Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Clos Siguier Cahors

28 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Today’s release is a fun one. You’ve probably had this grape variety before, or have at least heard of it. Malbec has become the premier grape variety in Argentina, and such wines remain immensely popular. But I’m willing to bet that you haven’t had Malbec from this wine region, which is far closer to its likely place of origin in northern Burgundy, although the grape is far better known as one of the six classic permitted black grapes of Bordeaux (due to climate change, a few more are now being trialed there). Let’s investigate further.

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Malbec

Malbec is often described as inky purple and tannic, although the tannins are typically round and mouth-filling rather than scratchy and abrasive. In the glass, Malbec often yields correspondingly dark fruit flavours as well as some smoky notes. The grape became less popular in Bordeaux after 1956 when frost slaughtered around 75% of the crop. Malbec’s reputation in Bordeaux has only continued to decline since then. According to Stephen Brook, the variety has “little to contribute” to the Bordeaux blending regime, offering large berries that yield dilute, soft wine. There is actually more current interest in reviving Carmenere (!), the obscure “sixth Bordeaux grape” that all but disappeared after phylloxera, a pest that did Malbec no favours either. Rest assured though, all is not lost. If fortunes are decidedly bleak in Bordeaux, the wine region featured here, Cahors, seems hell-bent on ensuring that Malbec will always have a place in its native land. The same frost that wiped out the variety in Bordeaux also devastated the grape in Cahors, the difference being that the latter vignerons dutifully replanted with the same grape. Although the region remains besieged, one of many rustic bastions in a world of homogenized commodity beverages, this enclave of winemakers refuses to go without a fight. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 18

18 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

Day 18 of this blogging campaign has me starting off the final week with a slight limp but head unbowed. It has been particularly fun this year, truth be told. The calendar has been superbly curated, considering the perfectly understandable constraints of price point and availability of half-bottles. But I don’t think it is just that. The last few bottles have sparked some enjoyable discussion and debate between the three of us responsible for this Advent blogging set, causing me to reflect on just what it is about wine that is so mesmerizing, so able to inspire passion. Upon reflection, I think for me it is the intersection between art and science. If one knows how wine is made, in a technical sense, one can better assess what is going on with a particular bottle. Maybe this is how I naturally veer, given my professional background… “OK, does this wine gel with how I know it was made?” This sort of conceptual funnelling can provide all kinds of helpful cues as to what I’m experiencing. But then again, what if I am pleasantly surprised? What if I just love the lines of this particular sculpture, heedless of how I know it should present? I think there’s room for both perspectives, within me and within the field of wine assessment more generally. I try to be cognizant of this dichotomy when I see that today’s bottle reads “Cotes du Rhone Villages”.

IMG_1386I’m not implying that I’m disappointed. In fact, this appellation is a deliberate step up in quality from the Cotes du Rhone per se. In the late 1960s, several villages successfully petitioned to include their names on wine labels, in exchange for being willing to submit to higher quality standards. These included the requirement that Grenache must comprise not less than 50% of any given red wine, with a further 20% consisting of Syrah or Mourvèdre in any proprotion. A maximum of 20% of other authorized varieties is also permitted, with these including various obscurities permitted in Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Cinsault, Muscardin, Vaccarese, Terret Noir) along with Carignan. At this point, the Cotes du Rhone Villages appellation has expanded to nearly 10,000 hectares, making it the second largest appellation in the Southern Rhone, half of which can add the name of a specific village to the label. Twenty villages can do this at the present time. This is starting to get the feel of the Dodo Bird verdict from Alice In Wonderland, where “everyone has won and all must have prizes”. Further reinforcing this notion is the fact that the other half of the appellation can distinguish themselves from generic Cotes-du-Rhône by adding the term “village”, albeit without a more specific moniker. The present bottle falls into the latter category, although the producer would certainly take umbrage with the notion that their wines are somehow worse than those labelled Visan or Roaix.

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Domaine Roger Perrin is on the young side for the region, founded in 1969. In what is starting to feel like an eerie theme for me during this December blogging run, Roger died unexpectedly during the harvest in 1969, with well-studied son Luc taking charge. Irked at confusion over his name with that of the famous Beaucastel Perrins, Luc embarked on a quality control campaign to distinguish his estate (the two families are friendly but not related). Tragically, Luc succumbed to a battle with cancer, with sister Veronique and son Xavier carrying on the traditions of hand-harvesting and aging in stainless steel (with the exception of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines). The present wine has been described as a “baby Chateauneuf-du-Pape”, consisting of 75% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 5% Mourvèdre, with a minimum vine age of 45 years. Interestingly, some earlier documentation suggests that the wine was once 5% Counoise and Vaccarese. This wine is made only in good years, with a fairly long maceration period and 20-50% de-stemming depending on vintage ripeness. All this converges on something that is supposed to be an everyday sipper, albeit a step or two above the rest.

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The 2016 Domaine Roger Perrin Cuvee Vieilles Vignes Cotes-du-Rhone Villages is mercifully devoid of faults, suggesting that the Advent Chateauneuf-du-Pape curse does not extend to any “baby” versions. Phew. This leads with a sweeping plush bramble attack of red liquorice, blackberry, and black raspberry, with a few spoonfuls of Mission fig jam and cherry preserve and a dusting of broken clay flower pot, the soil from said pot, juniper, lavender, pineapple sage, and fennel seeds. A cinnamon and ginger snap cookie spice emerges mid-palate, carried along by supple ripe tannins. If Tetley conjured up a black tea flavoured with currants, cacao nibs, and ripe strawberries… this is the sort of warm climate wine I can get fully behind. Neither flabby nor jammy, but hardly a lightweight. Science and art.

89 points    

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Cork Rating: 5.5./10 (Reasonably sharp Diam.)





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 15

15 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

Yesterday saw an unexpected and very pleasing deep dive into Petite Sirah. Today we appear to have another half-bottle flute under wraps, albeit one that’s taller that your average 750 ml bottle! There had to be a Riesling in here, no?

IMG_1380Wine importer and writing hero of mine Terry Theise captures the magic of this grape when he describes how this variety stole his heart. A single inexpensive off-dry Mosel Riesling produced by a large co-operative winery captivated and mesmerized, ultimately propelling him into a successful career and forever changing his view of a beverage. It is worth noting that he describes this fateful bottle as essentially supermarket plonk. That’s what Riesling is capable of: even the “bad” ones are pretty damn tasty, and completely obliterating the grape’s distinctive character via mass market commodity winemaking is actually quite challenging. This grape demands to be known, even if it doesn’t always carry a big stick. Riesling often prefers the ethereal, conveying something much deeper than mere bombastic pleasure. Perhaps the Mosel, home to Riesling vines for at least 500 years, is the quintessential expression of this soul.

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Mosel Rieslings are renowned for their floral aromas, racy acidity, crystalline purity of fruit, and lightness of body relative to other German winemaking regions. Coming to the wine party when I did, I am accustomed to treating this region with considerable reverence, although there was a time not so long ago when oceans of dilute, sweetish wine from mediocre sites did damage to the Mosel’s reputation, and some are of the view that even the better producers were often guilty of making their wines too sweet. I recall trying to persuade a work colleague that Riesling is the king of white grapes, getting some pushback in the form of comments like “sorry, it’s way too sweet”. Sigh. I didn’t mean the cheap ones that come in the super pretty multicoloured bottles that look more like vases than storage containers for a serious beverage. Fortunately, the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer still produces more top-quality Rieslings than any other region in Germany, and Dr. Loosen is one of the producers that has done much to spread this quality far and wide.

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Ernst Loosen never intended to do much with wine. Alas, his father’s health began to fail in 1983, bringing him home from the University of Mainz, where he was studying archaeology. He took over running the Dr. Loosen estate in 1988, realizing that some changes needed to occur if quality was to become more consistent. Ernst did not wish his wines to be purely at the mercy of vintage conditions, as was previously the case. Vineyard yields were drastically reduced by abandoning chemical fertilizers, aggressive pruning, and harvesting selectively, with the goal of yielding wines of depth and weight. The present bottle, described on the Dr. Loosen website as “perfect for wine lovers new to Riesling, for everyday enjoyment and for occasions when you’re serving wine to a large number of guests”, would seem poised to take full advantage of these quality improvement initiatives.

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Stelvin Rating: 6.5/10 (I quite like the colour scheme.)

The 2016 Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling hails from various non-estate vineyards that fit the classic Mosel profile: steep with slate soil. Ernst and his brother Thomas work closely with these growers, who typically sign long-term contracts to supply fruit. The wine is fermented in stainless steel, with chilling used to stop fermentation at around 8.5% ABV, leaving 46.3 grams of sugar/litre in the finished wine. The result is vibrant and extremely juicy, with a few strands of fine chalky minerality doing little to mitigate the pure fruity character. Pale straw coloured in the glass. A few telltale floral notes of jasmine and white tea frolic lazily over trim green apple and pears, pink grapefruit, lime, nectarine, and starfruit, with all these fruits seamlessly meshing together as the sweetness flashes just a little burnt caramel (this is already a year past its vintage release, after all). I’m appreciating the additional acidity this time, as compared to prior experiences with this wine. This one is just beginning to develop some petrol character to boot. Honestly, this wine presents exactly as billed, nothing more and nothing less. It indeed represents a fine introduction to the grape. It is OK to outgrow such a wine over time, or, if you’re me, loop back on those occasions where you just want to crush a sweeter style Riesling.

88- points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 2

2 12 2019

by Raymond Lamontagne

After yesterday’s solid start, my anticipation is running high. It turns out that anticipation and trepidation can co-exist in equal measure. How am I going to keep up with all these blogs? The same way I kept up the last two years, I suppose, via doses of careful scheduling and an iron resolve to do what I love: drink wine. As Peter mentioned, this year’s Bricks Wine Advent offering looks like a particularly diverse mélange of different bottle shapes and even alternative packages. The wrapping for Day 2 conceals another distinct bottle shape, this one lanky and elongate. This can only be a flute, speaking to its Germanic (or at least Germanic-influenced) origins.

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Voila. K.H. Schneider! This happens to be one of my all-time favourite German producers from the Nahe, a region whose stony soils continue to provide much inspiration; Nahe winemakers walk a stylistically taut rope between the cool mineral elegance of the Mosel and the riper fruits of the Pfalz and Rheinhessen. To be transparent, there are a few of us here in Calgary who will vociferously imbibe anything and everything K.H. Schneider. I justify this stance by appealing to winemaker Andi Schneider’s emphasis on organic viticulture and spontaneous fermentations, an approach that yields truly honest, authentic wines of place. Increasingly I am inclined to agree with Terry Theise when he argues that such authenticity is a quality criterion that must come before other important yardsticks such as balance and intensity. If the terroir Andi farms is a vinyl record, his deft “low intervention” winemaking touch is the phonograph needle that precisely decodes the soil’s music for our drinking pleasure. But do take note: this is not the expected Riesling. It is something much, much stranger. Are we, team Schneider, being pranked?

I love it already. Dornfelder was created in 1955 by German viticulturalist August Herold. As you can see from the diagram above, Dornfelder is in fact a cross between crosses (!), with some pretty big names among the original four parents. It has been suggested that Dornfelder has genes from every black grape grown in Germany up until its creation.  A rare example of a successful man-made crossing (note that it is not a hybrid, as all parent stock is vinifera), Dornfelder is less obscure that you might think, in recent years becoming the second-most planted black wine grape in Germany. Vigorous and high yielding, Dornfelder also has something that its ancestors Trollinger and Blauer Portugieser do not: loads and loads of colour due to high levels of pigments called anthrocyanins. Dornfelder stands alone in Germany for its ability to make wines that are almost black in their deep purple intensity, with a soft texture, decent acidity, and characteristic aromas that conjure up dark berries, cherries, and more unique herbal/spice notes that some compare to bitters. Unlike many grapes used predominantly as colouring ingredients, this one has its own rather assertive flavor profile. Dornfelder even made inroads into the United States, Canada, and South America. Have you ever been this excited about a viticultural cross? I thought not.

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The 2016 K.H. Schenider Dornfelder Trocken half-bottle features a particularly crumbly stubborn cork, or at least mine did. Ultimately worth the effort. This is dark purple alright, but not completely opaque. The nose conjures up all sorts of underripe blackberry and huckleberry for me right out of the gate, but a balancing woodsy halo of dried violets, allspice, clove, fennel seeds, rosemary, rhubarb, stinging nettles, crushed gravel, and (yes indeed) herbal bitters (orange peel? quinine?), which prevents this from being anywhere near histrionic. Fruits much redder (cherry Nibs, strawberry, cranberry) begin to wink through the strange blueberry-bog-meets-baroque-darkness that was my initial impression. The acidity is buoyant but far from cutting, and the tannins form a light powder. My mind keeps coming back to cough syrup: give this a decent chill to mitigate this effect, unless of course you dig this sort of thing. And don’t get me wrong, this could very well be the world’s greatest Dornfelder, or at least the prettiest. Although I would have to try a few more exemplars to firm up that take, this is clearly winking at me. It is pleasantly odd to feel that a bottle of Dornfelder is an old friend. Thank you August Herold.

89+ points

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Cork Rating: 3/10 (putting aside the difficulties I had extracting this, I like the font but am otherwise underwhelmed, if that’s a word.)





Volcanic Hills III: Igneous Miscellany

25 10 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

With the core whites and reds now in the rearview mirror, we conclude our extensive coverage of the Volcanic Hills Estate Winery with some odds and ends, various bottles that fit less neatly into the relatively clear-cut categories explored in the last two posts. Wine’s endless diversity has at times been under threat by homogenizing forces, including bottom line-based agricultural and business practices, public demand and the allure of the almighty score as supplied by major critics. Fortunately, the spectacularly mutagenic grapevine refuses to stop reinventing itself (sometimes with human assistance), and the tide has turned away from standardization and towards treasuring the diversity we have across wine-growing regions.

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Enter the Okanagan Valley, a wine region that is home to more than 60 grape varieties but that has yet to put all of its chips on any one vinous genotype. It can seem as if growers there will give anything a shot: the classic cool-climate grapes, hybrids, strange German crosses that haven’t stuck in their homeland (e.g. Optima), and more recently warm-climate grapes such as Sangiovese and Tempranillo, on top of the Bordeaux and Burgundy menu options that crop up everywhere. Some decry this diversity as emblematic of a lack of focus and an unhelpful disregard for the important match between varietal and terroir. In my view, there’s room in the expansive space that is world wine culture for both the perfect lock-and-key matches between land and grape and pockets of “throw caution to the wind” experimentation. And besides, how does one map out terroir in a newer area without taking a few risks? On that note, let’s bring our Volcanic Hills coverage home. Read the rest of this entry »





Volcanic Hills I: Molten Whites

9 10 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

It’s days like today when I truly value my connection with wine, fermented grape juice yet so very much more. You know, the sort of day where everything hits the skids, and wine is there at the end of it to provide an affirmation of the pleasurable things, to stimulate intellectual curiosity, and to infuse existence with a certain beauty that works to counterbalance any ugliness that cannot help but seep in around the edges of even the best-curated life. White wine is where it all started for me. At its best it is sharp and crystalline yet hedonistically fruity, linear yet complex, tart yet comforting. My first wine that I actually cared to attend to – you know, I am drinking wine and I’m actually going to notice that it’s wine! – was a Canadian Gewürztraminer. I won’t say which one. It was delicious back at that juncture, but at this point leaves me wanting on those rare occasions when I loop back to it. Nevertheless, I still seek out all things Gewürztraminer in this country, and am rewarded every so often with beacons of surprising revelation. It just so happens that the Volcanic Hills Estate Winery has made something of a specialty of this perfumed grape, offering an entry-level multi-vineyard blend, a single vineyard offering, a late harvest dessert wine, and even a sparkling Gewürz. They also offer two takes on Viognier, another notoriously perfumed fruit bomb currently making a name for itself in the Okanagan. I may be just the Canadian wine writer to guide our loyal readers through this particular romp.

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The Volcanic Hills Estate Winery is operated by Sarwan Gidda and his son Bobby, and is now into its 11th year of operations. Sarwan, born in India, founded the Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery in 2000 with his two brothers. According to Noel Gallagher, “Everyone knows that if you’ve got a brother, you’re going to fight.” Sure enough, Sarwan departed the partnership to start Volnanic Hills in 2008, with Bobby designing the layout of the geothermally heated and cooled winery. The winery itself is situated on the southeastern slope of Mt. Boucherie, which most agree is a 60 million year-old dormant volcano. The Okanagan’s Mt. Etna? I’m not sure, but according to the Giddas, the 70 or so acres of estate vineyards benefit from this rich volcanic heritage. Many swear that you can taste such soils in the finished wines. My own experience with certain Old World whites does corroborate this, even if the mechanisms involved remain poorly understood. The Giddas trust winemaker Daniel Bontorin, who trained locally in the Okanagan, to create complex yet affordable wines from estate grown grapes as well as the produce of various contract growers. Let’s check in on the whites. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: The Reds of Castoro de Oro

14 08 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Welcome back for part 2 of my coverage of a cross-section of the current lineup of the Golden Mile’s Castoro de Oro, following on the heels of last week’s assessment of a trio of their whites. Those wines were fun, clean examples of how a savvy winemaker can produce something that is capable of appealing to a rather broad swath of the wine-drinking public. One can simply enjoy such wines in a purely casual fashion, equal parts pleasant taste and social lubricant, or one can, likely on a different occasion, plumb and probe for something deeper. Will the reds (and a rosé) paint a similar picture?

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Before I attempt to answer that question, a few words about the winery name (see my last post for more about the vineyard conditions). The name “Castoro de Oro” is a tribute to how Canada was founded and gives a nod to our majestic country’s national animal. Yes, the pictures on the label and your phrasebook Spanish do not deceive you: “Castoro de Oro” really does mean “golden beaver”, with a nod towards Canada’s roots in the fur trade.  Back in our colonial days, beaver pelts were deemed “soft gold” because they were in tremendous demand on the market. Additionally, it was none other than beavers who created the small lake that helps provide a key moderating influence on the climate at Castoro de Oro’s vineyards. The top hat seen on the winery mascot above embodies the fashion that was vaunted at the time of the soft gold rush. Truly, what fantastic branding. Ultimately, though, what matters to me is in the bottle. Read the rest of this entry »








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