Wine Review: Modern Italian Traditionalists

11 10 2017

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

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Reunited with Italy.

I don’t know why, but before yesterday I hadn’t had a bottle of Italian wine for a long, long time.  I’m not a hater or a New World purist; I have a bunch of Italy in my cellar and rank certain Italian bottles and regions among my favourites in the world.  I’ve just been through a phase where nothing has drawn me to that corner of my wine racks in a number of months…there has always been something more enticing to my senses that has kept the country in the press box.  Well, no more:  in order to restore equilibrium to my wine world and reacquaint myself with one of the two traditional cornerstone nations of viniculture, I cracked a pair of Italian bottles last night and reminded myself of why Italy is viewed so loftily by grape lovers everywhere.

On the surface, the two bottles seemed to have very little in common:  one was playful pink bubbles, while the other was a legacy Chianti crafted to centuries-old founder’s standards.  But both in their own way were asserting their place in the often-calcified lore of Italian wine history.  The pink bubbles hailed from the province of Treviso in northeastern Italy, just north of Venice, the world home of Prosecco; but it couldn’t be called Prosecco by virtue of its hue and its choice to forego the region’s Glera grape (which was previously also called “Prosecco” in an attempt to be as confusing as possible), which took the wine out of the threshold criteria of the Prosecco classification. Even though it was produced by a generations-old Prosecco house, it wasn’t Prosecco, and it was OK with that, ambling on its merry mission to bring joy to those who opened it.  The Chianti was a modern take on a wine made to the recipe of a 19th century legendary figure, the one who first set down what it legally meant for a wine to be a Chianti.  While the first bottle gleefully acknowledged its place on the parallel track from history, the second not only embraced its history but walked in its footsteps.  In their own way, I admire each for their paths taken. Read the rest of this entry »

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Calgary Wine Life: Catena Virtual Tasting with Laura Catena

26 08 2017

Laura Catena is my wine hero.  Her list of credentials reads as if it must have been accomplished by at least two people over the course of long, full lives:  fourth-generation winery owner, global Argentinian wine ambassador, Harvard magna cum laude, Stanford medical school grad, San Francisco emergency room and pediatric emergency doctor, multilingual published author, viticultural researcher and innovator.  And these parallel tracks of success are not a story of a mid-life career switch; she has been excelling in one of the most challenging careers in medicine and continuing her family’s proud wine legacy simultaneously, on two different continents, since she was in her early 20s.  As I have a hard time juggling more normal professional work demands and writing a weekly wine blog in the same city, I hold Dr. Catena in some degree of awe, as an example of what purpose and passion truly can accomplish in a single lifespan.

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Argentina has long been highly ranked on global lists of national wine consumption, made up as it is of a high percentage of European immigrants and their descendants, who brought with them an imbued wine culture and the know-how to introduce vines and winemaking practices to their new home.  One such voyager was Nicola Catena, Laura’s great-grandfather, who came to Argentina from Italy in 1902, at age 18, and planted his first vineyard, which became the origin of Bodega Catena Zapata.  However, it was Laura’s father Nicolas, two generations later, who brought the winery to the world’s attention and ended up bringing the whole country along with him.

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Nicolas travelled to California in the 1980s, shortly after the Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976, where Napa Valley Cabernet and Chardonnay were first thrust into the global spotlight after besting top Bordeaux and Burgundies in a surprising blind tasting that went viral.  He met up with Robert Mondavi, perhaps the man most insatiably driven to keep California’s star burning ever more brightly, and was inspired by the quality and ambition in this burgeoning rogue wine nation.  Convinced that Argentina could follow the same path to prominence and be the equal of California (not to mention France) in quality, Nicolas Catena returned home, sold the domestic-consumption table wine portion of the family winery, and zeroed in his focus on quality wines for export, aiming to “put Argentina on the map as a grand cru” for world wine.  He spent years studying climate patterns and geology and gradually came to realize that the most popular vineyard areas in Argentina at the time were mostly too warm for quality wine production.  He had two choices for cooler planting zones:  south, away from the Equator, or up, into the Andes.  He went up, and Argentina’s wine fates rose with him. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: $21 Old World Supremacy

11 07 2017

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

FullSizeRender-676This will be the last PnP post for a while – in a couple days I’ll be escaping the country on summer vacation and will not be thinking much at all about word counts or flavour descriptors while I’m gone.  Expect palm tree and sea turtle Instagram pictures and not much else until the end of the month.  I therefore felt compelled to send off July on the blog with a double-feature, a head-to-head review of two Old World value level wines with near-identical just-a-shade-over-$20 price tags and almost nothing else in common.  It’s Italy vs. France, a contest of different grapes, winemaking styles, vintages and approaches, with the main unifying links being longstanding traditional estates and a quest to over-deliver on quality for a supermarket price tag.  Enjoy the summer! Read the rest of this entry »





Burrowing Owl Spring Releases

16 05 2017

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

Some people chart the seasons using a calendar; others look to the melting snow and the first robins to mark the start of spring.  For me and this blog, the new season only arrives when the box of new releases from Burrowing Owl is delivered and tasted.  I can now happily announce:  spring is here.

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OK, yes, I had a glass of the Chardonnay before the tasting started.  I regret nothing.

Burrowing Owl is one of the few Canadian wineries that has been consistently able to juggle both quantity and quality, producing 35,000 cases annually from 16 different varietals grown across 170 acres and three different estate vineyard sites encircling the scorching southern Okanagan hubs of Oliver and Osoyoos.  It is likely best known for its Bordeaux varietals, but also makes room in its vineyard sites for less expected offerings like Tempranillo and Viognier, not to mention a killer Syrah that is proof of concept of the region’s suitability for the grape.  Burrowing Owl’s two largest vineyards are scant minutes away from the US border, on western-facing slopes angling down towards the temperature-modulating Lake Osoyoos, which both restrains the Okanagan desert heat during the day and extends it at night.  The third is due west of Oliver, in the neighbouring Similkameen Valley, using its proximity to Keremeos Mountain to help grow Bordeaux whites Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, where 2017’s spring releases conveniently start. Read the rest of this entry »





Sub-$16 Red Throwdown: Old vs. New World

11 01 2017

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

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Have you EVER seen a red wine bottle shaped like the one on the left?

The $15 bottle of wine is a vanishing category nowadays, and what you can actually get for that price may often make you wish you couldn’t.  A combination of the struggling Canadian dollar, increased liquor taxes and the inexorable power of inflation is slowly pushing up that minimum purchase threshold where you can expect to find decent quality…if you look hard enough amongst the oceans of double entendre-named or critter-adorned labels at that price point.  However, there are still a select few value crusaders scattered here and there in this cost category, from under-appreciated regions where production costs remain low and climatic abundance makes ripening easy.  I happened to have two such examples lying around, one from the Old World and one from the New, so what better way to make use of them than to have them battle to the death for my weeknight enjoyment?  Since the estimated retail price on each creeps barely over $15.00, we’ll play it safe and call to order the first ever Pop & Pour Sub-$16 Wine Challenge.

In this corner, from the Old World, comes a representative from arguably the most overlooked source of good, solid, inexpensive table wine:  Portugal. Read the rest of this entry »





Sacred Hill Marlborough Trio

29 11 2016

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

fullsizerender-488If you follow this blog (thank you!) and enjoy wine reviews (I do too!) but aren’t as into other forms of alcoholic beverages, I would suggest that you cherish this write-up.  Mull over it.  Take your time reading it.  Stop halfway through and come back tomorrow to finish it.  It will have to last you a long time.  This is officially Pop & Pour’s last wine review until after Christmas, as on Thursday I dive headlong into Year 3 of Whisky Advent, with 25 straight days of write-ups about the little bottles sequentially coming out of Kensington Wine Market’s tremendously awesome Whisky Advent Calendar. Pray for me.  Incidentally, Advent in 2017 may look a little bit different for PnP, as my years-long quest to get somebody to make a proper Wine Advent Calendar just might be coming to fruition:

Make it happen, Bricks Wine Company.  I’ll be ready, and I’ll make sure everybody who reads this site is ready too.

Anyway, since this is my last wine write-up for a calendar month I figured I’d make it a multi-bottle one, from an area that is a bit at risk of becoming a victim of its own success:  Marlborough, New Zealand.  Since catapulting onto the scene 30-odd years ago with a distinctive lean, blisteringly aromatic and herbaceous style of Sauvignon Blanc initially popularized by now-mega-label Cloudy Bay, this region on the northern edge of the South Island has become synonymous with this piercing, vegetal, unabashedly flavourful take on the grape.  Producers have rushed to respond to global demand for Marlborough’s established house style for NZSB, to the point where it is now one of the most readily available bottles around, no matter where you are.  This is good in the sense that you know that a solid, consistent bottle of white that will not disappoint is always around the corner.  It’s bad in the sense that a lot of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has become almost mechanical, put together as if by rote to satisfy an expected flavour trope.  The old challenge for NZSB was to become relevant; the new challenge is to regain its individuality and joie de vivre.  Easier said than done at a competitive price point, but certain producers are proving up to the task, like Sacred Hill, to whom I was introduced by the three bottles below.

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Sacred Hill was founded 30 years ago, in 1986, at the start of New Zealand’s wine explosion; however, unlike many similarly timed winery ventures, it was not started at the epicentre of the Sauvignon Blanc earthquake, hailing from Hawkes Bay on the eastern side of NZ’s North Island as opposed to Marlborough.  Hawkes Bay is a warmer region known mainly for red wines, and the two brothers behind the Sacred Hill label grew up there and came by their wine aspirations naturally:  their father was one of the first farmers in the region to take the plunge and start planting grapes as opposed to more common (at the time) agricultural crops.  The business has since expanded and Sacred Hill now has vineyards in both Hawkes Bay and Marlborough, which the brothers (correctly) call the “engine room” of New Zealand’s wine industry.  They have access to half a dozen different vineyards in Marlborough, one of which, the eerily named Hell’s Gate, is their own.  Their Orange Label line of wines, including the three below, are multi-vineyard blends offering up a true sense of the region without any sticker shock. Read the rest of this entry »





2013 Nugan Estate Third Generation Chardonnay

28 10 2016

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

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Nice to see some work go into a value label design.

If you were on the hunt for the largest subnational designated wine region in the world, the gargantuan South Eastern Australia appellation might be your first and last stop.  While most demarcated wine appellations gain their distinction by having a set of physical characteristics or surroundings in common — climate, soil, terrain, aspect, varietal — this one is intentionally celebrated for its internal differences.  Spanning five separate states within Australia (Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and even Tasmania) and covering the bulk of the prime vine-growing area in the country, South Eastern Australia is an umbrella region created to permit the blending of grapes from a variety of disparate conditions across a vast geographic area into a single appellation-level wine.  While the scorching Barossa Valley may have nothing in common with the cool, maritime Yarra Valley 800 kilometres away, producers under the SE Australia label can pick and choose grape characteristics from each (like rich fruit in Barossa and juicy acidity from Yarra) and meld them together to create a more balanced, interesting blend.  Australia has long been a wine nation that does not frown on cross-regional blending (the country’s top grape, Penfolds Grange, is such a blend), and when used correctly, it can allow for producers to put out well-made and eminently drinkable wines and surprisingly accessible prices. Read the rest of this entry »








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