Calgary Wine Life: Blaufrankisch Masterclass with Georg Prieler of Weingut Prieler

1 05 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne and Peter Vetsch

Austria is renowned for the fruit purity and fine minerality of its wines, and Blaufrankisch is the premier black grape of the region. Grown across Central Europe and going by various monikers (the wonderful “Kekfrankos” in Hungary, and the more prosaic “Lemberger” in Germany), Blaufrankisch is an early-budding, late-ripening variety sometimes dubbed the “Pinot Noir of the East”; its elegance and dexterity earns it that nickname, but its hallmark savoury mineral wildness forges an identity all its own.  Some grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Campania’s Aglianico are said to swamp or overshadow terroir with their sheer varietal character, while others are more protean and can serve as a lens through which the story of their soils and site and climate are reflected.  Blaufrankisch falls firmly into the latter camp, although through its various land-driven expressions one can commonly find dark berry aromas and flavours, vibrant acidity, a pronounced spiciness and that “other” wild rocky character that can set this grape apart.  We were extremely excited to do a specialized tasting of this varietal with Georg Prieler, owner and winemaker of Burgenland’s Weingut Prieler, a dynamic, charismatic, insightful winemaker who carries his family’s history with aplomb…and who might just make the best Pinot Blanc in the world.

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Georg Prieler, Weingut Prieler

Yes, Pinot Blanc. We both first came to know this producer by being absolutely floored by how stunning and utterly fascinating Weingut Prieler’s Pinot Blancs can be.  This particular grape rarely wins this sort of accolade and is often considered a paler, strait-laced shadow of Chardonnay, never fully given the opportunity to take a star turn in any region…except, as it turns out, in Burgenland, where Prieler exalts it among whites and where Georg calls it “the Riesling of the Burgundy varieties”.  That got our Riesling-loving attention, and Prieler’s single-vineyard Pinot Blanc which capped off our tasting held it,  transfixed.

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All that said, Pinot Blanc remains both the winery’s and the region’s “second most important” variety, according to Georg, as nothing in Burgenland knocks Blaufrankisch off its throne. Georg himself hails from (and still lives in) the village of Schützen am Gebirge, population ~1500, known for steely Pinot Blanc but also the sublime Goldberg vineyard, where Blaufrankisch might reach its pinnacle.  He closely oversees operations in both vineyard and winery, inheritor of a legacy that runs from his grandfather to father to sister and now, as of 2011, to Georg himself.  The family’s time in the vineyards predates their work in the cellar — the Prielers have been planting and tending grapes in Burgenland for 150 years, which perhaps is what leads Georg to immediately describe himself as “just a farmer who takes planes and drinks wine”.  After his inaugural visit to Calgary, and with the voice of his wines preceding him, it’s clear that this particular travelling farmer has a global reach. Read the rest of this entry »

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Spain, Old and New, Part II: The Wines of Imperial

14 02 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

This is a belated sequel to my introductory post from last November about the marvellous wines and history of Cune, the Riojan benchmark producer melding the traditional and the modern into perfect balance.  Since that post predated Wine Advent and then Vinebox, it’s about 40 posts back on the PnP timeline, and even though it’s only 3 months old it feels like 30.  Perhaps it has aged enough then to allow to slip in a slight correction.  I mentioned way back in 2018 that the Cune brand was made up of 3 different physical wineries and brands, each with their own winemaker:  Cune itself, Vina Real and Contino.  I also mentioned that the Cune brand “also encompasses the higher-level Imperial bottlings, made only in very good years”.  This is ALMOST entirely true:  the wines of Imperial have been made since 1920, only in great vintages, using Cune’s oldest vineyards in Rioja Alta and selected nearby old-vine sites.  Imperial is also still made by Cune’s winemaker, although the label only releases a Reserva and a Gran Reserva red wine, leaving the Crianzas and the whites to the others.  However, further research reveals that, as of 2005, Imperial has its own separate winemaking premises on the Cune property, as outlined in this highly confusing official graphic; it is now a winery-within-a-winery, its own bricks-and-mortar space.  The 3 Cune wineries are actually 4.

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Imperial is a focused and quality-driven enterprise, producing around 200,000 bottles in the vintages good enough to merit its creation, in contrast to Cune’s 5 million.  As of 2004, all fermentations now take place in new oak barrels, as a back-to-the-future nod to history — the Imperials of the pre-1940s were all produced in this fashion, and after decades of dalliances with first concrete, then steel, Cune made the very Riojan determination that sometimes the old ways really are best and went back to its roots.  The winery name comes from a unique historical bottling release for the UK market, the “Imperial pint” size (which is roughly 500mL, a highly underrated and remarkably useful size for a bottle of wine that we should see more of nowadays).  The Imperial brand made more recent history when its 2004 Gran Reserva, an utterly spectacular wine that it pains me to say I have no more of, was named the Wine Spectator Wine Of The Year in 2013, the first such global pinnacle designation for a Spanish wine.  If you ever have the chance to acquaint yourself with the Imperial lineup, do not hesitate.  The current releases continue to showcase the magnificent pedigree of the estate. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Winter Warmers, Part 2

27 02 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Red or white? Before wine became a serious subject of study for me, I gravitated towards whites, and not premium quality ones either, a preference that was likely the product of early learning (e.g., that box of German plonk that was a nigh-permanent fixture on the kitchen counter) coupled with an irrational phobia of such mythological creatures as “tannin-induced hangovers”. As it turns out, there is a general trend in humans towards a greater appreciation for bitter flavors and pucker-inducing sensations that comes with age and experience. Years later, I adore red wine while continuing to appreciate characterful whites. At this point the distinction between red versus white is but a minor factor in my choice of which wine to consume at a given point in time, one that can sometimes influence me at the very early stages of decision-making (“is it a red or a white night?”), but that ultimately carries less weight than varietal, region, style, or what’s for dinner. The Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada webpage indicates that at the national level, Canadians prefer red wine to white, with the exception of British Columbia, where whites are more popular. Heedless of the overall trend, many (myself included) continue to associate winter with hearty reds. Without further ado, let’s launch into part 2 of our robust red reviews, following Dan’s introduction from late last week.

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2011 Montecillo Rioja Reserva ($18)

Spain has more area under vines than any other country and is the third largest producer of wine in the world. Spanish wine on the whole was considered rather rustic and ragged until a major shift towards improved quality occurred in the mid-20th century, before which time it was not unheard of to dilute the wine with lemonade to increase palatability (!). Rioja remains the best-known area for red wine production in Spain, although recently a few upstart regions have made inroads. Tempranillo is Spain’s top indigenous variety, with plantings doubling across the country over the past decade, and is the dominant grape in almost all Rioja reds. I found a great quote from a top Rioja producer in Benjamin Lewin’s book “Wine: Myths and Reality”: “Everywhere in the world, people want to make wine like Burgundy. But it is not in our history, we have  always blended”. Historically, Rioja’s very warm vineyards resulted in full ripening of any given grape varietal, such that blending was necessary to achieve the desired complexity. In a traditional blend, fruitiness came from Tempranillo, while Garnacha (Grenache) provided more color, body, and alcohol, with relative rarity Graciano providing acid to offset the softness of the other two. This classic blend often yielded wines featuring what Lewin calls “savory, almost animal notes of mature red fruits”. Use of American oak for aging has also led some to conclude that Tempranillo is rather neutral flavor-wise, with vanilla and char notes from oak constituting Rioja’s “true” distinctive flavor profile. Regardless, much Rioja is now made in a soft, fruit-forward style. Some producers have decided to split the difference and offer both traditional and modern bottlings. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 12

12 12 2017

We are here, my friends:  at the midpoint of Advent, 24 posts in (including this one) and 25 to go, about to hit Advent Hump Day tomorrow (on a Wednesday, natch), with two columns of the Bricks Wine Advent crate vaporized and another two left to go.  I’m late posting this tonight not because I got started late, but because tonight’s bottle is so damn fascinating that I’ve just spent the better part of the last hour reading about it instead of getting down to business.  It’s a Cava, but not really.  It has a history dating back either millions (for the land) or hundreds (for the family) of years, but it’s also so new that it has yet to obtain an official designation.  I looked at the label for a good long time trying to figure out what was going on before resolving to dive deeper on this one.

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The label says “2011 Raventos i Blanc Conca Del Riu Anoia De La Finca”.  I recognize it to be a sparkling wine from eastern Spain, but it doesn’t say “Cava” (the only widely known bubbles appellation in the area) anywhere on the bottle.  It’s also vintage-dated, which a lot of Cava is not.  Um.  Starting with the only one of those label words that I knew, and the only one with its own website, I pulled on that thread and started unravelling the mystery.  Raventos i Blanc is one of the top quality sparkling producers in Spain, an estate that has been family-owned and -run for TWENTY-ONE GENERATIONS, since 1497.  The Raventos family is intimately connected with the creation and rise of Cava:  it was Raventos ancestors who first established the indigenous grapes that would form part of the Cava blend (Macabeu, Xarel-lo and Parellada) and who actually made the very first bottles of Cava in 1872.  The Cava DO has since stretched, however, now encompassing a half-dozen areas that aren’t at all geographically connected and now permitting Champagne grapes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to also be used in the bubbly blend.  The current generation of the Raventos family were not a fan of these changes.  So in December 2012, they left the Cava appellation and started their own.

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The estate and vineyards are still based in the very heart of classical Cava, of course, in the core of Penedes near Barcelona.  But Raventos pulled the name of the region off its bottles and instead added the name of a proposed new location-focused appellation:  Conca Del Riu Anoia, named for the nearby Anoia River.  Their proposed requirements for this new region are strict, ranging from a commitment to organic viticulture to minimum purchase prices for fruit bought from growers to longer minimum aging periods.  I keep saying “proposed” because the Conca Del Riu Anoia “region” has no legal or formal existence but is still just a vision; but it has some kind of existence, because I see it on the label of this leading light. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva

30 09 2015

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

Modern Traditional Chianti.

Modern Traditional Chianti.

Barone Ricasoli holds itself out as the oldest winery in Italy.  Its history certainly marches in lockstep with that of its region, Chianti:  the winery’s eponymous founder was the man who first suggested the modern “recipe” for the standard Chianti blend — largely Sangiovese, blended with indigenous varieties Canaiolo, Trebbiano and Colorino — in a letter in 1872.  That mix has expanded and adapted since then, but Ricasoli has remained a constant in the area, producing Chianti at all price and quality points, from the entry level to the sublime.

This particular bottle is from the sub-zone of Chianti Classico, the traditional Chianti heartland at the centre of the region encompassing the original lands upon which that name was bestowed.  Chianti has now expanded significantly beyond that area, some might say for largely economic reasons and to the detriment of its reputation, as the lands surrounding Classico often do not quite live up to its hallmarks of quality.  The symbol of Chianti Classico, emblazoned proudly on this bottle in multiple places, is the black rooster, the gallo nero.  Why?  Legend has it that, back when the provinces of Florence (in the north) and Siena (in the south) were fighting over the territory of Chianti (right in the middle), they settled on a contest to determine their mutual border:  they would each pick their best knight, who would ride from his city towards his opponent as fast as his horse could take him once the rooster crowed, and wherever they met would mark the new edge of each province’s lands.  The Florentines had a black rooster, and before the date of the contest they kept it locked up in a box with no food, so that when it was finally released on the day of the race, it crowed much, much earlier than dawn, giving Florence’s knight a massive head start.  The Florentine met the Sienese knight just outside of Siena’s walls and thus scooped all of Chianti for Florence, giving the black rooster mythical status in the process.  This is the best part about wine:  everything has a story.  You just have to find it. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Bila-Haut L’Esquerda

23 09 2015

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

Bila-Haut: The label that can't miss.

Bila-Haut: The label that can’t miss.

What??  There’s another Bila-Haut?  Readers of this blog will know that I have long been a fan of the best-known wine from Rhone legend Michel Chapoutier’s Roussillon side project, the excellently named Occultum Lapidem, and I have also recently had the chance to enjoy their near-equally awesome rose.  But I had neither seen nor heard of this mustard-coloured addition to the Bila-Haut lineup, L’Esquerda, before being provided this bottle to try.  I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon.

Like the Occultum Lapidem, the Bila-Haut L’Esquerda is from a particular high-quality subregion of the Cotes du Roussillon Villages area in the extreme south of France, almost stepping into Spain.  While the Occultum Lapidem hails from the mouthful Cotes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France subregion, the L’Esquerda comes from a single vineyard nestled in its westerly neighbour, the nearly-as-wordy Cotes du Roussillon Village Lesquerde subregion, located slightly further inland from the Mediterranean Sea, immediately south of red dessert wine rock star zone Maury, and due west of another Roussillon sub-zone that’s gotten digital ink on this site lately, Tautavel.  The word “L’esquerda” is Catalan for “the fault in the rock” and is likely a nod to the nutrient-poor granitic soils of the area.  Mainly Syrah, but blended with Grenache and Carignan, L’Esquerda has basically the same varietal makeup as Occultum and is made in a very similar fashion:  from old-vine grapes (40+ years), with extended maceration periods post-fermentation (3-4 weeks) and with limited oak aging (10% or less of the blend sees a barrel).  No wonder there’s a family resemblance.

Read the rest of this entry »





Lebanese Duet: 2011 Reds from Chateau Ksara

26 05 2015

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

Lebanon?  Lebanon!

Lebanon? Lebanon!

The cool thing about being a wine lover is that it constantly invites you to broaden your horizons and seek out new sensory experiences.  The cool thing about running a wine blog is that sometimes those experiences come to you.  A few weeks ago, out of the blue, I got an email from the oldest winery in Lebanon, Chateau Ksara, a vinous institution that predates Canada by a good ten years (founded in 1857).  Even though their wines are not currently available in Alberta, they wanted me to try them.  Shortly afterward, the courier box arrived from Ontario, containing a duo of 2011 value reds, Ksara’s Reserve du Couvent and Le Prieure bottlings.  Each clocks in at around the $15 range (at the LCBO, at least), and each was a complete revelation to me of the strong state and developing identity of Lebanese wine. Read the rest of this entry »








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