Gerard Bertrand: Estates Series Preview

20 02 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

Gerard Bertrand is seemingly everywhere these days, with a firmly established presence in North America (including rosé joint ventures with the Bon Jovi family) and an ever-increasing number of offerings in the Alberta market.  I had foolishly assumed that we had previously been privy to a decent chunk of Bertrand’s overall portfolio, only to discover that the current winery website offers up 135 DIFFERENT BOTTLINGS to consumers, divided up by brand, appellation, price point and production method (there are two different sans soufre lines, Prima Nature and Naturae, as well as at least two entirely separate organic lines, Naturalys and Autrement).  The bulk of my prior Bertrand experience is with his Terroir line of wines, which explore the defining soils and environments of a number of key subregions of the Languedoc, at the southern edge of France.  Tonight, however, we visit Gerard Bertrand’s Estates lineup, featuring distinctive single-vineyard wines from sites Bertrand owns, giving him complete control over the land and the growing decisions made on it.

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There are thirteen Estates vineyards in all (the interactive map on the winery site showing where they are and what they’re about is something to behold), each of which is given both a name and a descriptive mantra explaining what they’re all about.  Tonight’s first bottle, Domaine de Villemajou, is referred to as “The Genesis”, for reasons which will become quite clear below — it is where it all began for this burgeoning winery empire.  Chateau de Sauvageonne, our comparator Estates wine, is called “Sublime Nature”; while Bertrand’s history with the vineyard does not extend back as far, his connection with the land was immediate, as is its visual impression.  Each bottling does not immediately showcase itself as a Bertrand bottle; you have to look carefully on the disparate labels for the iconic name in small font along the bottom.  He may be letting the sites speak for themselves, but Bertrand’s involvement helps assure buyers of the quality within. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Lo Sang del Pais

7 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

It’s been a little over a year since we featured a wine from Cellar Direct on PnP, and in the meantime the first pan-Canadian artisanal wine club has been busy behind the scenes, preparing its next suite of offers and tweaking its approach in order to maximize buying efficiency and aim for the best of both worlds in the online wine purchasing sphere:  time-limited features and repeat buying capability.  Once a week, on Saturday, Cellar Direct will release a new offer on its website and to its mailing list.  Offered bottles are available in multiples of 3 and can be shipped across Canada, with any such transport taking place in temperature-controlled trucks to avoid any damage to the wines in transit due to extreme heat or cold.  Full case purchases of a single wine attract discounts off the standard offer price and the most effective shipping rates, but buyers can also accumulate 3-packs or 6-packs of different wines and have them shipped together.  Once an offer week comes to an end, any remaining bottles left over from the offer can still be purchased from the online shop at Cellar Direct’s website, so if a particular order bowls you over, there may be a chance to get more.  Did I mention they ship across Canada?  Readers in government liquor monopoly provinces, take note — this is your chance at freedom.

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The first of Cellar Direct’s new offers dropped today, and to mark the occasion we are bringing you a contemporaneous review of the bottle now available for online purchase everywhere in the country.  We will be doing the same thing over the next five Saturdays (yes, even through Wine Advent, because we’re crazy), so feel free to check out our notes on the weekly wine to assist in your buying decisions.  The inaugural Cellar Direct release of this new offer season is one that rang a few distant bells, but it took some digging through the Pop & Pour archives to find out why. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 5

5 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve migrated into our “classics” phase of the 2019 Half-Bottle Wine Advent calendar.  After Canadian bubbles, German red crossings and New York cans, yesterday’s Chianti Classico signalled a bit of a vibe shift, and tonight’s offering got the message loud and clear and has continued the trend.  You don’t get more throwback textbook Old World than Sancerre, a region that has stood the test of time but also run the fairweather gamut of popular opinion over the past few decades.  If this was the 1982 Half-Bottle Advent Calendar, it might be entirely composed of Sancerre; fifteen years before or after might have seen Sancerre wholly excommunicated.  Now it’s making a cautious return, seeking to reclaim (or maybe just re-assert) its status as the spiritual home of Sauvignon Blanc.

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Sancerre is one of the most easterly sub-regions of the long, thin, west-to-east Loire Valley, which ultimately connects to the Atlantic Ocean but extends all the way to the dead centre of France on its other end.  Monks first planted vines in Sancerre in the 11th or 12th centuries, and subsequent swaths of royalty ensured that its sought-after wines were always available in their courts.  While currently most known as a (if not THE) key French site for Sauvignon Blanc, which now makes up 80% of all plantings in the region, it was previously home to considerably more Pinot Noir and Gamay, the latter of which was ravaged by a phylloxera outbreak in the 19th century and was replanted with Sauvignon.  Pinot retains 20% of the acreage in Sancerre, but this is now firmly a white wine region, and tonight’s bottle has its name all over it.

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I don’t know whether to call this the 2017 Chateau de Sancerre or the 2017 Chateau de Sancerre Sancerre.  It seems completely ridiculous to use the name twice, but I’ve never come across a producer whose name was the name of its region before.  (Chateau de Bordeaux and Domaine de Bourgogne, you missed your chance.)  The Chateau appears quite aware of its unique nomenclature, boasting in almost all of the available online literature, not to mention the back label of this bottle, that it is the “only wine which can be marketed under this exclusive name”.  Well…no kidding?  Isn’t that the case for EVERY SINGLE WINERY on Earth?  You don’t get a lot of non-Beringer wines marketed under the “exclusive name” of Beringer, thanks to the rather handy world of intellectual property law.  But whatever.  The Chateau de Sancerre is actually a Chateau, a castle (re)built in 1879 in the heart of the vineyards of the region, which was purchased in 1919 by Louis Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle and is still owned by the Marnier-Lapostolle company a century later.  Its name is more familiar than you might think, as Louis Alexandre was also the inventor of Grand Marnier (speaking of exclusive names).

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Cork Rating:  6.5/10 (Pretty boring cork, but I love the swag associated with the tagline “Pass before the best.”  Badass.)

This particular bottling is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, as one might expect, and emerges a deeper lemon colour than I had anticipated given its utter lack of oak contact.  Meyer lemon, salted lime (inching towards margarita), Fuzzy Peaches, Tums, rock dust and straw/dried grass sing a stately yet playful aromatic song…until you sip and the hammer comes down.  The Sancerre Sancerre is bright and instantly alive on the palate but extraordinarily tart, like Sprite if you removed all of the sugar.  Tonic water, (very) green apple, citrus peel, flint and a torrent of biting, punishing acid lead into a chalky, icy, mineral finish that oddly dries out the mouth as it scrubs it clean.  An emphatic and almost angry wine, vociferously expressing its turf in defiance.  Sorry for the IP jokes?

88- points





Yalumba: Introducing Samuel’s Collection, Part II

23 11 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Having already acquainted myself with the first half of Yalumba’s newly compiled seven-wine Samuel’s Collection (and made a mental note to track down the other whites in the Collection beyond the Viognier, as Eden Valley Chardonnay and Roussanne sound glorious), I was eagerly awaiting my turn on the back nine of this reorganized and rebranded assembly of mid-level bottlings, which for the first time let the Barossa’s calling card take centre stage.

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Each of the Yalumba Barossa Shiraz and Barossa Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon previously went by different monikers, aimed towards different audiences just emerging from the critter wine wave:  the former was known as the “Patchwork Shiraz”, while the latter was called “The Scribbler”.  At some point it was rightly decided that a more serious veneer and a highlight of place better suited these focused, linear wines than a kitschy name and the playful marketing that rode the length of the first Aussie wine trend; the outside of the bottle now more accurately reflects the liquid within.  Bring on the Shirazes. Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





Spain, Old and New, Part III: The Wines of Vina Real

9 09 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Nearly a year on from the start of this review set, through three different seasons of write-ups, I am closing in on the full story of the Cune wine lineup.  We started with the mothership itself, the Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana (C.V.N.E.), the Riojan stalwart whose expressions cross four separate brands.  We then ascended to Imperial, the Cune adjunct focused on Reserva- and Gran Reserva-level wines from the top vineyards of Rioja Alta, the core of what most people know of Rioja as a wine region.  Tonight we move from the centre of the heartlands to Rioja’s outskirts, and from the centre of attention to a group of producers tired of being overlooked.  Cune’s Vina Real label is rooted in grapes sourced from the ever-ignored yet consistently impressive Rioja Alavesa.

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This least-known Riojan subregion lies in the north-central portion of Rioja, bordered by the Ebro River to the south and the Sierra de Cantabria mountain range to the north, which protects the vineyards from the cool coastal winds above.  It is both the smallest and the most elevated of Rioja’s three sub-zones, its hilly and terraced vineyards influenced by the nearby mountains, its 40 x 8 km surface area a relative pittance compared to its much more expansive siblings Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja.  Being the smallest and most neglected in the family also tends to make you the scrappiest:  Rioja Alavesa has recently, and ever more vocally, been seeking to carve out its own identity within Spain’s most prominent wine appellation.  There has been some talk of leaving Rioja altogether, which has not been all that well-received by the region’s governing body.  Rioja Alavesa is craving respect and recognition, and that is part of what Vina Real seeks to deliver.

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The winery is named for its vineyards’ proximity to the Camino Real, the “Royal Road”, a renowned traditional highway; its relation to the Camino de Santiago walking trail which crosses all of northern Spain is not immediately clear to me, though that pilgrimage road goes right through Logrono, the closest city to the winery.  Much of my discussion of the Cune-brand wines has alighted on that intersection between traditional and modern approaches that they seem to exemplify, but in none of Cune’s labels is this more clear than Vina Real.  The winery is part of Rioja Alavesa’s historical fabric, being among the first in the area to employ barrel aging for wines (which is now a hallmark of the whole Rioja region) and to make Crianza wines for earlier release.  But its present incarnation is unabashedly modern:  the magnificent new puck-shaped winery building, constructed out of cedar and inaugurated by the king of Spain himself in 2004, was designed as one of the first gravity-flow operations in the country and has bored out the surrounding hilltop to create state-of-the-art underground cellars.  Even this cutting-edge operation does not lose sight of its past, however:  the winery’s circular shape (as seen on Vina Real’s labels) is an homage to a traditional large Riojan fermenting vat, a physical representation of the old-meets-new dichotomy that defines this set of producers.  Do the wines follow suit? Read the rest of this entry »





By The Glass: Domaine de Pellehaut’s Harmonie de Gascogne

18 08 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Back!!  I have returned from overseas, feeling as refreshed as one can after multiple weeks of intercontinental travel with two kids under 9, and ready once more to dive into the glass and find words to go with it.  This return post takes me somewhere I have not often gone in the world of wine, somewhere that does not usually immediately cross my mind as a source of bottle options:  that broader informal wine zone in southwest France aptly yet uninspiringly called “Southwest France”.  (Admittedly, if all regions were so named, learning about wine would be SO much easier.)  Within the Southwest, an area nestled roughly in between Bordeaux and Languedoc-Roussillon, lies IGP Cotes de Gascogne, a quality wine area best known by a wide margin for a spirit.  As it turns out, the borders of the region precisely mirror those of Armagnac, although its production rules are far more open-ended on the non-distilled side of the spectrum.

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If you don’t recognize the term “IGP”, you’re not alone:  it didn’t exist when I first started studying wine with any seriousness back in 2011.  Previously wines within this classification were known as “Vin de Pays”, or “country wine”, a step up from the lowly standards-free French table wine called “Vin de France”, displaying some regional quality and character but without quite the level of history or distinction befitting a full AOC (now AOP) classification.  “IGP” stands for “Indication Géographique Protégée” (Protected Geographical Indication), which, while much harder to remember than “Vin de Pays”, probably communicates its purpose a little bit better.  The AOP-lite rules surrounding the IGP designation allow for a little more freedom when it comes to grape selection and production methods, freedom that tonight’s producer uses to its full advantage, although the Rolodex of permitted IGP grapes for the Cotes de Gascogne (19 in all, 11 red and 8 white) already seems broad enough to permit significant latitude in what comes out of this area.  It is mostly a white hotbed, with well over 80% of vineyard area planted to white grapes, which is no surprise given that these are the focus of Armagnac as well.  Two of Armagnac’s four prominent standard-bearers, Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano) and Colombard, are protagonists below.

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Domaine de Pellehaut is one of those remarkable under-the-radar family-run European estates that has been passed down from generation to generation since the 1700s, is firmly rooted in carefully tended old-vine sites, produces remarkably honest and vivid wines, yet would have remained in complete obscurity from international audiences without amplification from a more recognized voice.  That voice in this case is Maison Sichel, owners of Bordeaux’s Chateau d’Angludet and part owners of Chateau Palmer, which in addition to its own wares markets the wines of other worthy partner estates, including this one, without ripping their owners’ names from the front label.  Brothers Mathieu and Martin Béraut tend the 300+ year-old Pellehaut sites and make the wine, which has gained critical attention yet suffers primarily from the fact that it doesn’t hail from one of the dozen or so major European wine regions that casual drinkers recognize.  These kinds of outsiders, it turns out, are where the bulk of the bargains can be found.  Domaine de Pellehaut’s “Harmonie de Gascogne” collection is a prime example. Read the rest of this entry »








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