Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 8

8 12 2017

I feel like I was slightly prescient yesterday when I said that most of the bottle picks in the first week of Bricks Half-Bottle Wine Advent were straight out of a Classic Wine Regions textbook, as today we hit probably the 2nd most likely remaining appellation in France to get the call in a Wine Primer All-Stars competition:  Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  (If Bordeaux shows up anytime in the next 3 days, we will definitely have cracked the code.)  Chateauneuf is the jewel of the Southern Rhone, spiritual birthplace of the GSM (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre) blend, and purveyor of bold, brash, rich yet layered wines that are an Old World gateway drug for many a Cali Cab or Aussie Shiraz lover.  The area’s regal approachability arises out of a combination of extensive sunlight, scorching summer temperatures (over 30 degrees Celsius on average) and a whipping northern wind so famous that it has its own name (the mistral), which cools the grapes, prevents rot and allows for longer hang times and prolonged ripening.

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Tonight’s Chateauneuf representative is the 2012 Domaine Chante Cigale, a 100+ year-old winery that recently turned its winemaking duties over to someone barely out of his teens.  In 2002, with his father suffering from health problems, Alexandre Favier, freshly graduated from viticultural studies at the age of 20 (he started wine school when he was 15) took the reins and hasn’t looked back since.  The Domaine owns 40 hectares of vineyards, but they’re not in an orderly square surrounding the winery, instead plastered and scattered throughout FORTY-FIVE different plots all across Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Favier relies only on ambient native yeasts present in the cellar for fermentation and ages his wines in an oddly endearing array of almost every type and size of oak barrel possible (foudres, demi-muids, barriques, mostly pre-used) as well as concrete tanks.

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This cork deserves its own picture.  See below.

This particular Chante Cigale is the Domaine’s entry-level CNDP (if there is such a thing), keeping with the classic varietal mix of the region at 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre and 5% Cinsault.  It is a deep ruby colour and immediately smells like something that has been preserved:  beef jerky, molasses, date, sunbaked earth, hickory and Sultana crackers, if these had been cooked down in an Instant Pot and then set on fire.  The wine’s hefty 15% alcohol is well-contained, but everything in its profile is stewed or baked, leaving it begging for a touch of primary freshness that never comes.  Malty, Port-y, fruitcake-y, it is neither thick nor heavy in body but constantly feels that way due to a dense sluggishness in its flavours.  Like a Wagyu beef burger left too long under the heat lamp before being served, the pedigree is there, but in execution it just hung on a bit too long.  As fellow PnP Advent author Ray Lamontagne puts it, “it’s like an old venison milkshake”.  There are no kind similes.

86+ points

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Cork Rating: 9/10 (What a monster. Coat of arms, complete with cicadas [singing grasshoppers, aka Chante Cigales – nice], killer intricacy and coverage; glorious.)

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 2

2 12 2017

This Wine Advent is not only historic for PnP as the realization of a longstanding calendar-format dream, but it will also mark the very first time in 400+ reviews that somebody other than me will take up the virtual pen for Pop & Pour.  I am honoured to be joined in this Advent blogging journey by two fellow Calgary students of wine who pair impressive technical knowledge with precise palates and a knack for communicating what they see and taste and feel:  Raymond Lamontagne (follow him on Twitter and Instagram here) and Dan Steeves (follow him on Twitter and Instagram too).  Their authorship journey officially starts tomorrow, as Ray will take the helm of the blog for Day 3 of Bricks’ wonderful (based on early returns) Advent Calendar.  But it turns out they came in handier than I expected earlier than I expected, and their palates and tasting notes were called on sooner…

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Not like I needed any more evidence that Bricks was taking this whole half-bottle Advent thing seriously after last night, but I got it the second I peeled back the wrapping paper on Day 2 and “Brunello di Montalcino” stared me back in the face.  Yowza.  More specifically, tonight’s bottle was the 2012 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino, a traditional-style bottling from an old-school producer recently given new life.  Many know Brunello as Italian wine royalty, and likely the apex of what the Sangiovese grape can do (more specifically, Brunello was once thought to be its own grape varietal but later shown to be a particular clone of Sangiovese called Sangiovese Grosso), but its life as a classified wine region is surprisingly short — it only received formal DOC status in 1968.  Caparzo was founded at almost exactly that time, when there were only a baker’s dozen official Brunello producers in the world.  It was later sold in 1998 to Elisabetti Gnudi Angelini, who had married at age 20 into a pharmaceutical empire, was widowed young, and then took a left turn with her life into the world of Tuscan oenology, where she has become a standout.

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Cork Rating:  1/10 (Real Talk – This is one of the worst corks I have ever seen.  “Italia”??  Really? You’re a Brunello, for god’s sake!)

I LOVE Brunello.  I was not expecting to see a half-bottle of it, well, anywhere, let alone in Day TWO of this calendar, but I dove in with great anticipation, especially since 2012 was a highly esteemed vintage.  The wine was a gorgeous silky ruby in the glass and smelled like…mildew?  Old dirty showers?  Wet newspapers?  Oh come on.  I have been on a solid streak of luck when it comes to avoiding wine faults recently, but this bottle was horridly, outrageously corked, infected with the fungal-induced TCA compound from the cork (incidentally, they always say that smelling the cork is a plebeian’s approach to checking for taint, but this cork smelled like a dead giveaway, so maybe check your premises).  Ordinarily, throughout the entire prior history of my blogging career, my review would have been sunk — the wine was ruined.  But ordinarily I did not have TWO other people drinking the exact same wine with pens at the ready!  Raymond and Dan, called in on an emergency basis, sent me the following notes and (agreed) score for this bottle.  You guys are lifesavers.

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Damn you 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA).  Worst molecule ever.

“Nose of dried red and blue flowers (iris, rose, potpourri), anise, white pepper, a whiff of roasted almond.  Palate is loaded with tart cherry pie, cranberry, tomato, and unripe raspberry smeared on a leather-bound book.  Some orange peel also emerges, along with oily tobacco, walnut, tar, coffee bean, and a handful of iron filings and road dust.”  [Ray]  “I get most of those descriptors as well.  I would say in general it’s not a big Brunello and seems meant for more early drinking but does have solid structure.  Definitely tart cherry and cranberry on the palate and then the leather, thyme, black tea and stone/rock dust flavours take over.  Originally I thought the finish was a bit short but as the wine opens more it lengthens — still not overly long but enough to make you contemplate why Brunello is so good.” [Dan]  I’m sad I missed the experience (mine tasted like mouldy laundry) but remarkably relieved that any readers of this post do not have to.  Fingers crossed for better luck tomorrow!

89 points





Wine Review: 2012 Torres Mas La Plana

16 10 2017

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

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Cabernet royalty.

It’s Calgary municipal election night, so my plan was to put off this review until tomorrow.  Then I sat here for 10 minutes biting my fingernails and hitting “refresh” on the election results page on my phone every 60 seconds and realized that (1) the next four years of my civic life weren’t about to reveal themselves anytime soon and (2) I could use some guaranteed good news tonight regardless of political outcome.  And nothing screams “guaranteed good news” like the flagship wine of Miguel Torres, the most consistent larger-production winery I know.

If you have a photographic memory of this blog, you may remember that I have told the story of Mas La Plana once before; if you don’t, you can take solace in the fact that I almost didn’t remember this fact myself.  Nothing about this wine is quite as expected.  It is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Penedes, the heartland of Cava in eastern Spain near Barcelona, an area not remotely known for big red wines but blessed with numerous altitudes and microclimates that allow for pockets of warmth and create opportunity for special sites like the one that birthed this bottle.  It hails from a 29-hectare single vineyard planted before I was born, from Cab vines introduced to Spanish soil between 1964 and 1979 based on cuttings from numerous prior homes, including 1st Growth Bordeaux chateaux.  It looks strangely at home in a Burgundy bottle, unlike any other Cabernet Sauvignon I have seen on a shelf.

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Penedes was the first region in Spain to start using modern winemaking techniques like stainless steel temperature-controlled fermentation, and Torres uses them to great effect here to create a bottle that seamlessly communicates Spain’s history and potential to a global wine world, that imbues the Earth’s most ubiquitously successful commercial grape with the essence of the Torres family’s heartland.  Mas La Plana tells a story that was heard almost immediately, as the wine’s inaugural 1970 vintage beat out Chateau Latour and numerous other luminaries in the Cabernet category of French magazine Gault-Millau‘s 1979 Wine Olympics (which weirdly was the exact same competition that put Oregon Pinot Noir on the world map thanks to Eyrie Vineyards’ stellar showing against the best of Burgundy).  Yet it still retains its humble family roots:  its neck foil reads “Vinetum Paganicus”, a term sometimes used to designate top wines but which to the best of my meagre Latin translation ability appears to simply mean “vineyard of a village”. Read the rest of this entry »





Introducing: wYneYC

21 06 2017

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

fullsizerender-648.jpgI grew up in the days of monopolized government liquor sales and distribution in Alberta, and I distinctly remember going into the squat brick AGLC store with my parents when they were on the hunt for a new bottle of wine or spirits.  While government-controlled retail alcohol is still the norm in much of Canada, Alberta thankfully broke free of its state shackles before I hit adulthood, and now, not really that much later, it is a completely different world, with an ever-increasing number of remarkable producers from across the globe available in our market and very few barriers to introducing even more.  Slower to develop have been wine-buying alternatives to the standard visit to a retail shop:  online ordering, home delivery, personalized sourcing.  I can get almost every work of literature ever created from Amazon Prime within two business days, but our gloriously liberal wine commerce architecture has not yet fully embraced the electronic age and the consumer convenience that can come with it.  That’s why I always root for those ventures who come along and try.

wYneYC is just such a venture, an e-subscription wine club with a twist, featuring a revolving door of personally curated sommelier-chosen wines tailored to each customer’s palate and an absolute focus on eliminating hassle for buyers.  You sign up for a monthly subscription at one of three tiers, where a 2-bottle pack costs $36, $50 or $65 depending on your level of choice; you can also pick 4- or 6-bottle packs if you wish, which come with corresponding volume discounts.  But these are not just random bottles, and they are not the same for everyone:  when you subscribe on wyneyc.ca, you fill out a personalized online taste survey for each bottle (which you can later update at will), and wYneYC’s professional winos then pair your monthly selection with your palate preferences. Read the rest of this entry »





2012 Fox Run Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay

8 09 2016

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

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The ultimate value Chardonnay? Quite possibly.

Casting my eyes on this maroon label sends me back down memory lane, to what seems like forever ago but was really only about three and a half months.  In May I was lucky enough to pay a visit to the beautiful and unspoiled Finger Lakes region in central New York State – you may remember this because I basically wrote a Lonely Planet book about the area on this site when I got back.  Our very last winery on that winery-intensive voyage was one I already knew well thanks to its expanding presence in the wine scene in Calgary some 3,600 km away:  Fox Run Vineyards, which has acted both as a gateway drug and as a proud brand ambassador for the Finger Lakes in Alberta.  They have taken to this role so well that one of their whites was an official bottle of choice at the Calgary Stampede this year; can’t get much more YYC than that.  

Fox Run is made up of 50 acres of estate vineyards due south of Geneva, New York, on the western shores of Seneca Lake, the largest and deepest of the long, thin Finger Lakes.  The site was previously a long-time dairy farm, but grapes were first planted there in 1984, with a winemaking facility following in 1990.  Present owner Scott Osborn took over in 1993 and has been a fixture since, and the crazy thing is that he isn’t even the biggest example of the winery’s clear commitment to continuity:  vineyard manager John Kaiser was responsible for first developing the vineyards back in 1984 and is still there today – I met both men when I was there.  Winemaker Peter Bell is 21 years into his Fox Run career, and Sales Manager Dan Mitchell, who is more or less a permanent resident of Canada at this point after forging a successful new northern market for the FLX over the past few years, has been there for 12.  They are a family at this point, and it shows.     Read the rest of this entry »





Domaines Paul Jaboulet Ainé: The Next Level

5 08 2016

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

I recently tasted and discussed the entry-level Parallele 45 lineup from the Rhone Valley’s Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aine, which showcased the red, white and pink sides of the Southern Rhone in an impressive value-priced package.  Today we kick it up a notch.

FullSizeRenderJaboulet’s Alberta portfolio is supplemented by a quartet of upper-echelon bottles from a group of distinctive quality regions scattered across the Rhone, each of which has its own character and legend to live up to, and each of which, I’m happy to report, Jaboulet and winemaker Caroline Frey reflect to a tee in these beautiful offerings.  See my prior post for more details about this historic winery and its renaissance in our market; for now, we have a lot of wine to drink.

Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2012 Jim Barry The McRae Wood Shiraz

5 04 2016

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

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Serious, serious Shiraz.

I decided to have a good start to the week.  I usually hew to the age-old rule of opening nice stuff on weekends but sticking to the cheaper end of the cellar on Monday, but yesterday I said to hell with it:  forget convention, I’m opening something fun.  This led me to the upper echelon of my sample rack, and to one of the better Australian Shirazes I’ve ever had, Jim Barry’s The McRae Wood.  Excellent Monday decision.

Jim Barry’s wines are no stranger to this blog – I’ve reviewed his highly impressive entry-level Cab and Shiraz and his mind-blowing, Grange-challenging top-end Shiraz The Armagh.  This bottle is closer to the latter than the former, a reserve-level Shiraz clocking in at around $60 and often known as The Armagh’s little brother.  Jim Barry is based out of the Clare Valley in South Australia, an elevated and cooler-climate region due north of Adelaide and just northwest of Big Shiraz Mecca, the Barossa Valley.  Clare is best known as Riesling country and is about as stylistically different from the Barossa as you can get by travelling 100 km or so, producing leaner, less ripe and more elegant wines and rethinking what it means to be an Aussie Shiraz as a result.  The McRae Wood Shiraz is sourced from a special single vineyard in the Clare Valley, a 70-acre plot of land that Jim Barry purchased from his neighbour Duncan McRae Wood in 1964 to plant his very first Shiraz vineyard.  This eponymous bottling honouring the initial owner of the land was first released in 1992, making this the 20th anniversary vintage of The McRae Wood. Read the rest of this entry »








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