Calgary Wine Life: Famille Perrin Tasting with Thomas Perrin @ Avec Bistro

15 02 2018

By Dan Steeves

Excited is an understatement of how I felt yesterday as I was on my way to an amazing vinous and culinary experience at Avec Bistro featuring the wines of Famille Perrin and proprietor Thomas Perrin. I have always been fond of the wines of the southern Rhone, especially after travelling through the area a few years ago an experiencing the culture, the landscape…and, of course, the wine! Being guided through a tasting by any winery owner is always a privilege. Hearing directly from them about the history of their area, small details of their wines and their actual impressions of each bottle creates a personal connection that makes it such a memorable experience. Combine this with impeccably paired cuisine and it is elevated to a new level of sublime indulgence.


Famille Perrin is a family-owned and -operated producer (Thomas, the 5th generation, along with his siblings and cousins, all work for the family business) in the southern Rhône Valley which is most notably known for their flagship label from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Chateau de Beaucastel, although they have an extensive collection of wines from many other areas in the southern Rhone. They have been established for just shy of 110 years and are the leading organic grape grower in the area after Thomas’s grandfather, Jacques Perrin, pioneered organic farming practices in the 1950s which was followed by biodynamic practices in the 1970s. All wines produced by Famille Perrin are blends consisting of at least two grape varieties which are grown, vinified and matured separately and then blended to create a harmonious wine.  With there being 13 different grape varieties allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (all of which are used in the Chateau de Beaucastel CdP, one of the only estates to do so) and still other varieties used in other wines elsewhere in the region, you can imagine how long and busy the harvest season is for Perrin. The harvest starts in August with the early ripening Cinsault and ends two months later with Mourvedre and Counoise. Vinification is then done separately using stainless steel, concrete, or wooden tanks with very limited oak ageing done, at least in the sense that no new oak is used to avoid imparting oak characteristics in the wines.

The tasting consisted of six wines from the Famille Perrin collection – a rosé aperitif, followed by a white and four reds, each accompanied with their own food pairing. Below are details for each wine (and food pairing). Read the rest of this entry »


Wine Review: It’s Go TIME!

17 01 2018

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


NHL-licensed wine.  Bring on the themes!

No, that title isn’t me exhorting myself into giving 110% on this wine review, playing for the crest on the front of the jersey and leaving it all out on the ice.  It is in fact the actual, somewhat-punny name of a red and white wine duo made as a commercial and charitable collaboration between the Okanagan’s TIME Winery and my local NHL squad the Calgary Flames, with some of the proceeds from bottle sales going to the team’s philanthropic Flames Foundation.  Having recently been to a WHL Hitmen game, I can confirm that the Saddledome boards themselves officially confirm TIME as the team’s official wine supplier (yes, such a designation is a thing), and the bottles are both served at the arena and sold at a wide array of retailers across town.  TIME is a brand owned by Encore Vineyards, a group led by Harry McWatters, a Canadian wine pioneer who founded Sumac Ridge winery the year I was born (1980) and who already has 50 years of local wine business experience under his belt, perhaps more than any other living person in Canada.  After selling Sumac Ridge, McWatters launched TIME in 2013, basing his winery inside an old movie theatre in Penticton and focusing on grapes from the southern Okanagan for his production.


It is a long-standing tenet of this blog that I am fully on board with a good theme wine, as long as the gimmick doesn’t come at the expense of the underlying substance.  When theme bottles are done well, you win twice, augmenting the already-pleasurable experience of drinking well-made juice with the added enjoyment of the marketing cleverness surrounding it.  When they are not done well, not only are you left drinking crappy wine, you end up feeling a bit like you’ve been had while doing it.  These two bottles stake a sort of middle ground between those extremes, but when combined with their inoffensive price tag ($19.99 SRP) and their charitable underpinnings, they take no steps to dampen my theme wine enthusiasm.  Let’s get into them; it’s go t– …well, you know what time it is. Read the rest of this entry »

Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 7

7 12 2017

In the first sign of undeniable Advent progress, we have finished the first six-pack column of the Bricks Wine Advent Calendar crate and are heading into the second.  Hard to believe that Advent is already 25% over, apart from living 12 posts from 4 different people over the last 6 days and thinking about repeating that pattern 3 more times.  The folks who compiled this calendar obviously have a love of the classics, as the first week of half-bottles, apart from the inaugural Canadian-sparkling-Gamay curveball and the glorious interlude into Austrian Gruner on Day 3, has been like reading the chapter titles of a Top Wines of the World textbook:  Brunello, Beaujolais Cru, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Burgundy.  And if you look for the regional chapter title for pink wine, you will probably end up in Provence.  And if you end up in Provence, there is a greater likelihood you will find this wine than any other.


Whispering Angel is a behemoth.  The Chateau d’Esclans estate was struggling when Bordelais Sacha Lichine bought it in 2006, inheriting vineyards in disrepair but featuring 80-90 year-old Grenache vines and a production with no market presence.  Lichine, looking out on the sunny French Riviera from his estate, identified a gap in the market:  heavy, sweeter white-Zinfandel-style rosé could not quench your beachfront thirst on a scorching day.  He conceived of rosé as a serious wine, made clean and light and dry, meant to disappear at resorts and in backyards with the drinkers scarcely noticing, pausing only to reach for the next bottle.  Whispering Angel, released the following vintage, went from 13,000 cases to over 375,000 cases of production within a decade.  If you’re counting at home, that’s 4.6 MILLION BOTTLES of the current 2016 vintage, sourced from a full 500 hectares of grapes from d’Esclans estate fruit as well as a swath of neighbouring vineyards.  To understand just how much of a thing it now is, you can now buy Whispering Angel gummy bears…that is, you could until they all sold out.


Cork Rating:  5.5/10 (A perfectly cromulent cork.)

Whispering Angel has its formula down cold:  a blend of Grenache, Rolle (a.k.a. Vermentino – a white grape) and Cinsault, crushed and briefly macerated at very cool temperatures to prevent oxidation and preserve fresh flavours, fermented in stainless steel tanks and served icy cold, ideally on a yacht.  It succeeds, and continues to pull in critical acclaim despite becoming its own commercial empire, because the formula works:  it is both tremendously refreshing and carefully unobtrusive, thirst-quenching yet generally unmemorable.  It is a super pale farmed-salmon colour in the glass and delivers up citric aromas of lemon pulp, pink grapefruit and unripe peach, dusted with ginger and an herbal greenness like basil or chives and overlaid with a chalky minerality.  Its lithe, svelte body brings a splash of bracing freshness, like new snow, and ghostly notes of strawberry, tangerine, copper and lemon-lime, finishing tart thanks to straight lines of potent acidity.  It executes its mission to perfection and has spawned a thousand imitators, but for me the rosé category has lost a bit of its sense of interest as a result.

89- points


Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 5

5 12 2017

By Dan Steeves

As a loyal reader and follower of Pop & Pour for the past few years, it is a great honour to have the privilege to contribute to the blog today! I am often reminded of how great the wine community is in YYC; how generous people are, and how so many people enjoy talking, experiencing, and sharing wine with each other. Today marks my first attempt at wine blogging, and I’m hoping the community goes easy on me!


The streak of great wines continues on Day 5 of the Bricks Wine Advent Calendar with a delicious Sauvignon Blanc from Spy Valley Wines, based in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Sauvignon Blanc is the heart of the New Zealand wine industry and the Marlborough region (located at the North end of the South Island) is where the majority of it hails from.  A combination of close proximity to the ocean, protective mountain ranges, high diurnal temperature variation (temperature change between day and night), and plenty of sunlight, all provide the Marlborough vineyards a long ripening time and help preserve the flavours and acidity in the grapes. When it comes to New World SB, there is no doubt that New Zealand is at the top of the podium.

Spy Valley Wines is a relative newcomer in the wine world, choosing to cultivate land in the Waihopai and Wairau valleys of Marlborough back in 1993. The winery gets its name due to its close proximity to an actual spy base (an international satellite communications monitoring facility) and they take their clandestine efforts seriously. It may not be noticeable at first (which is the whole point) but see if you can locate and decipher the secret codes found on the bottle and closure. You won’t need an enigma machine but you might want to use this website for help.


Sleek and simple design with integrated Morse code on the label and screw cap! 🙂

Upon opening this wine and taking the first sniff, it is no secret what the wine is and where it is from. The wine has a clean nose with intense aromas of lime, grapefruit, melon, lychee, grass, and the telltale bell pepper. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is known for having bright and fresh citrus and tropical aromas as well as a green herbaceous side and this wine displays both, just as it should. On the palate, the wine has crisp acidity that gives a little zing on the tip of your tongue and shows flavours of lemon, lime, grapefruit pith, and green bell pepper. The wine displays a slight creamy texture, perhaps due to the 8% of the wine that is barrel fermented, but it is still light on its toes like a stealthy agent on duty.

88 points

Thanks to Bricks for introducing me to a beautiful wine. Another successful day of the Bricks Wine Advent Calendar completed!


3-isobutyl-2-methoxypyrazine – aka Pyrazines – the compound responsible for the bell pepper aroma in wines can be found in many Bordeaux wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, etc.) and is detectable in very low concentrations


Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 3

3 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

I should begin by emphasizing just what an honour it is to join Peter and Dan on this Bricks Wine Co. Advent journey. I remain a relative newcomer to the Calgary wine community yet have had the pleasure to meet so many knowledgeable, friendly, and dynamic people over the past year or so. It has been immensely moving and powerful to be welcomed into this community with open arms …  I wish to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart, and beg your continued tolerance as I haunt your shops, standing around the tasting bar, making random comments about terpenes or field blends and almost certainly distracting you from more important business.


The evidence …

I am ecstatic that my inaugural foray into the world of wine blogging is a Gruner Veltliner. Gruner is likely my favorite white grape. I say likely because Riesling sometimes bumps it from that lofty perch, as a function of day, my mood, producer or region in question, etc. This is a great microcosm for the reality in Austria, where Riesling continues to carry more status and prestige while Gruner toils away, sometimes in the doldrums of plonk for “wine pubs” but also at the pinnacle of age-worthy sips capable of winning prestigious tastings against world-class Chardonnays. I like well-crafted Gruner so much that one of my cats was nearly christened “Veltliner”. My partner swiftly vetoed this notion (but was ultimately OK with “Spatburgunder”). Why the obsession? Simply put, Gruner can get weird. A good tasting wheel will depict all manner of curious aroma attributes rarely experienced elsewhere, including green beans, lentils, root cellar, compost bin, lovage (a savory “old country” herb that vaguely recalls soy sauce or Maggi seasoning), old socks, the less polarizing apples and limes, and above all, white pepper. Peppery aromas in wine are due to a compound called rotundone, also found in a few other varieties (most famously Syrah). Although rotundone levels are notoriously susceptible to various wine-making decisions, Gruner can deliver a zesty, earthy vortex that garners an occasional comparison to Sauvignon Blanc but which in my view is wholly unique.


Rotundone … One of the aforementioned terpenes and a much better molecule than TCA.

So what of this 2016 single vineyard Huber Obere Steigen? Markus Huber has expanded a 250 year-old family operation into a big success story with international reach, seemingly without compromising his focus on precise, elegant wines that express their origins. Huber gives Gruner its just due, with the latter comprising 75% of varieties handled at the winery. The Traisental DAC is a small wine region south of the Danube river, below the famed Wachau, and here terrior reigns supreme. Full of chalk and conglomerate rocks, the soils yield full-bodied wines with firm mineral structure. Gruner from this region is known to be particularly fruity as well, yet not at the sacrifice of that all-important peppery spice. The Obere Steigen site enjoys its own unique microclimate due to its terraced nature. This emphasis on terrior or place is relatively new in Austria. Historically, more emphasis was placed on variety alone. Controversy around this difference in emphasis remains, but Markus Huber appears more than happy to let his DAC flag fly.

IMG_0489This is a pleasing yellow hue with a slight green tint. Nose hints at the crystalline mineral power within. I’m getting yellow apple, fresh parsley, snap peas, mango, and a potent undercurrent of musty white peppercorn. The herbs are more vibrantly green than umami in character. On the palate this is precise and linear, with acids brisk but not punishing … Although hang on, there’s some tangy lemon juice bite after a few sips. A compost bin funk, like old apple cores and lawn clippings, starts to creep in around a fundamentally solid core of green pears and apples, white peach, and lemon-lime zest resting on a chalk and wet slate base. This gentleman is dressed in a dapper suit but there’s something off, perhaps some mud on his dress shoes. Fruit? Check. Minerals? Check. Rotundone? Check. I’ve had Gruners that bounce around a lot more than this one, flopping around like a fish in a boat and always changing their look. This one is less dynamic and more cohesive and laser sharp, with just a slight halo of corruption … Not a bad thing in this case.


90 points

Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 1

1 12 2017

I am a realist when it comes to the reach and impact of this blog.  Calgary has a remarkable, informed, ambitious, impressive local wine scene, and my only goal in starting up this site years ago was to be a tiny voice in that massive chorus and find an outlet for my passion, whether anything came of it or not.  For the most part, I am simply an observer, experiencer and occasional reporter on the goings-on of Calgary wine life.  However, in this case, it’s at least possible that I was the catalyst for a great idea that Bricks Wine Company has now expertly executed.  About 12 and a half months ago, after seeing another set of annual Advent releases go by absent a particular format that I thought would be perfect for the occasion, I vented into the black void of Twitter…and was shocked to see somebody almost immediately respond and take up the task:

It’s one thing to send a two-word response on social media, and quite another to spend the time and effort to specially source two dozen half bottles of wine to assemble an Advent calendar for the NEXT year, so I didn’t allow my hopes to leap too high at the time, but now here we are, on December 1st, 2017, and I’m looking at a wooden crate filled with 24 beautifully wrapped and meticulously selected 375 mL splits, my Advent dream realized and in the flesh.  I am filled with awe and gratitude, and I haven’t even opened anything yet.  Way to go, Bricks — you really did it.


And if I was excited BEFORE peeling back the wrapping on Day #1, my anticipation only intensified after seeing what was on tap for Calgary’s inaugural Half-Bottle Wine Advent Calendar:  wine geek paradise.  Bella Wines is a producer about whom I have heard a ton over the past year, without yet having had the chance to try their wines for myself.  Bella is British Columbia’s only winery that is exclusively devoted to the production of sparkling wine — all bubbles, all the time.  And their approach is brutally uncompromising:  all natural farming, traditional method Champagne-style fermentation (where the secondary fermentation creating the fizz takes place in each individual bottle in which the wine is ultimately sold), all single-vineyard single-varietal expressions, wild yeast fermentation, no additives, no dosage; nowhere to hide, no messing around.  Bella makes multiple different bottlings of both pink and white bubbles, with their pigmented production focused entirely on the Gamay grape, which they believe has unheralded potential in the sparkling world.


Crown Cap Rating:  8/10 (Stylized and retro, great font, CROWN CAP – I’m all in.)

So if you’re keeping track at home, Day 1 of Wine Advent features an Okanagan traditional-method single-vintage sparkling Gamay natural wine:  the 2016 Bella Sparkling Rosé Brut Natural “Westbank”.  Hot damn.  Bella releases annual sparkling Gamays from vineyards both west and east of Lake Okanagan, and the Westbank hails from the Beaumont Estate Vineyard in West Kelowna, on the slopes of Mount Boucherie. It is a beautifully confident deep watermelon colour in the glass (yay, non-deathly pale rosé!) and makes an emphatically lean, tart and frothy impression, launching aromatic bullets of cranberry, sour cherry and pomegranate fruit laced with grape skins and handfuls of gravel.  The flavours are pure and unforgiving, the lack of any added sugar after secondary fermentation clearly evident, the wine sharp as a razor’s edge on the finish thanks to Ginsu acidity and circular saw bubbles.  This Gamay practically vibrates with energy and electricity from the moment it hits the tongue, and that coiled tension doesn’t ever release:  not when the bubbles burst, not when you hold it in your mouth, not when you swallow.  It’s like watching a thriller movie that never ends.  If this is Day 1, we are in for a SERIOUSLY impressive Advent.  I did not know Okanagan bubbles could be like this.

90+ points


Wine Review: Black Market Wine Co. – Contraband Portfolio Tasting

15 11 2017

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

What do you do if you’re a busy Calgary-based professional with a hectic day job, multiple kids, a swath of family responsibilities, yet an ever-increasing burning passion for wine?  If you’re me, you start a small local blog and struggle to publish one post a week.  (Last post:  13 days ago.  Sorry guys.)  If you’re Rob Hammersley and Michelle Shewchuk, on the other hand, you pick up the hustle, go about 20 light-years further and start your own garagiste winery in the Okanagan on the side, while still juggling full-time careers, volunteer activities and parenthood.


Branding majesty.

This cunning Calgary cabal has managed to work around their weekday gigs (Rob is in corporate finance; Michelle is a flight attendant) and their location in another province, forge relationships with local growers, learn the ropes of the winemaking business and come up with maybe the single best suite of branding for a winery anywhere in Canada, creating a bit of a cult following along the way.  Add in an early embrace of online sales and the Black Market Wine Company is quickly accelerating from illicit side dream to successful reality.


I first came across Black Market a couple of years ago and was instantly drawn in by the Illuminati-meets-Ponzi-scheme labelling, looking like the back of the US dollar in some horrific alternate Dan Brown universe.  The striking images on the front labels draw people into the intentional web of secrecy and intrigue expressed in snippy verse on the back of each bottle, piquing curiosity and pulling people further into the glass for answers.  By then, you’re in the winery’s hands, waiting to be led where they want to take you.  It certainly does not hurt that the juice within does not disappoint (and that its creators are from my hometown), and I have followed their progress ever since that initial encounter.  This is the first time I have had an opportunity to taste through the entire Black Market portfolio, but not the last time I will be cracking these wines and letting the mystery wash over me. Read the rest of this entry »

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