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 »

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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 »





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 »








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