Wine Reviews: Red ShowDownUnder

13 06 2017

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

FullSizeRender-646I first got seriously into wine about 10 years ago, when the Australia Phenomenon was in its heyday and Argentinian Malbec was just a glint in some clever investor’s eye in Mendoza.  Yellow Tail Shiraz was my gateway drug, a fact that is assuredly true of more than one of you currently reading this as well.  Looking back now on the Australian wine scene then, there are still tons of similarities.  Critter wines, like it or not, are still a thing. On the quality pinnacle, the high-end wines from Down Under rocking people’s worlds in 2017 aren’t that different from those doing so in 2007.  But I’ve noticed a couple clear differences in the imports from Australia that have evolved over the last decade:  first, a welcome explosion of site-driven elegance from the cooler areas of the country, be it Pinot from Yarra or Mornington or bubbles from Tasmania or the laser purity of some of the post-modern wines coming out of the Adelaide Hills.  Second, a new focus on bottles like the ones below, step-up bottlings, a shade above entry-level in price and a world above the critters in authenticity and quality.  The $20-$30 tier of wines has never had stronger representation on our shelves from Australia than it does currently, as more and more producers zone in on these bottles as the best way to build a lasting relationship of trust with consumers as opposed to an $11 fling.

So what better way to celebrate how far Australia has come as a mature wine producer, and how far I’ve come in my 10 years of Yellow Tail-catalyzed oenophilia, than by lining up two step-up bottles, each from highly respected multi-generational family wineries and legendary regions, and tasting them side-by-side?  It’s not about picking a winner — the mere fact that the exercise is possible is a win in and of itself — but I’m sure that won’t stop Jim Barry and Yalumba from exerting full effort in this battle of reds under screwcap.  Let the showdown from Down Under begin. Read the rest of this entry »





Entering The Hatch, Spring 2017

23 05 2017

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

IMG_6146Ever since I first saw The Hatch’s avian-Thomas-Crown-Affair primary logo shortly after it opened a couple years ago, I have been sort of transfixed from a distance, finding both the winery and its artistic ethos strangely compelling despite knowing basically nothing about them.  Based out of a rustic-modern “shack from the future” in the heights of West Kelowna and sourcing grapes from across the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, The Hatch initially comes across (quite intentionally) more like an artists’ collective than a commercial winery, listing Salman Rushdie on its personnel page and expounding in esoteric wine-code about “Ross O” and B. Yanco” (I’ll give you a second to sort that one out).  They confidently found their visual style from the outset thanks to the remarkable imagery provided by local western Canadian artist Paul Morstad (who is also found on The Hatch’s personnel page, playing a banjo); once people have been drawn in by the graphics, it’s up to winemaker Jason Parkes to keep their attention.  The whole artistic cacophony and the simultaneously grand yet whimsical presentation lends The Hatch a jolt of personality that the generally strait-laced BC wine scene can happily use…but does the buzz extend to what’s in the bottle?  Happily, I got to find out.

FullSizeRender-601The Hatch releases its wines in stylistic series, of which I had the opportunity to experience two:  the mid-tier Hobo Series wines, featuring a panoply of hand-drawn labels of hobos (seriously) that risk making you cry thanks to their sheer beauty (also seriously), and the ambitious Black Swift Vineyards series wines, which collectively form an expansive single-vineyard project focused on the various facets of BC’s glorious dirt.  The wine, like the winery, was never boring. Read the rest of this entry »





International Sauvignon Blanc Day: 2016 Adobe Reserva Sauvignon Blanc

5 05 2017

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

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International SB Day 2017!

I swear that not every future entry on this blog will begin with “Happy [Varietal-Specific Holiday] Day!”, but…Happy International Sauvignon Blanc Day!  Yes, there is an entire calendar of world wine days now, each concocted by various marketing geniuses, and as it turns out, a couple weeks after World Malbec Day and a scant four days before World Moscato Day comes a designated day to celebrate the safest grape to pick out of a strange new liquor store and the varietal that first introduced the vinous world to New Zealand, the consistent and omnipresent Sauvignon Blanc.  Unlike today’s grape of honour, I am not omnipresent, and as this piece posts I am actually going to be hanging out in Walla Walla drinking world-class Syrah; International SB Day falls on my birthday this year, and I am spending this spin-around-the-sun in my personal wine Mecca.  So the blog and I will celebrate simultaneously this year, albeit in different places and for different occasions. Read the rest of this entry »





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 24

24 12 2016

Merry Christmas Eve, everybody!  Hopefully by now the stockings have been hung and the parents can start turning their attention to more important things, like booze.  Back in my first year of KWM Whisky Advent, the December 24th bottle was the end of the line and thus the one everyone waited for the whole month.  This year we get an extra bonus whisky tomorrow, but it’s a special Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottling and is double-miniature-sized, leaving tonight the final standard-format calendar bottle. And it delivers, at least in packaging (every scotch should be sold in a bright tartan box) and age designation (distilled 25 years ago in 1991!).  It is yet another Gordon & MacPhail offering, but from a heretofore unseen line:  The MacPhail’s Collection, a small range from a select line of distilleries (7 in all at the moment).  One of them is Glen Scotia, an ancient distillery located at the tip of the Campbeltown peninsula in southwest Scotland.  Campbeltown isn’t a huge scotch area, known mainly for Springbank and its sister distilleries, so it’s no massive surprise that this is the first whisky from the region we’ve seen in Advent 2016.  One of Glen Scotia’s claims to fame, other than being sold a trillion times and failing in the early 20th century like basically every other whisky producer, is that it’s haunted by the ghost of a prior owner, who drowned himself in Campbeltown Loch after losing everything he had in a bad business deal (hopefully not the purchase of the distillery itself, but you can’t rule that out).

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The full title of this bottle is The MacPhail’s Collection 1991 Single Campbeltown Malt Scotch Whisky from Glen Scotia Distillery, but unlike every other whisky so far in 2016 Whisky Advent, there is no other information about it anywhere.  It is only for sale at KWM in mini-bottle format (for $24, suggesting that it would be a $300+ full-sized bottle) and not otherwise available; it is not mentioned on the Gordon & MacPhail site; and it is not available for sale at any online shops I could find, even in the UK, except in miniature form.  Weird.  It’s not as dark as you might think for a 25 year old whisky (although it may not be a 25 Year whisky for age designation purposes if it was bottled a while ago, as age labelling is based on time from distillation to bottling) but carries a pure, malty nose of golden raisin, plum, fresh pear, sourdough bread and trail mix, with a hint of fitting Christmas fruitcake.  However, it then takes a left turn and goes surprisingly sharp, rubbery and industrial, filling the mouth with not-altogether-enjoyable tastes of tennis balls, permanent marker, elastic bands and shoe treads; these factory-floor notes and the whisky’s spiky alcohol combine to nearly overwhelm spicy underlying notes of rock salt, caraway and fennel.  Interesting?  Yes.  Pleasant?  Not entirely.  See you at the 2016 calendar finale, and at Christmas!!





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 23

23 12 2016

GlenDronach!  Peated!  I’m always fascinated by peated expressions of traditionally non-peated whiskies (which encompass almost all whiskies distilled anywhere other than the Islay region of Scotland), particularly when the whisky in question is one with which I am otherwise very familiar.  My old calendar friend GlenDronach, as recently covered in Day 18, is an Advent stalwart, having shown up (quite successfully) four previous times in the last three years; those prior releases unveiled the bulk of GlenDronach’s core range, but all of them are entirely unpeated, making tonight’s further core entry a category of its own for the distillery.  GlenDronach decided to release a Peated expression fairly recently as a nod to how the distillery used to make whisky back in the 19th century, although since its founding in 1826 it’s been a sort of rocky road until recently.  Stop me if you’ve seen this kind of Scottish distillery timeline before:  sold 1830, sold 1920 (to the son of the founder of Glenfidditch), sold 1962, mothballed 1996-2002 (not that long ago!!), taken over 2005 (by Chivas), taken over 2008 (by BenRiach, who makes some pretty awesome whisky in its own right and has presided over a highly impressive GlenDronach resurgence in the past 8 years), taken over (along with BenRiach) earlier this year (although so far the same folks have been left in charge).  No job security in whisky-making.

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The peating in GlenDronach’s first ever (modern-day) peated offering is done…pleasantly?  Is that a thing?  The peat effect is definitely noticeable, but far from in-your-face, adding aromatic traces of lantern oil, sweet compost, old leather and moss to GlenDronach’s stone fruit and florals, which are otherwise not lost or mellowed in maturation in this younger non-age-designated malt.  The palate is similar, part oily and part sweet, either adding perfumed refinement to the peat’s underlying funk or adding some necessary grime to an otherwise potentially too-pristine Highland whisky, depending on how you look at it.  The result is a little bit of everything:  pistachio pudding, suede jackets, distress flares, car exhaust, marmalade, apple crisp…I could keep going.  What a value at $83.  Can’t wait to see what Christmas Eve has in store!





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 22

22 12 2016

I have started to think of Glenfarclas as the official mascot scotch (mascotch?) of the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar, after 2014’s special Christmas Eve 40 Year and 2015’s Christmas Eve redux 25 Year, not to mention two other entries in calendars past.  I was sort of wondering if we’d see a third straight December 24th whisky from the distillery, but I also suspected we were starting to run out of super-old Glenfarclas releases to slot in that esteemed end-of-calendar spot.  Well, it got Day 22 this year, with the notably younger $95 15 Year Single Malt – still a respectable position if not an exalted one.  Glenfarclas is one of the few pre-20th century distilleries not to be shut down or sold to a gigantic beverage empire in modern times, owned by the Grant family since 1865 when patriarch John Grant bought it for just shy of £512.  That sounds astoundingly cheap even in 1865 money, and it is:  it equates to around £59,000 today, or around $98,000 CAD.  Nice buy, John.  We are now six generations of Grants (all of whom have been named either John or George) into the family’s stewardship of Glenfarclas, which is known for producing one of the classic examples of Speyside whisky out of the region’s largest stills.

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To obtain the legal designation of “scotch whisky”, a spirit has to (1) be aged in oak casks (2) which are no larger than 700L (3) for at least three years (4) in Scotland.  Glenfarclas uses both plain new oak casks (which we haven’t heard much of in this year’s calendar) and ex-Sherry casks (with which we have been bombarded by this year’s calendar, and by the whisky industry in general), and it is definitely known for its emphatic use of the latter.  The 15 Year is a glimmering dark amber colour reflective of its barrel time and has a few different aromatic identities:  confectionary (butterscotch chips, and nougat, like the inside of a Three Musketeers bar), nutty (almonds, oatmeal), herbaceous (corn husks, grass).  Bold and fiery as soon as it touches the tongue, this is not messing around, slinging toast and spice, banana Runts, mandarin orange, Americano, char and vegetal flavours with authority and powering into a lacquered finish.  It is punchy and powerfully concentrated, coming across like a cask strength whisky despite its 46% abv.  Mammoth scotch.





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 21

21 12 2016

Into the 20s, guys.  Five days left – and we start the final countdown to Christmas with a mystery.  I pulled out an old-school-looking bottle of Stronachie 18 Year Small Batch Release and thought:  “Cool, another lesser-known distillery find.”  Then I saw the A.D. Rattray logo, last seen in Day 14 with the independent bottler’s Cask Islay release, and thought:  “Cool, this must be like their Distillery Label series”, similar to fellow independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail’s collaborative set of releases with smaller producers tasted in Day 8 and Day 16.  Then I saw the tiny notation in the top right corner: “Distilled at Benrinnes Distillery”.  Um, what?  That’s one label headliner too many.

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Here’s the story.  Stronachie IS a lesser-known distillery…but it’s lesser-known because it was mothballed in 1928 and destroyed in 1930.  It was first built in the 1890s in a (questionably chosen, in hindsight) remote, nearly inaccessible mountain location that required the construction of a 5-mile private railway just to get the spirit to a transportation route.  The initial distributor of Stronachie was actually a relative of A.D Rattray, and in the early 2000s, consumed by curiosity about the distillery, Rattray’s present owner bought at auction a bottle of Stronachie that was distilled a century prior, in 1904, one of only 4 bottles left in the world.  After tasting it (props to them for actually opening it), Rattray then embarked on a project to try to re-create the historic distillery’s flavour profile using spirit from a similarly situated high-altitude producer.  It’s one part honourable and one part creepy, like going from trying to commune with your dead aunt via seance to building your own effigy of her for your living room, but it is certainly bold and unique, two things I don’t get to say enough about the whisky world.

Benrinnes is another distillery that often does its work anonymously, not often receiving the single malt attention, which makes me feel sort of bad that it’s getting this particular star treatment as a sort of tribute cover band for another producer that’s been closed for 88 years and a pile of rubble for 86.  Its faux-Stronachie 18 Year was aged in a combination of ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks (which is becoming the main maturation theme of Whisky Advent 2016) and smelled as pleasantly old-fashioned as it was probably supposed to, mixing saltwater taffy, unsweetened licorice, smoke and bitter orange.  Smouldering and long-acting on the palate, its flavours are almost on delayed release, starting spicy and peppery but then blooming into vast florals, citrus fruits, hickory, creme brulee and candied ginger.  In spite of that it never gets away from itself, staying straight-laced and minding its manners, like the quiet distillery up on the mountain that’s now nothing but a ghost, kept alive through loving tribute.