Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Stephane Rousset Crozes-Hermitages

18 01 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

The Cellar Direct offer train rolls on this weekend, and obviously they have my personal wine preferences bugged:  after offering my favourite kind of white wine (Mosel Riesling) last offer, they have moved on to my favourite red grape (Syrah) this week, straight from its spiritual homeland in France’s Northern Rhone.  This relatively compact, narrow winegrowing area runs north-south and is split in half by the Rhone river, with the regions of Cote-Rotie, Condrieu, St. Joseph and Cornas tracking the river’s west bank and Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage hugging the east.  There is a part of the Rhone that curves gradually out to the east before almost immediately swerving back to the west; right at that cut-back bend lies the mighty hill of Hermitage, the most esteemed appellation in the Northern Rhone, with its understudy Crozes-Hermitage spreading out in concentric circles to the north, south and east behind it.

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Crozes-Hermitage is both literally and figuratively in the shadow of its namesake, both considerably larger (1,700 hectares of grapes under vine as compared to Hermitage’s 136 hectares) and more varied, a hodgepodge of sites and soils, its wines varying widely in ambition and quality.  Given this level of variety, it’s hard to know what you’re going to get in any given bottle of Crozes; the region itself lacks the automatic pedigree and heightened standards of its neighbours.  So how to approach this appellation, the Northern Rhone’s biggest, which is often promoted as a budget-friendly alternative to its neighbouring luminaries?  Hook your wagon to specific producers or sites as opposed to the region as a whole.  Find those in the most compelling areas with the best soils and sites, those with a relentless focus on quality vineyard and winemaking practices.  I’m aware that this can be easier said than done.  Don’t know where to start?  Start right here. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 22

22 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Here’s a crazy stat:  this is my FIVE HUNDREDTH published post for Pop & Pour.  The blog itself passed this threshold some time ago thanks to the remarkable contributions of Ray and Tyler in recent years (as brilliantly evidenced by their kick-ass daily Advent coverage this month), but this is my personal milestone post.  It’s been close to nine years since I started this blog with limited direction or aspiration, as a vehicle for a passion I didn’t fully know how to express.  I don’t know what I was expecting out of it, but to still be dutifully doing it so many years later (and to have at minimum elevated myself to a self-professed connoisseur on boozy Advent calendars while I’m at it) probably already surpasses any initial blogging goals.  Thanks for reading along; if it wasn’t for you, this probably wouldn’t still be happening.

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Perhaps Bricks cosmically knew that this was going to be a more monumental night of blogging, or perhaps I subconsciously lined up my name on the Advent schedule to align with the one bottle in this year’s calendar that was definitively not like the others, but it became apparent almost immediately that this was not a standard half-bottle of wine.  First, it was taller than a standard-sized 750 mL bottle (!!), a good 3-4 inches taller than any other bottle in the Bricks crate.  Second, it was slender throughout, a thin lengthy cylinder without curves.  Before the wrapping even came off, only one style of half-bottle seemed to fit:  dessert wine.  But it wasn’t in a Germanic flute shape or a standard Bordeaux bottle, and I had my doubts that the calendar would culminate in ice wine, sooo…what’s left?

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The 2016 d’Arenberg “The Noble” Wrinkled Riesling, that’s what; a continuation of Australia’s surprisingly rich tradition of sweet winemaking.  This particular bottling began by pure circumstance:  in 1985, one of d’Arenberg’s Riesling vineyards was discovered to have become infected with the beneficial mould botrytis cinerea, which grows on the surface of the grape berries and gradually leaches the water out of them, leaving them shrivelled, dehydrated, fuzzy and rather gross-looking but internally composed of ultra-sweet, ultra-concentrated, ultra-flavourful essence (all of the acids and sugars and flavours of the grape, without the extra water to dilute them) that when vinified creates the most majestic sweet wines known to man (for my money, anyway).  There’s nothing to be done when you discover botrytis but to (1) make wine out of the result and then (2) try to duplicate the conditions to have it show up again next year:  humidity, especially fog, in the morning, followed by sun and drier conditions later on, so that the cinerea fungus attaches to the grapes but does not accelerate into full-blown grey rot.  It is a difficult balancing exercise that results in precious little wine (imagine pressing and vinifying juice out of a raisin to understand why), but the reward is emphatically worth the risk and the effort.

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Size comparison: a standard 750 mL bottle (L) and this freakishly tall half-bottle (R).

After their initial accidental introduction to the world of botrytized winemaking, d’Arenberg has become something of an old hand at it, now producing three different nobly rotted dessert wines under their “The Noble” lineup.  This bottling used to simply be known as The Noble Riesling before later being revised to the Wrinkled Riesling to reflect the physique of the grapes after botrytis has had its way.  I would have loved to be in the marketing meeting where that decision was made.  Not that I have any doubt about d’Arenberg or its branding, all of which is specifically selected to tell a story.  The winery is named for the maiden name of founder Frank Osborn’s wife Helen, who died tragically immediately after childbirth at the age of 31; the child who was born healthy just before this event was Frank and Helen’s son Francis d’Arenberg Osborn, who everyone simply called d’Arry, partly in honour of his mother’s lineage.  It was d’Arry who give the winery its current name (in 1959, well after Frank started growing grapes in 1912, or making wine in 1928), as well as its distinctive red label stripe on a white background, representative of the crimson and white striped school tie that d’Arry wore in college.  The d’Arenberg coat of arms features that stripe, a symbol of fertility, a bunch of grapes, and the motto “Vinum Vita Est” — “Wine Is Life”.  Says it all.

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Stelvin Rating: 9/10 (The colour, the coat of arms, the motto – pure poetry.)

Every single one of d’Arenberg’s myriad of wines is fermented via traditional basket press, including this one, and all the reds are foot-trodden to this day.  The Wrinkled Riesling is a 50/50 blend of McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills Riesling, hence the dual-appellation labelling that I’m not sure I’ve ever previously seen on any bottle.  The tech specs beggar belief:  a 2.98 pH and 10.8 g/L of Titratable Acid run smack dab into an astonishing 253.3 g/L of residual sugar at 9.5% ABV — this was surely the alcohol level where the fermenting yeasts simply gave up and died in such a densely sweet environment.  This is unbelievably viscous emerging from the bottle, like motor oil, and eventually settles in the glass a majestic steeped-tea-meets-maple-syrup deep amber colour.  Then the fireworks begin.

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An explosion of florals is the first sensation I record — Easter lily, daisy, marigold, daffodil.  Then comes the cavalcade of dessert aromas, in rapid-fire fashion:  key lime pie, Fuzzy Peaches, manuka honey, marmalade.  This intoxicating mixture is cut only by that telltale orange peel, lemongrass, apple cider vinegar citric/herbal tang that botrytis cinerea leaves behind at the scene of the crime, the calling card of its dehydration caper.  After I resign myself to the fact that I can’t possibly drink this all in one sitting, I settle into its exquisite, eye-opening sweetness and its sensual lusciousness, sliding in slow motion down the throat and coating every square inch with layers of lemon curd, salted caramel, rosehips, dried mango, apricot and pineapple upside-down cake, still pulsating for at least a minute after I swallow.  The recorded acid is elevated, but it is barely present in the field, not quite able to maintain a sense of liveliness in the face of the torrent of glorious sugar.  This leads to a slight yet growing sense of heaviness as the wine warms up and the sips multiply, so enjoy in moderation…but that can be the hardest thing to do when what’s in the glass is this unspeakably delicious.  Two days left and we’re headed to a crescendo.

90- points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 19

19 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Some New World sites are unlike anything that came before them, with no obvious comparator from the Old World to help tell their story; Australia’s Barossa Valley and Washington’s Rocks District of Milton-Freewater are good examples of places that, to me at least, don’t taste like anything except themselves.  Other non-European regions have a clear cross-reference to a classic vinifera haunt, a reasonable facsimile in the Old World that allows for an easy introduction.  Think the Willamette Valley and Burgundy.  Australia’s Margaret River falls in the latter camp, and has the benefit of two different European doppelgängers:  its Cabernet-based reds are routinely compared to those of Bordeaux, but its other specialty, Chardonnay, is very Burgundian in essence, combining acid and texture and a regal sort of presence in a way that makes you understand why this recently maligned grape remains at or near the pinnacle of white wine expressions.  I have a massive soft spot for the wines of Margaret River, so it was with great delight that Day 19 was revealed to have come all the way from Down Under.

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Voyager Estate was one of the first wineries to be established in Margaret River, located south of Perth in the southwest corner of Australia.  Its first vineyards were planted in 1978, a decade or so after the inaugural winery in the region saw its start.  Voyager now has five different estate vineyards spanning roughly 110 hectares, all located in a privileged position:  in the Stevens Valley, a spit of land that protrudes directly out into the Indian Ocean, to the point where its vineyards are surrounded by water on three sides, in the so-called “Golden Triangle” of Chardonnay, according to James Halliday.  Voyager is one point of the triangle; its neighbours Leeuwin Estate (along with Vasse Felix’s Heytesbury, the makers of the finest Margaret River Chard I’ve had to date, courtesy of its Artist Series) and Cape Mentelle form the other two.  The vineyards in this area have the benefit of taking root in the oldest soils in the country, gravel-based lands dating back thousands of millions of years (!!), and being kept cool by continuous swirling breezes that help prevent rot and allow for longer hang time.

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The team at Voyager is meticulous to near-OCD levels in the vineyard, striving for absolute uniformity in each block of vines:  careful pruning aims for the exact same number of buds, shoots and bunches per vine to ensure even and contemporaneous ripeness.  The winery is serious about its non-interventionist approach and its goal to express the purity of its soils, which plays out across all steps of the planting, picking and winemaking process:  the vineyards are organic (or in the process of converting thereto), all fruit is from estate plantings, all grapes are hand-harvested, all fermentation is with natural yeasts, and the winery has recently become carbon neutral.  Tonight’s offering, the 2016 Voyager Estate Chardonnay, spent just under a year in tight-grained French oak barrels with only partial malolactic fermentation in an effort to hit that intoxicating combination of texture and acid that only this grape can do justice.

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Stelvin Rating:  6/10 (This screwcap is weirdly difficult to photograph in focus, but it’s a Stelvin + in my book.  I should really fix that dent in the table.)

Everything starts out in highly promising fashion:  the wine is a brilliant gleaming lemon-gold colour as it hits the glass and starts beaming aromas before my nose is even halfway there.  It is a Burgundian dream aromatically, toasty chestnuts (open fire included), coconut crisps, pecan pie and popcorn kernels joyously interweaving with lemon curd, fresh pear and apple crisp fruit.  There was some consensus amongst our Advent blogging group that this might be pretty close to the nose of the calendar so far.  Then a few seams start showing.  The acid is vicious but almost hyperactive, like a tiny lapdog constantly nipping at your ankles.  The broad, full texture seems like a disparate entity, hitting just a touch out of rhythm, almost like you’re drinking two wines at once.  It’s a vertigo-inducing feeling, like a bassist that’s half a beat behind the rest of the band.  Smoke, custard, bananas Foster, lemon meringue and toffee notes play an enticing song, but I’m too stuck wondering why the tempo isn’t in sync to be able to fully sink into it.  I know this is a winery of impeccable credentials, and I can tell this Chardonnay has all of the elements of a winner, but despite being delicious it currently comes across a little bit scattered.  By this point in the calendar, I feel the same way.

88- points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 11

11 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

It’s been six days since I have made an Advent wine post, which is almost assuredly the longest Advent blogging break I’ve had in half a decade.  (We won’t talk about the separate full wine review that I published in the meantime, as I prefer to bask in my pretend meandering pace of blogging life.)  Ray and Tyler have done yeoman’s work in the meantime on an array of bottles from the great classic regions and grapes of the world:  Cali Cab and Chardonnay, Bordeaux, Rioja, Port.  This year’s Bricks calendar has done an excellent job canvassing pinpoint takes on the top appellations of wine’s illustrious history.  Surely my return to the fray will yield a similar textbook treasure.

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Um.

Just when the calendar is expected to keep zigging, it zags, and right into an area and grape that I have never found overly compelling in combination.  I don’t pretend to own an encyclopedic knowledge of British Columbia Pinot Gris, but in my experience with it, it has always struck me as a sort of afterthought grape in the province, the kind that you can fairly easily wring some nondescript quasi-tropical tutti fruitti flavour out of and sell for $18 in the tasting room to maintain cash flow year over year.  The great Pinot Gris wines of Alsace, southern Germany (Grauburgunder 4ever!) or even Oregon can be thrillingly rich and savoury and complex, but there is not a ton of striving for greatness with this particular varietal in my home and native land, with the primary focus of the local industry on other, more intriguing vinous options.  So I readied myself for a limpid and forgettable white patio blast, and then…

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Um.

You may think that this is a rosé.  It certainly looks like one.  But the “White Wine” identifier on the bottle label and the 100% Pinot Gris composition of the wine make this impossible; rosé wines must hail from red (or partly red) grapes.  This is an orange wine, a white wine made like a red, where the juice from the crushed grapes is allowed to sit in contact with the skins before or during fermentation and pull out colour, flavour and tannin.  This increasingly popular (or re-popularized, since orange wines date back almost to the start of winemaking history) style of white usually results in wines that are golden or slightly amber in colour, not the brilliant rose gold/bronzed salmon blaze of glory seen in the glass here, because most white wine skins don’t have a ton of pigment to them.  Not so Pinot Gris, whose very name (“grey”) is a nod to the surprising darkness of the grapes’ skins:

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Pinot Gris.  Photo Credit: Rod Heywood. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/15511924@N03/37010425430)

This depth of colour allows for all sorts of interesting orange wine possibilities, including the one brought to us by a Naramata Bench pioneer tonight:  the 2016 Kettle Valley Winery Pinot Gris.  Kettle Valley’s owner/winemakers Tim Watts and Bob Ferguson started out as home winemaking hobbyists before they decided to put an academic background in geology to use and plant their own vineyard.  They were one of the first to plant in Naramata in 1987, and shortly afterward became the third ever licensed winery in the region.  Nearly thirty vintages later, they might be one of the quietest under-the-radar names on the Bench, making a vast assortment of wines, from Merlot/Pinot blends to Zinfandel to solera-style reds; however, they focus equally on the classics, particularly their North Stars, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Orange Pinot Gris slides right into the menagerie.

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The first thing I noticed about this wine was its general “Product of British Columbia” designation in lieu of an appellation name.  This is because the grapes for this Pinot Gris come from multiple different vineyards across more than one recognized wine appellation:  grapes from Okanagan Valley subregions Summerland, Naramata, Okanagan Falls, Penticton and Oliver have variously been employed in the blend over the years, but also grapes from a couple different spots in the neighbouring Similkameen Valley, with the resulting cross-regional mix therefore required to take on the broader provincial designation.  The second thing I noticed was the hefty 14% ABV, the product of these Pinot Gris grapes being harvested into November after a lengthy ripening period and a ton of hang time.  The grapes were crushed and then left to soak for 2-3 days on Pinot Gris’ hyper-pigmented skins before a fermentation that took place partly in barrel and partly in steel tanks.

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Cork Rating:  2/10 (I hereby ban the inclusion of any phone numbers or websites on corks.  Will that work?  Put a train on here or something, guys.)

This is a back-vintage version of the Kettle Valley Pinot Gris, as they have recently released the 2018 version to market, but the bit of extra time in bottle has not slowed this  racy deep pink and copper powerhouse one bit.  The amount of skin contact was expertly timed so as to provide additional complexity and structure without the corresponding bitterness or oxidation that can leach the freshness out of some orange wines (often on purpose).  Piercing aromas of kids multivitamin, freeze-dried watermelon, orange Life Savers and sweet pea are startling in their purity, accented but not hindered by more eclectic notes of salt and vinegar chips and parchment.  This is shockingly vivid, the acid buoyant, the dainty but subtly scrubby tannin providing a three-dimensional tasting experience; tangerine, apricot, public pool and lemon-lime Gatorade (or more accurately its equivalent Gatorgum, if that still exists) strut across the tongue and remain anchored there long after you swallow, demanding that you check your premises and not prematurely abandon hope in any given grape’s potential in a region.  You can keep your Bordeaux and your Riojas — this is currently the wine of the calendar for me.

90+ points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 1

1 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

And we’re off.  This marks the SIXTH straight year that this site has run a daily play-by-play blog of a boozy Advent calendar (sometimes more than one at once, which inevitably leads to massive regret on my part).  For the last couple years, this has included following along with the wonderfully diverse Bricks Wine Company Half-Bottle Advent Calendar, a concept long considered and now gloriously fulfilled, finding new range with each passing year.  This marks the third annual edition of the Bricks calendar, and if the shapes and tops of the various gift-wrapped 375 mL entrants into this year’s Advent derby are any indication, we may be in for our most intriguing field yet.

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Case in point:  Day 1.  That is NOT a standard screwcap or neck foil that I feel under the wrapping paper.  The prior Bricks calendars have always ended off with bubbles on Day 24, but the wire cage and jumbo pressure-withstanding cork protruding from the gift wrap of this inaugural 2019 offering suggests that this year’s calendar may well be starting off with them too.  And so it is, as the tissue paper falls away to reveal…a hell of a good start.

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The 2016 Tawse Spark Brut hails from my personal favourite winery in Ontario, one that has won the prestigious award for Canada’s Winery of the Year four times (including an impressive three-peat from 2010 through 2012) despite only being 18 years old.  Tawse is a family-owned organic and biodynamic estate that is heavily focused on Burgundian grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (to such an extent that founder and owner Moray Tawse also has a project in Burgundy itself, a collaboration with the renowned Pascal Marchand called, unoriginally, Marchand-Tawse), although it first came to my notice for remarkable Riesling and Cabernet Franc.  Tawse’s focus in the vineyard is to make each swath of vines a complete self-sustaining ecosystem, one that is constantly in balance without the need for any chemicals or external artificial additives to do the balancing.  Animals play a major role in this effort, including chickens (who eat vineyard bugs), sheep (who eat away the lower vine leaves, exposing the grapes to more sunlight) and horses (who are used in lieu of tractors so as to avoid excessive soil compaction).

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The Spark Brut is a traditional-method Champagne-style sparkling wine, made by inducing a secondary fermentation of a previously made still wine within a sealed bottle, which traps escaping CO2 within the resulting wine that is created and allows it extensive contact with the dead yeast cells that remain after the bubble-inducing effort is successful, creating a myriad of textures and flavours not otherwise found in the world of wine.  This offering is made from a surprising 44% Pinot Gris in addition to Champagne stalwarts Pinot Noir (31%) and Chardonnay (25%).  Pinot Gris does not often get the Champagne treatment anywhere outside of Alsace, but Tawse sees fit to elevate it alongside its more renowned Pinot cousin; each of the varietals here are yield-thinned and hand-harvested, then left on lees for 12 months after secondary fermentation before a slight touch of sweetness is added back ahead of bottling.  Each grape used in this wine hails from a different Tawse vineyard, including the Chardonnay, harvested from the mighty Quarry Road (anyone who has had the Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Chardonnay will understand my singling it out).

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Cork Rating:  1/10 (Shiner cork AND shiner wire cage?  I thought this was Advent!!)

Day 1 emerges an extremely pale lemon colour amidst a steady stream of tiny bubbles, their size and energy a clear indicator of the traditional method at work.  The aromas are pleasantly vibrant for a Champagne-style wine, perhaps a sign of what Pinot Gris can add to a bubble party:  banana leaf, lime curd and honeydew, swirling across southern biscuits and struck match.  Instantly drying on the tongue, the Spark’s lees-induced flavours stand firm and take precedence over the fruit, reasserting the dominance of its winemaking method and erasing any perceptible trace of residual sugar; elastic bands and sourdough bread stretch over tangy melon, tangerine and Granny Smith apple, lending heft and gravitas to an otherwise-playful wine.  This is not ragingly complex, but it’s crispy and approachable and delicious, the kind of thing you would use to kick off a party that sees you crush 24 bottles in 24 days.  Here’s to another wine Advent.

88+ points





Yalumba: Introducing Samuel’s Collection, Part I

19 11 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Yalumba is tidying things up a bit.  The Barossa stalwart, now on its 5th generation of family ownership dating back to 1849, traces itself back almost the entire length of the history of its region (whose first Shiraz vines were planted in 1847).  But 170 years of growth and development later, Yalumba’s impressive lineup of wines was starting to lack some internal organizational cohesion, with some forming part of a demarcated grouping or collection (the wildly successful Y Series being a key example of why this can be a boon to consumers) and others standing on their own, without clear delineation as to their place in the company hierarchy.  This would not be much of an issue for a smaller-scale producer, but when you make 52 different bottlings, it’s nice to know where things fit.  Enter Samuel’s Collection.

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This new mid-tier range is both a corporate reorg and a celebration, a way for a number of excellent but disparate Yalumba offerings to find a home as a tasteful homage to the winery’s founder Samuel Smith.  The Collection, featuring all-new clean, modern label art, features seven wines:  four reds from the Barossa Valley and three whites from the neighbouring Eden Valley.  The reds (Bush Vine Grenache, GSM, Shiraz, Shiraz Cab) all share measured ripeness, fermentation using ambient yeasts and a more lithe, transparent take on what can be a region known for muscle-flexing; the whites (Viognier, Roussanne, Chardonnay) are all similarly streamlined takes on sultry grapes, rooted in Eden’s cooler weather and acid spine.  I have had prior vintages of both of tonight’s reds, known back then as the Old Bush Vine Grenache and The Strapper GSM, and their packaging and branding was so divergent that it looked like they came from different wineries.  No longer.  The threads that unite now take centre stage…even the price, as every wine in the new Samuel’s Collection should hit the shelf at a $25ish mark.  As will be seen below, it is a group worth seeking out. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: July Patio Samplers

6 07 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

As I sit here writing this on a rainy summer evening (pre-publication, but I bet it’s raining when this goes live too), Calgary has just struggled through a sodden June, and the tide doesn’t seem to be turning.  It is grey, dreary and continually drizzling.  We’ve had hailstorms, windstorms, thunderstorms — all separately and all in the last three weeks.  My kids have declared their nascent skepticism for outdoor sports — who would willingly place themselves outside for an hour at a time in an environment such as this?  Our northern world is free of snow for at most six months a year, and a third of that winterless period for 2019 has been underwater. You get the picture.  It’s bleak.

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So rather than wait for the appropriate meteorological scene to christen this long-planned summery-wine review set, I have decided to pre-emptively invoke summer by publishing it anyway, in the hopes that this trio of deck-and-BBQ-friendly refreshment will nudge our weather towards more appropriate activities.  I will try anything at this point.  Tonight’s bottles will set a blog record that may never be broken, bear a striking resemblance to each other until they don’t, and confirm that even trendy wines can be old-school sometimes.  They may also be the first time since the Tournament of Pink that we start off with back-to-back rosés, but hopefully we can make that a bit more of a recurring pattern.  Game on. Read the rest of this entry »








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