Wine Review: 2012 Torres Mas La Plana

16 10 2017

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

IMG_6952

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.

IMG_6955

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 »

Advertisements




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.]

fullsizerender-406

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.]

FullSizeRender-272

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 »





Wine Review: 2012 Torres Celeste Crianza

29 03 2016
FullSizeRender-268

Mysterious heavens. Mysterious brown bottle.

I must admit that the weekly sale flyer from my neighbourhood Solo Liquor store doesn’t usually flood me with inspiration,  but this past week, nestled in its pages amongst the Barefoots and the Yellow Tails, was an offer that made me make a special trip down the block.  The current edition (and 10th anniversary vintage) of Torres’ Celeste Crianza, a 100% Tempranillo bottling from the famed Ribera del Duero region in north-central Spain, was on sale for $17.99, down from its usual $26ish.  I now regret buying only one at that price.  It’s becoming harder and harder with the sordid state of the Canadian dollar to find a well-made go-to bottle of wine for under $20, but for one glorious long weekend, this one easily fit the bill.

Torres is as trustworthy a wine name as there is at this kind of price point.  I’ve had a wide range of their offerings over the past couple of years, some of which ($15 Chilean rose?) did not necessarily spike my expectations going in, but all of which delivered quality, character, consistency and obscene value, to the point where I now seek them out in junk mail flyers.  They are a Spanish family-based winery, but their headquarters are in the far east of the country, in Catalunya near Barcelona; Celeste is their first bottling from Ribera del Duero.  Made from grapes grown in the upper reaches of the region, at close to 900 metres of elevation where they are exposed to blisteringly hot days but remarkably chilly nights, the Celeste is able to offer up full fruit ripeness without coming across as loose or flabby.  The wine’s name and label emphasize the celestial, showcasing the heavenly bodies on display nightly above the elevated vineyard which keep watch over the crop. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2012 Marabino Noto

20 01 2016

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

FullSizeRender-216

I admit: I had to do a little research for this one. But well worth it!

Sicily is hot right now (figuratively at least; literally, it’s about +8 Celsius right now, and it’s 4:00 a.m. tomorrow morning).  After a lengthy history of exporting purely bulk wines for blending and bottling wines only for domestic consumption, this large island off the toe of Italy’s boot is suddenly undergoing a rapid and massive quality transformation, showcasing its indigenous varietals to the world and beginning to show up on wine lists and in boutiques all over town.  There are wines from vines grown on the side of an active volcano (Etna) and wines so close to the ocean they can smell the salt.  More and more Sicilian wine is being targeted for import, filling a gap in our drinking experience we never knew was there.

This is the second bottle of Marabino that I’ve had the opportunity to try; the first was their fantastic Eureka Chardonnay, exactly five months ago today.  Marabino is a relative newcomer to the island, established in 2002 as a fully biodynamic winery focused on growing Moscato, Nero d’Avola and Chardonnay, the first two native to the region.  Marabino is based in the Noto DOC, a UNESCO world heritage site featuring surprising white soils in the very southeast corner of Sicily.  While the number of classified Denomination of Origin zones in Sicily is continually growing, Noto has held this designation since 1974 and has an entrenched place in Sicilian wine history. Read the rest of this entry »