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 »

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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








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