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 »

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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 »





Wine Review: 2011 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere

19 11 2014

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

If someone made a movie about the story of Carmenere, I would watch it.

If someone made a movie about the story of Carmenere, I would watch it.

The story of Carmenere is one of my favourite stories in all of wine.  It starts, as many wine stories do, in France, where centuries ago Carmenere was one of the six varietals used to make red Bordeaux, along with Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  As French explorers set out to claim and colonize new territories outside of Europe, they often brought plantings of their national vines with them, introducing these grapes to foreign soils.  It turns out they were lucky they did, because when the phylloxera louse decimated the vineyards of Europe in the mid-19th century, it wiped out Carmenere in Bordeaux completely — today, there are only five red Bordeaux varietals.  Everyone thought that Carmenere had been tragically lost forever…and then it randomly showed up in Chile over a hundred years later.

On November 24th, 1994, the French ampelographer (actual meaning: one who identifies and classifies grapevines) Jean Michel Boursiquot was paying a visit to the Carmen vineyards in Chile when he noticed that the Merlot growing there wasn’t actually Merlot at all, but Carmenere.  The lost grape of Bordeaux had been growing in the Southern Hemisphere for more than century, but due to its vines’ and grapes’ uncanny resemblance to those of its Bordeaux cousin Merlot, everyone assumed it was the latter, particularly given the general understanding that Carmenere no longer existed.  This led to some extensive (and confusing) cross-planting of vineyards that proved extremely difficult to unwind.  Boursiquot’s epic discovery was a boon to world viticulture, and it gave Chile what it needed most at the end of the 20th century:  a wine identity, forged in what is now proudly recognized as the country’s national grape.  It was also a big help to the resulting wines:  Carmenere ripens weeks later than Merlot, and if picked early (due to mistaken identity) it can exhibit strong, and generally unpleasant, green pepper flavours. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Les Halos de Jupiter Cotes du Rhone

11 02 2014

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

You can take the emptiness of the bottle as a sign of how good this wine is.

You can take the emptiness of the bottle as a sign of how good this wine is.

It had all the hallmarks of a crappy week:  utterly frigid weather, lack of sleep due to a teething baby, tons of stuff to do at the office.  But everything changed yesterday afternoon when I had an unexpected visitor at work:  a courageous rep from The Wine Syndicate who braved the cold to drop off a box of 5 killer-looking wines for me to try.  One of them in particular caught my eye, a French red from the Southern Rhone with a decidedly un-French approach to branding.  It was the first vin de France I had ever seen with a planetary body on the label, and I knew as soon as I saw it that I was opening it that night.  As it turns out, I lucked out, because this is a comfort wine to the nth degree, the ideal way to warm up after plunging through gruesome winter on the way home.

Les Halos de Jupiter is a negociant operation (where grapes are sourced largely or entirely from vineyards not owned by the winery) overseen by French master consultant Philippe Cambie, who provides his expert touch to a number of famous Rhone labels and has taken this on as his own personal side project.  The obvious first question on my (and everyone’s) mind:  what’s with the name?  The label explains that Jupiter (in Roman mythology, the same as Zeus in Greek mythology) is the king of gods and humans, the head of the patriarchal family of deities.  It’s also the biggest planet in our solar system, and Halo is the closest of its rings.  Cambie believes that Grenache is the king of all grapes and the “natural leader of Rhone varietals”; it’s the Jupiter of viticulture, and its Halos are the various subregions of the Rhone Valley that best allow it to express itself.  If this were an SAT questionthe best SAT question ever, its answer would be Halos:Jupiter :: Rhone regions:Grenache.  Cambie’s Halos span the most prestigious areas of the Southern Rhone, from Chateauneuf-de-Pape to Gigondas and Vacqueyras, but they also extend to areas where hidden values can be found.  Cotes du Rhone is a catch-all appellation that basically covers all of the areas of the Rhone that aren’t scooped up by a sexier subregion, but this particular wine is a single vineyard offering grown at elevation just outside of the quality region of Rasteau, yielding top-end old vines Grenache without the CNDP price premium. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Moraine Winery Cliffhanger White & Red

26 06 2013

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

Before I get started, let me first express both my condolences to anyone whose home or business has been impacted by the recent flooding in Calgary and my gratitude to the legions of municipal workers, police/fire/rescue crews and citizen volunteers who have worked tirelessly to repair and restore affected areas.  I think we’re all a little desensitized to disaster coverage that we see on the news, but when the areas underwater are streets in your own city where you’ve walked, shops that you’ve frequented, or the arena of the local team, the veil of distance gets ripped away and the footage quite literally hits home.  Hang in there, Calgary.

Welcome back, blogging.  It's been awhile.

Welcome back, blogging. It’s been awhile.

So you haven’t heard a lot from me in recent times, but I have marginally decent excuses for my prolonged blogging absence.  In the past couple months I have changed jobs, moving back into law firm life at a boutique shop recently founded by some former (and now current) colleagues, and I have also welcomed a new child into the world.  My second son Max was born on Fathers Day, and events both leading up to his birth and since his arrival have taken up most of my attention.  I therefore feel somewhat justified in playing the Major Life Events card in an attempt to excuse the rather ridiculous gap between PnP postings.  If my last 10 days has been any indication, I would expect more of the same down the road, but I will try to keep the blog moving forward, if only to ward off the comment spambots that have descended like hungry vultures in the past few weeks.  I’m not dead yet, Internet.

Anyway, on to the stars of today’s post, which are two wines from a relatively new Okanagan producer that I was lucky enough to try recently.  Moraine Winery is a recent addition to the renowned Naramata Bench subregion of the Okanagan, located just northeast of Penticton along the eastern shores of Lake Okanagan.  Naramata has gotten enough critical attention recently that many wineries with any trace of property there are trumpeting the affiliation with the area, even if the bulk of their vineyards lie elsewhere in BC.  Not so with Moraine:  each of its two vineyards, named Anastasia and Sophia after the owners’ two daughters, lie within the Naramata Bench itself, and all of the grapes for its wines come from these sites.  Moraine’s proprietors Oleg and Svetlana Aristarkhov relocated from Alberta to pursue their winegrowing dreams, so I like them already.

Stelvin Rating:  1/10 (Give me something to work with here...giant Ms next vintage?)

Stelvin Rating: 1/10 (Give me something to work with here…giant Ms next vintage?)

The Cliffhanger series of wines are Moraine’s entry level offerings, each likely checking in at under $20 retail in Alberta ($15 at the cellar door).  This is the price point at which Canadian wines tend to make me nervous, as it can often be challenging for an Okanagan or Niagara producer to put together a compelling, estate-grown, quality bottle for less than $20 given the land, labour and equipment costs and climatic challenges common to all Canadian wine regions.  Thankfully, both the 2011 Cliffhanger White and the 2011 Cliffhanger Red are strong and enjoyable introductory efforts from a producer that I’ll be watching going forward. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Stift Goettweig Gruner Veltliner Messwein

14 12 2012

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

Just a classic-looking bottle of wine.  And don't overlook the awesome ceiling fresco on the neck capsule!

Just a classic-looking bottle of wine. And don’t overlook the awesome ceiling fresco on the neck capsule!

Wine lovers owe monks more than you might expect.  For centuries in Europe, it was these members of religious orders who cultivated and maintained vast tracts of vineyard land owned by the church and who advanced the world’s knowledge of viticulture and winemaking.  Legendary wine regions like Burgundy in France were first classified and sub-divided into distinct terroirs by the monks, who analyzed soils and slopes and charted the subtle similarities and differences discovered and their effect on the grapes that were grown in each location.  But that’s all ancient history, right?  Not so fast.  On the banks of the Danube River in Austria there is a Benedictine monastery that is almost a millennium old which has been making wine for 300 years and which still owns and is involved in managing wine production today.  This piece of living history is Stift Goettweig, founded in 1083 and home to a contemplative order of Roman Catholic monks bound to vows of solitude and meditation who have been producing wine on the property since 1730.  In 2006, the monastery leased its 26 hectares of vineyards to a small group of investors (a group that includes some of those running the monastery itself) who are dedicated to making high-quality white wines from grapes grown in the hallowed soil, particularly from Austria’s signature grape, Gruner Veltliner. Read the rest of this entry »