Volcanic Hills II: Eruptive Reds

13 10 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

The Volcanic Hills story is a charmingly Canadian one.  Founder Sarwan Gidda’s father Mehtab moved to the Okanagan Valley from East Punjab, India in 1958 with his wife and children, becoming the first Indo-Canadian family to settle in West Kelowna.  After a few years, Mehtab and family were some of the most prolific apple farmers in the valley, but from the late 1970s onward, slowly but surely, their agricultural vision began to drift to grapes.  Ray’s excellent introduction to Volcanic Hills Estate Winery outlined how Sarwan took the next step from grape farming to wine production in the 2000s, and how his children are now helping to carry on this burgeoning family legacy.

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Volcanic Hills is largely a grower-producer, making the bulk of its portfolio from its own 68 acres of estate vineyards in the West Kelowna area, carrying on the Gidda family’s initial farming mission.  Not only are all of VH’s Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Zweigelt (yes, Zweigelt) and Marechal Foch (oh yes, Foch) wines made from 100% estate fruit, but all such grapes are own-rooted, planted on their own original rootstocks as opposed to being grafted onto disease- and pest-resistant rootstocks from non-vinifera species, as is the case with the bulk of wine grapes worldwide.  However, while the other two posts in this producer series will focus largely on what Volcanic Hills can do with its own fruit, the four reds below are exceptions to the VH rule and are instead sourced from warmer climes with longer growing seasons which can reliably ripen them.  The Giddas have contracts with other growers in Oliver and Osoyoos from which they obtain their Bordeaux reds and their Syrah, all of which are on offer at the winery for well under $30.  The price points of the entire Volcanic Hills library are such that John Schreiner was moved to name a recent article about them “Wines You Can Afford”.  But price is only one part of the equation; do they deliver for what they cost? Read the rest of this entry »





Spain, Old and New, Part III: The Wines of Vina Real

9 09 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Nearly a year on from the start of this review set, through three different seasons of write-ups, I am closing in on the full story of the Cune wine lineup.  We started with the mothership itself, the Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana (C.V.N.E.), the Riojan stalwart whose expressions cross four separate brands.  We then ascended to Imperial, the Cune adjunct focused on Reserva- and Gran Reserva-level wines from the top vineyards of Rioja Alta, the core of what most people know of Rioja as a wine region.  Tonight we move from the centre of the heartlands to Rioja’s outskirts, and from the centre of attention to a group of producers tired of being overlooked.  Cune’s Vina Real label is rooted in grapes sourced from the ever-ignored yet consistently impressive Rioja Alavesa.

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This least-known Riojan subregion lies in the north-central portion of Rioja, bordered by the Ebro River to the south and the Sierra de Cantabria mountain range to the north, which protects the vineyards from the cool coastal winds above.  It is both the smallest and the most elevated of Rioja’s three sub-zones, its hilly and terraced vineyards influenced by the nearby mountains, its 40 x 8 km surface area a relative pittance compared to its much more expansive siblings Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja.  Being the smallest and most neglected in the family also tends to make you the scrappiest:  Rioja Alavesa has recently, and ever more vocally, been seeking to carve out its own identity within Spain’s most prominent wine appellation.  There has been some talk of leaving Rioja altogether, which has not been all that well-received by the region’s governing body.  Rioja Alavesa is craving respect and recognition, and that is part of what Vina Real seeks to deliver.

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The winery is named for its vineyards’ proximity to the Camino Real, the “Royal Road”, a renowned traditional highway; its relation to the Camino de Santiago walking trail which crosses all of northern Spain is not immediately clear to me, though that pilgrimage road goes right through Logrono, the closest city to the winery.  Much of my discussion of the Cune-brand wines has alighted on that intersection between traditional and modern approaches that they seem to exemplify, but in none of Cune’s labels is this more clear than Vina Real.  The winery is part of Rioja Alavesa’s historical fabric, being among the first in the area to employ barrel aging for wines (which is now a hallmark of the whole Rioja region) and to make Crianza wines for earlier release.  But its present incarnation is unabashedly modern:  the magnificent new puck-shaped winery building, constructed out of cedar and inaugurated by the king of Spain himself in 2004, was designed as one of the first gravity-flow operations in the country and has bored out the surrounding hilltop to create state-of-the-art underground cellars.  Even this cutting-edge operation does not lose sight of its past, however:  the winery’s circular shape (as seen on Vina Real’s labels) is an homage to a traditional large Riojan fermenting vat, a physical representation of the old-meets-new dichotomy that defines this set of producers.  Do the wines follow suit? Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Culmina Spring Releases, Part 1

30 05 2019

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

IMG_0135You have to admire a guy like Don Triggs.  After co-founding the eponymous Jackson-Triggs, taking the brand to meteoric heights and carrying the cause of Canadian wine along with it, Don parted from the brand in 2006 when it was subsumed into the massive Constellation empire, his finances and legacy secure, a career in wine that started shortly after his graduation in the late 1960s drawing to a close, retirement beckoning.  But instead of choosing that comfortable path, he threw himself back into the breach once more, this time thinking smaller in scale and fixated on quality.  This next quest started, literally, from the ground up.  With the aid of legendary vineyard consultant Alain Sutre, Triggs spent a year scouring the Okanagan Valley for just the right site, one that could reliably and properly ripen red Bordeaux varietals, including Canada’s white whale, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Finding a promising spot with southeast-facing exposure on what is now the Golden Mile Bench, the Okanagan’s first legally recognized sub-Geographical Indication (GI), they carried out a slew of temperature and soils tests and discovered that the microclimate of the site (at least in terms of degree-days, a measurement that tracks relative aggregate temperature over the course of a growing season) was very similar to that of Bordeaux.  Arise Bench, the inaugural estate vineyard of Culmina Family Estate Winery, was acquired, and Don Triggs’ newest project came to life.

Having located a potentially ideal site for big, chewy reds, Triggs and Sutre only had to look up to find complementary cooler spots for elegant whites.  Two separate and increasingly higher-altitude benches a short hike up the adjacent hillside completed the Culmina vineyard collection:  Margaret’s Bench, at almost 600 metres of elevation a truly unique Okanagan location, welcomes Riesling, Chardonnay and Canada’s top plantings of Gruner Veltliner, while mid-level Stan’s Bench splits time between these whites and Malbec and Petit Verdot to round out Culmina’s Bordeaux blends.  This three-tiered vineyard elevation stairway is the foundation of everything Culmina does, every square inch mapped and studied to maximize the location of each vine planted.

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As Culmina established its identity in the Okanagan, its lineup of releases began expanding: its base Winery Series line, culminating (no pun intended) with Hypothesis, the Bordeaux blend that was the mission statement for the venture, has now been joined by two other sets of releases.  The light-hearted R&D line (which stands for either “research and development” or Don and his twin brother Ron, who are featured in childhood form on the labels) allows Culmina to let its hair down a bit and focus on budget-friendlier wines that are a joy to drink; the limited-release Number Series is a set of small-lot one-offs that push the boundaries of possibility on Culmina’s trio of sites.  I had the opportunity to taste some of the winery’s latest releases, which have just started to hit shelves now, and track the continued upward trajectory of one of Canada’s most exciting wine projects. Read the rest of this entry »





Yalumba: Coonawarra Cabernet Classes

28 02 2019

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

Tonight’s bottle duet replicates one of the most common questions that plagues burgeoning wine consumers:  when it is worth it to jump a tier?  If you’ve tasted and enjoyed the entry-level offering from a given producer, should you invest the extra few bucks to try their next level up?  Will you get more in return, enough more to justify the additional expense?  Value judgments and personal preference are always at least somewhat subjective, but objectively, when you move from a winery’s starter bottle to the next level up, and when you pay more for that privilege, it’s often because you’re getting one or more of:  (1) better, more consistent, more carefully sorted grapes, (2) better vineyard sources, or older vines from within the same vineyard, (3) more estate fruit grown by the producer itself, (4) better (or at least more expensive) winemaking and maturation practices, including more time aging in oak barrels (my legal career confirms that, in some ways at least, time is in fact money), and/or (5) better lots, blends or barrels from the results of the winemaking process.  You can see the similarities in style, region and approach common to the producer between the entry-level or next-level bottles, but in theory at least, due in part to the factors above, you should see some elevation in quality and product as you climb the hierarchy.

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That isn’t to say that pricier is always better; diminishing returns are real in the world of wine, particularly when you enter the realm of luxury wines that cannot hope to deliver the value per dollar of their earthbound affiliates.  But in my experience, the price jump from the cheapest offering of a given brand to its next level up almost always pays off in quality; the patience and precision and commitment required to make truly good wine can be strained when you’re also trying to keep below a $20 price tag, and even the slightest bit of economic leeway can make a massive difference.  Neither of tonight’s offerings fall fully into the entry-level category, but they represent the first and second rungs of Yalumba’s Coonawarra Cab quality tiers, so they will serve nicely to illustrate the considerations that go into whether to make the jump. Read the rest of this entry »





Spain, Old and New, Part II: The Wines of Imperial

14 02 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

This is a belated sequel to my introductory post from last November about the marvellous wines and history of Cune, the Riojan benchmark producer melding the traditional and the modern into perfect balance.  Since that post predated Wine Advent and then Vinebox, it’s about 40 posts back on the PnP timeline, and even though it’s only 3 months old it feels like 30.  Perhaps it has aged enough then to allow to slip in a slight correction.  I mentioned way back in 2018 that the Cune brand was made up of 3 different physical wineries and brands, each with their own winemaker:  Cune itself, Vina Real and Contino.  I also mentioned that the Cune brand “also encompasses the higher-level Imperial bottlings, made only in very good years”.  This is ALMOST entirely true:  the wines of Imperial have been made since 1920, only in great vintages, using Cune’s oldest vineyards in Rioja Alta and selected nearby old-vine sites.  Imperial is also still made by Cune’s winemaker, although the label only releases a Reserva and a Gran Reserva red wine, leaving the Crianzas and the whites to the others.  However, further research reveals that, as of 2005, Imperial has its own separate winemaking premises on the Cune property, as outlined in this highly confusing official graphic; it is now a winery-within-a-winery, its own bricks-and-mortar space.  The 3 Cune wineries are actually 4.

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Imperial is a focused and quality-driven enterprise, producing around 200,000 bottles in the vintages good enough to merit its creation, in contrast to Cune’s 5 million.  As of 2004, all fermentations now take place in new oak barrels, as a back-to-the-future nod to history — the Imperials of the pre-1940s were all produced in this fashion, and after decades of dalliances with first concrete, then steel, Cune made the very Riojan determination that sometimes the old ways really are best and went back to its roots.  The winery name comes from a unique historical bottling release for the UK market, the “Imperial pint” size (which is roughly 500mL, a highly underrated and remarkably useful size for a bottle of wine that we should see more of nowadays).  The Imperial brand made more recent history when its 2004 Gran Reserva, an utterly spectacular wine that it pains me to say I have no more of, was named the Wine Spectator Wine Of The Year in 2013, the first such global pinnacle designation for a Spanish wine.  If you ever have the chance to acquaint yourself with the Imperial lineup, do not hesitate.  The current releases continue to showcase the magnificent pedigree of the estate. Read the rest of this entry »





12 Days of Vinebox: Day 11

4 01 2019

By Peter Vetsch

It’s the penultimate day of the Vinebox 12 Days of Christmas calendar, and while Christmas feels like a long time ago, there’s never a bad time to use the word “penultimate” when you have an occasion in need of its natural meaning.  Thanks to the outcome of the one-by-one Vinebox vial draft that I had with Ray, I ended up with the last two days of this miniature vinous adventure, and I certainly sat up and took notice when I pulled a 100 mL test tube of Chateauneuf-du-freaking-Pape out of the box and knew that it had to be mine.  When Vinebox says that they quality-control like crazy and look to represent the best in their sets, it’s not just marketing talk; the level of the wines across this dozen tastes has been consistently legit.

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Where I might give Vinebox a bit of constructive feedback is in the relatively slim amount of information that comes along with each vial.  The Vinebox reveal website for this calendar (which I might as well give you now that it’s the penultimate day of our countdown — see how useful and awesome that word is??) tells me only that tonight’s wine is the “Graveirette Chateauneuf de Pape”; the label of the tube adds that this is the 2014 rendition of this wine.  As the current vintage of this Chateauneuf is the 2015, and as it is not a widely known producer or wine in this market, it is next to impossible to track down any information about this specific bottle, which can be exceedingly frustrating when you’re the Type A kind of person who wants to know these things but can’t find them.  If future reveal sites could at least include the vintage, blend, vineyard details and winemaking and aging regime for the wines, it would be of tremendous assistance in bringing crucial context to the sensory impressions that this wine has in spades.

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Here’s what I can tell you:  Domaine de la Graveirette was founded in 2005 by Julien Mus, a native of the small southern Rhone village of Bédarrides, located in between Orange and Avignon in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, immediately east of the famed new castle of the Pope itself.  Mus was a relative rarity in that he left home to pursue a formal wine education in Beaune, Burgundy, and was perhaps even more rare in that, after said certified advancement of his profession, he came back to his very same tiny hometown to work, first growing grapes which he sold to the local cooperative, but then in 2005 founding his own estate that would allow him to forge his own winemaking path.  This estate, Graveirette, has been organically farmed since 2012 and Demeter-certified biodynamic since 2015.  Under the Graveirette name, Mus makes everything from prestige-cuvee CNDP to experimental micro-vat offerings (100% Marselan, anyone? I’m in) that are intentionally downgraded to the Vin de France designation to allow for creativity and flexibility in how the finished product comes about, freed from restrictive appellation legalities. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 22

22 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

This is my penultimate entry for this project. It has been a long run. I am glad you are still with us. We told you it would be opinionated. Pretending that everything tastes the same or somehow manages to land on the same quality benchmark as everything else would be disingenuous. Rest assured, though, I very much appreciate the fine work ALL of these grape growers and vintners have put into this beverage, this agricultural product, this work of art we call wine. I was pleasantly surprised by today’s reveal. For you see, I am a Pinot Noir guy who still manages to really loves Cab, in all of its decadent, rich, lavish glory.

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Woodward Canyon was founded in 1981 by Rick Small and his wife Darcey. Named for the canyon where Rick’s family has farmed the land for multiple generations, Woodward was the second winery to be bonded in the Walla Walla Valley, with the Smalls playing an integral role in the process by which the Walla Walla AVA was created in 1984. The focus has been largely on Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends, with some grapes grown on estate vineyards while others are sourced from select growers in the Columbia Valley. This emphasis on farming first typically yields wines of place, although Woodward Canyon is not averse to blending across sites to yield a particular style. Enter the present bottle. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 13

13 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Rioja!  I stand to be corrected, but I believe this is the first bottle of Rioja in which we have ever partaken in an Advent calendar…thus my Groundhog Day Advent 2018 curse comes to an end and I get to dive into something sui generis to close out my blogging week.  In.  After last night’s more eclectic offering, tonight seems as safe and comforting as a St. Bernard with a collar barrel of brandy, and it barely misses continuing the 2013 vintage trend we’ve seen a lot of over the past week, although the 2014 vintage designation on this bottle suggests it’s a year beyond the likely current vintage of this wine.  “This wine”, in this case, is the 2014 Bodegas Franco-Espanolas Bordon Rioja Crianza, which is a mouthful to say, let alone type.  But as with so many things wine-related, the name tells a story.

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If you were reaching for your Spanish phrasebook or your Google Translate bookmark, I will save you the trouble:  yes, the producer’s name actually DOES mean “The French-Spanish Winery”.  The winery was founded back in 1890, when a great deal many Frenchmen in the viticulture and viniculture industries were fleeing a country where their livelihoods were literally being eaten away by the phylloxera louse, a scourge that absolutely decimated the vineyards of entire regions in France before the antidote of grafting native vitis vinifera vines onto American bug-resistant vine rootstocks was discovered.  One such Frenchman was Bordelais (and remarkably French-sounding) Frederick Saurat Anglade, who was one of many winemakers from Bordeaux to find refuge in Rioja and then like it so much that he decided to stay.  Along with Spanish partners, he founded his multinational bodegas, perched in prime territory on the banks of the Ebro River, which has since grown into one of Rioja’s biggest.

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This might be the first old-school wine from Rioja that I’ve seen use varietal labelling, but there’s the word “Tempranillo” plain as day on the front label.  This dose of consumer informational assistance is not quite as helpful as it seems, because the 2014 Bordon Crianza is actually only 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha.  Close enough?  The wine spends 15 months in the traditional Riojan staple, American oak barrels (which the winery website is kind enough to advise come from the oak haven of Ohio), followed by additional time (minimum one year) in bottle before release in satisfaction of its legal “Crianza” designation aging requirements.

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Cork Rating:  5.5/10 (Amazing coverage and graphics, but major deduction for being, by FAR, the shortest cork of December to date – see corkscrew evidence above.)

The result of this regimented aging process is a gorgeous rich ruby hue and a slate of classic Spanish aromas, from tobacco and new leather jackets to wet beach, smoked meat/chorizo and cedar with quietly fresh purple fruit overlaid with the dried red berry rendition most commonly associated with 100+ year-old Riojan wineries.  Bright and juicy, the Crianza hums with vibrant acid, its luxuriant round fruitiness a nod to modern influence but its wood-aided papery tannin and its cigar smoke, dust and char flavours a throwback to the good old days.  The two eras of this legendary region dance together marvellously here, and to this day I still haven’t met a Rioja I didn’t like.

90 points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 2

2 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Day 2.  The spirit is still strong, the Advent joy still coursing through my veins, and now the Christmas decor is up and running in my household, so we are officially in the season.  I’m not sure what I was expecting when peeling back the wrapping paper on the sophomore bottle of this calendar, but Cru Bourgeois Bourdeaux wasn’t it.  This could bode well.  Let’s find out.

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Chateau Caronne Ste. Gemme was THIS close to the big time.  As far as global wine locales go, it is quite nicely situated in Bordeaux’s esteemed Haut-Medoc region, but through a misfortune of cartography it fell a scant 500 metres from where they drew the border for the much more esteemed sub-zone of St. Julien, home of legendary classed-growths Leoville-Las Cases, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Leoville-Barton, Gruaud-Larose, Langoa-Barton and other pricy hyphenated estates.  Its vineyards are actually right beside Gruaud-Larose’s, but on the other side of the appellation tracks and thus on the outside looking in of the 1855 Classification and Bordeaux’s power hierarchy.

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That said, it’s not the legendary estates where the bargains are found; it’s their neighbours.  Caronne Ste. Gemme has been owned by the same family since 1900, but in the last 25 years the current generation of owners has overseen a quality explosion thanks in part to a renewed focus on their 45 hectares of Gruaud-adjacent estate vineyards, planted on a mound of Cabernet Sauvignon-friendly gravel over sandstone.  The wines are fittingly largely Cab (60%), rounded out by Merlot (34%) and Petit Verdot (6%) and see around a year in barrique (20-25% new barrel) and further time in bottle before release.

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Cork Rating:  3/10 (Better idea: put the CHATEAU name on the cork, not the proprietor’s name.)

This is SUCH a textbook, classic Bordeaux.  The 2014 Ste. Gemme is a deep thick ruby-purple colour and smells as though it’s just starting to trace the contours of its aging curve:  blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, tomato leaf, juniper, new pennies (back when those were a thing), pink erasers, campfire embers and topsoil.  An interesting beam of supporting raspberry red joins the chorus once the wine hits the tongue, joined by pipe tobacco, cedar shavings, moss and leather, surrounded by still-scratchy tannins that frame rather than block the flavour symphony.  This is a wine that could simply be nothing else.  It is a dream tasting wine, because it purely and accurately displays exactly what it is without overdoing it; varietal and regional typicity squared.  The Bordeaux that I own I’m trying to age, so I haven’t cracked a bottle of youthful Bordeaux in some time.  This makes the argument that I should, while simultaneously making me mull over what it might taste like in another 5 or 10 years.  Value Bordeaux, I have found you.

89+ points





Spain, Old and New: The Wines of Cune

20 11 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

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Welcome to Cune. Er, CUNE. Er, CVNE.

My love affair with the wines of Spain’s premier wine region of Rioja goes back almost to the time when I first started taking the contents of bottles seriously.  The area, located in north-central Spain and without question the spiritual homeland of the Tempranillo grape, is somewhat unique among the classic regions of the world for producing two very distinct types of wines, depending on the producer in question.  The traditional take on Rioja is more old-school than almost anywhere else, where both reds and whites spend near-shocking lengths of time maturing in flavour-heavy American oak barrels and even more time in bottle before release, leading to a mellowed-out, oxidative, nutty expression of regional identity.  The modern Riojas reduce barrel time (or even eliminate it for whites), focus more on riper, purer fruit and aim for immediate impact as opposed to patient complexity.  I admit to being a total sucker for the former style, largely because it’s unlike anything else produced in the entire world, a whole era unto itself, frozen in time.  That said, it is easy to see how browned, decade-aged, air-exposed wines don’t attract a universal following in this age of pristine winemaking and carefully controlled everything.  Sometimes it can be hard to reconcile the two different sides of this same regional coin.

Cune does the best job of simultaneously representing both the traditional and the modern epochs of Rioja of any winery I’ve ever come across.  Their wines harken back to the old soul of the area and feature many of its wizened delicate characteristics, while still retaining some of the vibrancy and primacy displayed by the region’s vanguard.  They are themselves part of both the history and the new blood of Rioja, founded in 1879 and now run by the fifth generation of the founding brothers.  Cune’s cellars were designed by a famed French architect by the name of Eiffel…perhaps you are familiar with other taller Parisian works of his.  The name “Cune” is more accurately “CUNE” (an acronym), which itself is more accurately “CVNE”:  Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana, or “the Northern Spanish Wine Company”…calling it Cune (Coo-nay) for short (and giving yourself a nickname) is borderline questionable, but they make it work.

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The Cune universe is actually comprised of 3 different brands, each of which has its own winery and winemaker.  The Cune brand is based in the Rioja Alta subregion and also encompasses the higher-level Imperial bottlings, made only in very good years; the Vina Real label is based in nearby Rioja Alavesa, as is the Contino bodega, which makes wines only from its own estate vineyards.  Tonight’s Cune introduction is focused on a trio of bottlings from the original label’s portfolio, each of which gives a hint of the heights that this marvellous producer can reach. Read the rest of this entry »





Burrowing Owl Fall Release Trio

8 11 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

I have now been receiving and reviewing Burrowing Owl releases since 2015, and in addition to some minor shock about my blogging longevity, this has also given me enough familiarity and enough reps with the wines to truly help me understand the winery’s house style.  The whites tend to be creamy and generous, often buoyed and propelled by oak but not at the expense of the underlying fruit.  The reds are bold and ripe yet not overdone, a strong reflection of the scorching desert-like climate of the estate’s Oliver, BC home.

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Year over year, the releases and the winemaking choices behind them come across as impressively consistent, part of the reason why Burrowing Owl has long been on the short list of top quality wineries in the Okanagan Valley.  Now that the snow on the ground here in Calgary seems permanently settled in until April, it feels like there’s no better time to tuck into this trilogy of warm, rich, classic bottles, which always seem to be best enjoyed with a notable chill in the air, starting with a wine that just might be setting a new PnP record. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2014 Schlossgut Ebringen Spätburgunder Trocken

4 07 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

Ever since I first got into wine about a decade ago, I have come across the eternal, nigh-unsolvable question many times:  where can you look for consistent, top-quality, good-value Burgundy?  Well, I have finally solved the riddle — turns out it’s been in Germany all along.

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Mesmerizing.  Germany, wow.

It might not be in France, and it might have just broken my heart in the World Cup, but Germany has been quietly elevating its Pinot Noir bona fides.  This fickle and finicky red grape is known here as Spätburgunder (literally, “late Pinot”, or “late Burgundy”, due to its relatively late-ripening tendencies) and is in the process of taking the next step in Germany’s warmer climes, aided imperceptibly by climate change and to a larger degree by greater clonal awareness and vineyard attention.  But it is not every country that can suddenly become a Pinot success story; Germany’s natural advantages (including patches of Burgundian-style limestone soil) are finally being properly cultivated, and almost as importantly, shared with the world.

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I don’t think I had ever seen a wine from Germany’s Baden region on an Alberta retail shelf until 2018, and after a taste of what Schlossgut Ebringen can do with possibly the hardest grape of all to do well (and don’t even get me started on their utterly mind-bending Chasselas “S”, which belongs in another dimension), it makes me wonder what has taken us so long to get on board.  A quick primer for the uninitiated:  Baden is in the extreme southwest corner of Germany, just a stone’s throw and a border crossing away from Alsace, due west from Munich until you almost hit France.  It is closer to Zurich, Switzerland than any major German city.  Baden is built like Chile, in a long narrow north-south stripe, within which lies 9 surprisingly different subregions.  Pinot Noir/Spätburgunder is the most commonly planted grape (at around 35% of all plantings), though on the whole white grapes outnumber reds 60/40.  In the south of Baden, just south of the famous Baden-Baden spas, lies the top subregion of Markgräflerland, known largely for Chasselas (locally known as “Gutadel” just to add more proper nouns to your life) but also a burgeoning Pinot power.  Baden’s other top attraction, the Black Forest (Schwarzwald), lies to the east, and in its foothills lies the village of Ebringen and the hero of tonight’s story. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Famille Sichel Bordeaux Tiers

15 04 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

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What a Bordeaux progression looks like.

Bordeaux is one of those regions that any aspiring wine geek finds out about roughly 15 seconds after beginning their vinous adventure.  It leads off many textbooks, is (rightly) touted as the spiritual homeland of red grape overlord Cabernet Sauvignon and its consigliere Merlot and is held up as a must-try area both so that new oenophiles can get a sense of the classics and because top-flight Bordeaux can be so memorable that its first-chapter place in all future textbooks is likely assured.  Of course, all of that comes at a price, one that seems to be increasing by the year, as wines from the top chateaux become more luxury commodity and less agricultural product and as international demand in new markets shoots through the roof.  So what are the non-obscenely wealthy wine-curious to do?  Here’s one way to start:  find a reputable producer and taste your way up their lineup, through the quality tiers and nesting-doll classifications layered throughout the Bordeaux appellation.  Even if you don’t make it all the way up to the grand vin flagship of the chateau, you will end up with a really good sense of what makes this rarefied region tick and also start to understand why those tiers exist in the first place.

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I was fortunate enough to test this tasting theory with the wines of Famille Sichel, a producer with whom I didn’t initially think I was familiar until discovering that they are the owners of one of Bordeaux’s hidden gem producers, Margaux’s Chateau d’Angludet.  While the winery is centuries old and the Sichel family’s history in Bordeaux is almost equally entrenched (they have been established in the region as a negociant since 1883 and are on their sixth generation of family ownership), their two paths didn’t cross until the 1960s, when d’Angludet was in a state of extreme disrepair and was bought and revived by Peter Sichel thanks to an extensive replanting and restoration program.  Current proprietor Benjamin Sichel continues both the negociant business (under the Maison Sichel banner) and the Chateau’s estate bottlings with a heavier focus in the vineyard and a defter touch in the cellar.  I have previously enjoyed Chateau d’Angludet on numerous occasions and now got to experience the trail of bottles that leads up to it. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Red Blends of the Eternal Ice Age

20 03 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

Happy first day of spring.  Spare me.  Yeah, I’ve seen all of the (obviously non-local) articles and Instagram pics and Twitter updates about new rosé and bubble releases and patio beers and T-shirt weather.  Meanwhile I have snowbanks bordering each side of my driveway that are taller than each of my children and still see the minus sign side the thermometer heading to work every morning.  It’s supposed to snow again on Thursday morning and there is no god and we are in some kind of forsaken meteorological time loop that will have no end.  So forget you, frizzy pink refreshing splashes and dainty Prosecco; I’m gearing up for blustery Armageddon, armed with a pair of full reds that scoff at the entire concept of spring.  I need to find joy somewhere, after all.

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Forget you, “spring”.

2014 Gerard Bertrand Corbieres (~$20)

I know from past experience that Gerard Bertrand is a value wine savant, and that his legend in the south of France is ever-growing.  I also knew that this particular bottle of Corbieres, part of his “Terroirs” regional collection of bottlings, hit the wine awards mother lode in 2016 by landing the #55 spot in the much-anticipated Wine Spectator Top 100 list — not bad for a $20 bottle from a little-known region.  What I didn’t know about Bertrand was that he was a prodigious professional rugby player before he followed in his family’s footsteps and turned to winemaking, even juggling a pro career with vigneron duties in the aftermath of his father’s death as he took over the reins of his ancestors’ business.  He has now hung up the cleats for good but brings some of his sport’s scrappiness to all of the wines that bear his name.   Read the rest of this entry »





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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