and giving vineyards that had been producing wine grapes since the 16th century a new lease on life.  Instead of rushing the fruits of the estate to market to capitalize on a well-known name and get cash flowing, Sting and Trudie waited until they and their team believed the land was sufficiently rehabilitated and the products of a high enough quality; 13 years after they first came across the property, they are releasing only their second vintage of wines.  In addition to a trio of vinous bottlings, Il Palagio is also the source of many other biodynamically-grown agricultural products, including fresh-made honey and cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil (I’ve been lucky enough to try the oil, and though I’m far from an EVOO expert, my layman’s opinion is that it was unbelievable).  The amount of time, effort and money that has gone into building Il Palagio back up is clear proof that this is a serious pursuit for Sting, one intended to create a lasting legacy.  I will refrain from making a “Message In A Bottle” joke here, but this is no mere vanity project. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Prospect Winery Red Willow Shiraz

13 09 2012

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

They (thankfully) don’t make inexpensive Canadian wine like they used to.

Another day, another foray into the once-nebulous-and-terrifying world of inexpensive Canadian wine.  My connotations of this corner of the market harken back to my university days in Victoria a decade ago, when my roommate and I would stop by the nearest government-run liquor store to pick up a $17 magnum of something local and atrocious before having friends over for drinks.  I have only recently started to get over the stigma that built up in my brain due to the bad-wine headaches that ensued from those bottles, and I remain a touch leery whenever I see a bottle from BC or Ontario that dips below the $20 mark.  Thankfully for me, I recently received a vinous intervention in the form of a half-case sample of wines from the Okanagan’s Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery, all of which clock in under the $20 threshold, and one of which particularly intrigued me:  this bottle of 2009 Red Willow Shiraz. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Jim Barry “Cover Drive” Cabernet Sauvignon

18 06 2012

The second vintage of Cover Drive featured on PnP…let’s see how they stack up against each other.

I went to the Costco liquor store this week, and as always when I walk into Costco, I walked out with a bottle of the Jim Barry “Cover Drive” Cab from South Australia, one of my favourite New World value wines.  When I first grabbed the bottle, I thought it was the same wine that I had previously reviewed back in November, but on closer inspection it was in fact a brand new vintage of Cover Drive, the 2009 (my reviewed bottle was the 2008).  This provided a golden opportunity to examine a question that I’m sure many casual wine drinkers ask themselves:  how much does vintage impact the flavour and quality of a wine?  Is there really a discernible difference between the 2008 and 2009 bottlings of a wine made from the same grapes grown in the same spots?  Most inexpensive wines are made to reflect a consistent flavour profile and style year over year, but my bet was that a quality producer like Jim Barry wouldn’t try to make his ’09 Cover Drive a clone of his ’08 and would retain some of the vintage variation arising out of the changes in weather patterns, sunlight, temperature, harvest dates and more between the two years.  To find out, I wrote up tasting notes for the 2009 CD without re-reading my 2008 review, and now I’m going to retro-compare the two bottles by lining up my 08 notes side by side with my impressions of the 09.  Hopefully this actually proves interesting.  Here goes! Read the rest of this entry »

Burgundy: White Tasting, Part IV

26 04 2012

OK, time to bring this long and winding road of a tasting review to a close.  I had set this up so that we’d end on a high note with the most prestigious bottles in the tasting, the illustrious Grand Crus, but for reasons outside their control, the drinking experience ended up being somewhat anticlimactic.  And no, it wasn’t because we were 10 bottles in by this point.  That’s what made the next morning anticlimactic.


A.k.a. over $300 worth of wine that really shouldn't be open yet.

Grand Cru vineyards are the rarest, best-positioned, most historic, highest-quality growing areas in all of Burgundy…or at least their classification is meant to reflect as much.  As you might expect, Grand Crus come in very limited numbers (only 32 in the Cote d’Or, according to my friend the Internet) and they produce minute quantities of wine each year with prices to match their prestige and scarcity.  I didn’t have the overflowing bank account to go too crazy and delve into the elite of white Burgundian GCs — the series of adjoining Grand Crus bearing the “Montrachet” name, including Le Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet, etc. are almost certainly the creme de la creme of white Burgundy, but they’re also a hilarious pipe dream in my current circumstances — so instead I turned my focus to two wines from the well-regarded but much cheaper Grand Cru of Corton-Charlemagne.  Unfortunately, both bottles were from relatively recent vintages, and we quickly discovered that, with great white Burgundy, time is your ally. Read the rest of this entry »

Burgundy: White Tasting, Part I

12 04 2012

It begins: the first 4 of a dozen hopefully-representative white Burgundies.

I acknowledge that it’s definitely been awhile.  I spent my evenings last week cleaning out my basement, then took the Easter weekend off, then faced a total loss of home Internet for a few days, all of which added up to a blog-less streak of epic proportions…sorry about that.  To make it up to you, instead of posting a lonely wine review tonight, I’m diving back into action with the first instalment of a multi-part writeup showcasing the results of the long-planned white Burgundy tasting that I’ve had in the works since January and that fulfills a 2012 New Year’s Resolution of mine.  More on the planning behind the tasting and the rationale for the various wines selected here.

To summarize for those of you who don’t feel like clicking on the link above, the goal of the tasting was to open bottles from the four main Burgundy quality classifications (Bourgogne Blanc, village level, Premier Cru, Grand Cru), spanning  some of the key sub-regions for Burgundian whites (Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault, Corton-Charlemagne), to see how the wines from each of the sub-areas differed from those from others and how the wines from the same sub-areas varied from producer to producer and between quality levels.  I will vouch from experience that delving to the bottom of these analytical quandaries required a lot of drinking.  Such is life.

Cork Ratings for wines 1-3: 2.5/10, 6.5/10, 5/10. Meh.

There were 12 bottles open for the tasting and an esteemed panel of four judges with glasses at the ready; we tried the wines in four flights grouped by quality classification, going in ascending order from the base Bourgogne Blancs to the Grand Crus.  My actual tasting notes from the first flight are below, and the write-ups of the other three flights will be coming soon to an Internet near you.  At the end of the day, while the tasting didn’t instantly reveal the inner mysteries of Burgundy to me, it was a useful (and highly entertaining) crash course on a region that I haven’t spent nearly enough time getting to know. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Antiyal “Kuyen”

29 02 2012

The name says it best: this is a lunar sort of wine.

I’m hoping this is a glimpse at the future of Chilean wine.  While until recently the Chile section of your local wine shop was probably best known as a half-decent place to get a $15 bottle, there has been an increased focus in making wines of quality and interest in the country that is perfectly highlighted by this producer and this bottle.  Antiyal is the brainchild of winemaker Alvaro Espinoza, whose wines are all the product of organic and biodynamic viticulture (a pesticide/herbicide-free method of farming that makes use of cover crops, natural predators, and even lunar cycles to grow grapes harmoniously with the surrounding ecosystem), an approach growing in popularity and one very well-suited to Chile, whose wine regions are in mostly drier climates with consistent weather and few natural pests/diseases.  The winery’s eponymous wine Antiyal (which means “sons of the sun”) still stands out in my memory a couple of years after I last tried it because of its sheer purity of flavour.  You know how some wines are the perfect example of a certain type of taste?  Antiyal is THE standard-bearer for the flavour “black currant”…I’ve never tasted anything like it.  Ever. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Beso de Vino Seleccion

22 02 2012

How many of you really needed to see full frontal bull nudity?

I’m sure the first thing the folks at Beso de Vino wanted me to see on this bottle was the 90-point score it received from Jay Miller of The Wine Advocate (which is likely why that number was posted front and centre on the neck in bigger font than the wine’s name).  Instead, the first thing I saw was:  testicles.  Yes, for reasons only known to a marketing department that should be immediately fired, BdV’s loveable mascot Antonio the Bull is drawn on the main label of the wine as a blatantly anatomically-correct stick figure.  Is it really necessary to showcase the animated gonads of a cartoon bull?  It has horns; I can already tell it’s a bull without any more explicit gender identification.  I don’t think the testicles add anything in particular to the artist’s rendition, and it’s not like the bull is really central to the wine or its faux back story (that Antonio kissed the wine and fell in love…not exactly deep stuff).  I am at a loss to explain this, but it’s hard to think of anything else when I look at the bottle.  Most unnecessarily X-rated critter wine ever. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Laughing Stock Blind Trust (Red)

19 01 2012

With this seamless a marketing pitch, this wine should always be in demand.

“Assets of the Blind Trust are kept under wrap and seal”, says the neck of Laughing Stock Vineyards’ “just trust us” bottle.  And so they are:  while at first glance you will not find any mention of what grape varieties make up this wine, and while the bottle tells you that the grapes in the blend change every year and never remain consistent, if you make good use of your corkscrew and fully remove the foil covering the top of the bottle, the mystery blend is revealed.  Since this is absolute genius marketing (and most of the fun involved in buying this bottle), I’m not going to spoil the surprise for you, other than to say that (1) the grapes involved are three of the five that go into Bordeaux wines in France (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot) and (2) the ’09 Blind Trust mix is heavily weighted in favour of one of the five.  And it ain’t Petit Verdot.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Gramercy Cellars Syrah

16 01 2012

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’d think this would be a no-brainer for me.  I pump the tires of Washington wine so hard that you’d think I was born in Tacoma.  (I wasn’t.)  In particular, I love what Washington State does to my favourite red grape of all:  Syrah.  Add in a top notch critically-acclaimed producer and it’s a recipe for a killer review, right?  At the end of the day, that’s definitely where it ended up, but it took a little while for it to get there.

Still just a baby, but clearly on the road to BIG things. Cellar if you can resist.

But let’s back up.  This is another bottle from the wine lineup of Washington’s Gramercy Cellars brought into the province by Highlander Wine & Spirits, cousin to the Third Man GSM blend that I glowingly reviewed back in mid-December.  In case you don’t feel like clicking on the link, here’s the Gramercy story in a nutshell:  young NYC Master Sommelier phenom with high-powered resto-job leaves it all behind to pursue his passion and grow Syrah in Walla Walla.  Gramercy makes other wines too (I still have a Cab and a Tempranillo downstairs waiting to be opened, and the Third Man is mainly Grenache), but Syrah is their heart and their focus.  Did I mention that tonight’s bottle is a Syrah?  And did I mention that Syrah’s my favourite?

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Evening Land “Blue Label” Pinot Noir

9 01 2012


One of my favourite labels in recent memory, and a great bottle to boot.

As I mentioned last post, although buying and drinking Burgundy is my top mission for (at least the first half of) 2012, in order to go about it the right way and actually learn something, I’m going to be deferring much of my Burgundy tasting/writing for a few weeks while I source wines and firm up a drinking plan.  Since I tasted a 2009 Bourgogne Rouge last week, I thought it would be an interesting contrast to follow it up with what is effectively its New World equivalent:  a 2009 Pinot Noir from Oregon, from the Burgundy-inspired rising stars at Evening Land Vineyards.  Even though Evening Land’s first vintage was in 2007, less than five years ago, it has quickly gained attention and critical acclaim for its lineup of true-to-the-land wines from the classic Burgundian varieties of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  I had known them as an Oregon producer (I tried two of their Oregon Pinots in WSET class) and was quite surprised to discover that they actually make wine in 4 different Pinot/Chard heartlands around the world:  Oregon’s Willamette Valley, California’s Sonoma Coast and Santa Rita Hills, and Burgundy itself.  While I’m sure that other wineries must do this too, I can’t think of another one off the top of my head that produces wine from different countries under the same name and label.  Colour me intrigued.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Alex Gambal “Cuvee Les Deux Papis” Bourgogne Rouge

4 01 2012

Burgundy: It begins.

Well, I couldn’t very well write a New Year’s manifesto geared around a promise to drink more Burgundy and then not follow it up with a bottle of Burgundy, so here we are.  However, this might paradoxically be my last bottle from my 2012 classic wine region of choice for a little while.  With some (much-needed) professional help, I am currently formulating a buying and drinking plan for Burgundy that will hopefully maximize my drinking and learning experience within the budget and time window that I have, but since I need to source (and pay for) the wines before this francophilic journey gets underway, you may not hear more about it for a couple weeks.  Even so, rest assured that I have not abandoned my resolution that quickly, and take tonight’s bottle as a symbol of my new Burgundian spirit of adventure.  Or something.

One issue that I and other Burgundy neophytes have to deal with when we’re in that section of the wine shop are the bottle labels:  they’re almost all uniformly boring, and unless you’ve read a few dozen wine books, they almost all contain words that on their surface don’t appear to offer any assistance in telling you what the wine inside is all about.  The key thing to remember when trying to decipher a Burgundian label is that they are first and foremost all about the land:  exactly where the grapes come from and (possibly) how that location has been historically ranked for quality.  The sub-regions of Burgundy are set up as a series of concentric circles, with the smallest ones (top quality single vineyards given the esteemed Premier Cru [very good] or Grand Cru [best] classifications) falling within larger ones (village appellations that include all of the vineyards located by one of the towns in Burgundy like Nuits-St-Georges, Gevrey-Chambertin or Meursault) falling within the general regional appellation of Bourgogne.  Any wines simply labelled “Bourgogne” are made with grapes that can come from anywhere in Burgundy.  Think of it like a dartboard, with Grand Cru/Premier Cru in the middle, village wines the next ring out and Bourgogne the outer border.  Even though the smaller appellations are nested within the larger ones, a wine will always take the narrowest regional name possible (and its prestige and selling price will increase the smaller the sub-region is).  A wine made from grapes from the Grand Cru vineyard of La Tache near the village of Vosne-Romanee in north-central Burgundy will be labelled “La Tache Grand Cru” (and will likely also contain the phrase “Appellation La Tache Controlée” somewhere on the label, confirming that “La Tache” is the name of the appellation in question) instead of “Vosne-Romanee” or “Bourgogne”, even though the grapes are technically from both that village area and that general region.  Make sense?  I almost lost myself in that paragraph, so fingers crossed. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Paolo Conterno Barbera d’Alba

9 11 2011

Not to reinforce any improper stereotypes, but I totally dig the Mafia lighting in this photo.

Well, another week, another lone post on Pop & Pour — there’s no doubt that my brief foray back into academics has taken its toll on my blogging productivity.  Thankfully, my WSET Advanced exam is this Sunday, after which my writing schedule will get back to normal (provided I haven’t given up on wine entirely by then, something I might just do if I have to read my textbook one more time).  After two weekends of boot-camp-esque Advanced training and 30+ hours of class time logged, we’ve tasted and evaluated close to 80 wines and covered off every major world wine region except Spain and Portugal (which are coming up this Saturday), as a result of which everyone’s brain is in varying degrees of pain.  My head is so WSET-laden that I have random wine words like Trincadeira (Portuguese grape variety) and bocksbeutel (odd-shaped wine bottle used in Franken, Germany) floating around the edges of my consciousness at night as I’m trying to go to sleep, and I can’t pour a straightforward glass of vino with dinner without mulling over whether it has a medium or medium-plus body or a ruby-with-some-garnet or garnet-with-some-ruby appearance.  Tonight I poured one of my favourite kinds of inexpensive wine, Barbera d’Alba from northwest Italy, and even though I was fairly familiar with the grape and the region, I still felt compelled to dive into my text to find out what my new vinous Bible had to say about them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Eroica Riesling

17 10 2011

Named after the Beethoven song, not the Madonna song...get your head out of the gutter.

In the car on the way back to Calgary from Edmonton yesterday, we decided to have Chinese food for dinner.  The problem:  I didn’t have any off-dry everyday-drinking Riesling (my pairing of choice for basically any Asian/Indian cuisine) in my cellar.  The solution:  a quick side trip to Costco in Red Deer to stock up.  Avid readers of this blog with photographic memories may remember the luck I had at the Costco in Grande Prairie earlier this summer; I’m not sure if visiting small-city Alberta Costco liquor stores now qualifies as an official PnP theme, but I can guarantee anyone from Red Deer that they’re not finding better wine at better prices anywhere else.  I was fully ready to walk out with a $17 German Riesling when I was stopped in my tracks by this wine, which I’ve had before in prior vintages, but which I’d never seen on sale for less than $40.  At Costco, in Red Deer:  $27.  Sold. Read the rest of this entry »

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