Calliope: (End of) Summer Releases

27 08 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

I have recently seen an opinion expressed more and more on wine-drenched social media:  that wine should be more expensive.  The basis behind the statement is that quality farming techniques, proper vineyard vigilance, ethical labour compensation and the avoidance of interventionist winemaking heuristics all cost money, and supporting a rigorous and chemical-free production process not only pays off in the result, but is worth paying more for on the shelf.  I empathize with the sentiment, and generally agree with the idea that more handmade vine-growing and winemaking processes necessitate a greater degree of care and focus in order to achieve success, which in turn can raise the ceiling of a wine’s potential.  I routinely pay more money for wines like this, which strive for quality through attentiveness.

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That said, there will always be a place for gateway wines, for both economic and marketing reasons.  There is a fairly significant portion of the wine-drinking population who won’t, or can’t, pay substantial sums for a single bottle of wine, regardless of its ostensible merit or authenticity.  In addition, our closest local winemaking industry here in Alberta, the Okanagan Valley next door, already faces pricing pressures to land on retail shelves at costs that are at least somewhat competitive to the Chilean and Argentinian offerings in the next aisle over, due to higher land and personnel costs and a host of other reasons.  If you want to convince people to pay a bit more for a certain region’s wines and to drink better as a result, you have to start them somewhere that combines both immediate enjoyment and and a subtle hint that they’re just starting to scratch the surface.  Enter Calliope.

This accessible, approachable, expressive value line from the Wyse family that brought you Burrowing Owl Winery is named after yet another bird (Canada’s smallest bird, in fact – a hummingbird found in southern BC) and is designed to offer wines with clear typicity and bright flavours in an attractive package that doesn’t scare people off.  While they could maybe do with a bit less stock photography on their website, their wines have consistently achieved this goal, and opened up the world of BC wines to new consumers as a result.  Calliope’s latest set of releases seek to maintain the formula, and bring some pink back into the winery’s vocabulary to boot.  But first, the whites. Read the rest of this entry »





Culmina: Summer 2020 Releases

21 07 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

I love getting wines hot off the presses, just as they are hitting the market for the first time.  There is always a sense of anticipation associated with latest vintages of wines you have come to appreciate over time; with a baseline of familiarity about a particular bottle’s standard expression, it’s much easier to pick out differences based on vintage conditions or stylistic variations in winemaking.  Instead of trying to puzzle out what a wine is all about, you can look for how it approached a given year, what it suffered through to make it into the bottle, or whether its new rendition stretched its ambition or capabilities.

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I was especially interested in tracking the evolution of this latest set of releases from the Golden Mile Bench’s Culmina Family Estate Winery, as it was this month last year when it was announced that the estate’s founding family had sold the winery to Arterra Wines Canada, whose number of wineries under ownership has cleared the triple digits.  Arterra’s reach in the Okanagan includes stalwarts such as Laughing Stock, Nk’mip, See Ya Later Ranch and Sumac Ridge, as well as Jackson-Triggs, whose co-founder Don Triggs also founded Culmina, and also founded Arterra’s corporate predecessor Vincor International, a few mergers and acquisitions ago.  Time is a flat circle.  Don and his wife Elaine are now enjoying a well-deserved retirement (for real this time), leaving Culmina in the hands of winemaker Jean-Marc Enixon and the established winery management team.  What will they do with it?  The 2019 releases are our first chance to find out. Read the rest of this entry »





Gerard Bertrand: Domaine de L’Aigle

23 06 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

The South of France is paradise, for vines and tourists alike.  Consistent weather, tons of heat and sunshine, yet just enough reprieve thanks to surrounding bodies of water — it’s the recipe for both stress-free ripening and a highly satisfying vacation.  Because of these climatic blessings, the growing areas around the Languedoc-Roussillon can successfully cultivate almost any grape you can think of, which helps its ability to generate value-priced reasonable facsimiles of varieties grown at enhanced pedigree and cost elsewhere.  This flexibility may come at a cost, however, hindering the area’s ability to carve out its own identity, one not tethered to other regions’ preconceived notions.  Languedoc luminary Gerard Bertrand has above all sought to let his home region’s soils sing loud and clear, and over the years he has cultivated an impressive array of vineyards and standalone estates that aim to do just that.  It is somewhat ironic, then, that one of his most compelling recent acquisitions is a place that doubles as a convincing stand-in for what I would have told you was the least possible French region to reflect in the deep South:  Burgundy.

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I should be careful to clarify:  Domaine de L’Aigle is nobody’s copycat.  Located at the northern peak of the Limoux appellation, which itself is slightly inland of the Mediterranean Sea and just south of famed fortified board-game city Carcassonne, the Domaine is situated at the foot of the Roquetaillade cliff, always the home of numerous nesting eagles (hence the winery name).  The combination of the highest altitude in the region and the cooling air coming down off the adjacent Pyranees mountain range makes average temperatures here 2-3 degrees Celsius lower than its neighbours in the Languedoc, resulting in substantially more rainfall and a massive drop in temperatures overnight.  In this one specific spot — which was France’s first home of sparking wine, by the way, back in 1531, before Dom Perignon figured out bubbles in Champagne — the climate is sufficiently moderate and bracing that the Burgundian duo of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay excel.  The focus of Domaine de L’Aigle is to explore these northern French varieties (as well as a little Gewurz, in a nod to even-more-northerly Alsace) as translated by the Languedoc’s terroir.  Gerard Bertrand acquired the Domaine in 2007, and it is now one of 16 biodynamic estates under the Bertrand umbrella, joining the previously reviewed Domaine de Villemajou and Chateau la Sauvageonne.  Bertrand’s focus is eternally on clearly transmitting the voice of the South; let’s see how it speaks through the grapes of the North. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Henry of Pelham Triple Baco Battle

27 05 2020

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

By Peter Vetsch

The hardest part about writing a review like this is resisting the urge to pun the headline.  Baby’s Got Baco.  Backstreet’s Baco.  Baco to the Future.  Baco Tuesday.  Where Baco Noir goes, a world of pun glory follows.  But in the end, I decided the title had to focus on the mission.  Three different Baco Noirs from one of the world’s best-known producers of this star-crossed grape, Niagara’s Henry of Pelham, at three tiers of the winery’s portfolio.  One survivor.  Take what you need, give nothing Baco.  OK, I’ll stop.

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Opening a bottle of Baco Noir feels a little like drinking Canadian wine history.  One forgets in our nation’s current golden era of properly ripe bigger vinifera reds and advanced farming techniques allowing warm-climate grapes (even Grenache!!) to flourish in northern climes that it was not that easy in the beginning.  Micro-soil-mapping to ascertain the perfectly right spot to plant the right varietal didn’t exist. Climate change hadn’t yet made the task of Canadian viticulture slightly easier.  It was not always clear what would grow, and when it did, there was always the chance it might just freeze and die the next winter.  The grapes that did the best in the conditions were not necessary the ones that made good wine, but at least they lived long enough to make wine.  You can understand the allure of Baco Noir, a grape that attempted to do both.

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Baco Noir is a hybrid variety, meaning that it is a human-bred cross between two grape parents, one of which hails from the vinifera species of vitis (grape) native to the Old World (from which all of the world’s top wine grapes are found), and the other of which is from a North American vitis riparia species, which makes a poor choice for winemaking but has a constitution much better suited to marginal climates.  Baco’s vinifera mother was Folle Blanche, one of the traditional (white) French grapes of Cognac and Armagnac; its riparia father was previously not known but has now been shown to be Grande Glebre, which carries on a sort of half-life in the wine world currently as a producer of phylloxera-resistant rootstocks onto which many susceptible vinifera vines are grafted.  These parents were crossed and bred by Frenchman Francois Baco in 1902, who obviously decided to name the result after himself.  It was initially called Baco 24-23 (giving you a sense of just how many Baco varietals there likely were out there) before being more convincingly changed to Baco Noir in the 1960s.  After a brief flirtation in Burgundy and the Loire Valley, the hybrid was planted in North America in the mid-20th century, where it gained a foothold in the northeast part of the continent.

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BACO.

Baco’s allure in a nascent Canadian wine industry is not difficult to understand.  Not only was it resistant to phylloxera, but it grew vigorously and ripened early (critical in a short growing season) and yet still retained plenty of acid.  It was cold-resistant through the difficult winters.  It is a teinturier grape, so unlike most red grapes, its flesh and juice were dark-coloured as well as its skins, allowing for guaranteed depth of colour in the finished wine.  Back when the idea of ripening and keeping alive most of the big red grapes of the world was sheer fantasy in Canada, here was this hearty and disease-averse grape that could reliably produce a dark, deep, rich, meaty red without losing its acidic backbone and without dying before the next spring.  Nowadays local alternative options have improved significantly, but the love affair with Baco Noir, particularly in Ontario, has never fully gone away, particularly at Henry of Pelham, where the Bacos are often some of the first wines to sell out every year, despite healthy production levels thanks to 60+ acres of plantings.  Bring on the Baco ladder. Read the rest of this entry »





Synchromesh Wines, Part II: Storm Haven Awaits

14 05 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

After last weekend’s right-on-cue random Calgary mid-May hailstorm-then-blizzard combo, I now feel comfortable saying that spring has finally arrived in our corner of the world, far later than it should have, as always.  When things turn green and start to grow, and when the world once again sheds its winter coat for another half-turn around the sun, I tend to reach for wines of brightness, freshness.  The heavy reds have their time and place, but it is not here and now.  After Ray’s excellent introduction to the history and new offerings of the rapidly ascending Synchromesh Wines, and after watching my environment awaken and shift into growth mode, I needed some Riesling.  Good thing I have three.

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As noted in our last post, Synchromesh’s crown jewel site is the place where it all began for the winery, the Storm Haven Vineyard right near (and well above) Okanagan Falls.  A subsequent acquisition of an adjacent parcel on the same hillside brought the total vineyard acreage up to 107 acres, but of that only 21 acres are planted to vines, with the rest intentionally left accessible for wildlife habitat and conservation works.  This allows the Dickinson family both to help out local wildlife charities and to ensure that Storm Haven remains an active, lively, biodiverse site in which the vines are a harmonious partner instead of an invasive intruder.  Altitudes range from 1300 to over 2000 feet as the vineyard rises up the base of Peach Cliff Mountain, straddling a fault line and enjoying the corresponding mineral explosion in the sandy loam soils (quartz, granite, slate, metal deposits) that goes along with such geologically interesting positioning.

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Storm Haven Vineyard.  Photo Credit: Andrew Melville.

Riesling makes up over 70% of the plantings here — I was honestly surprised they planted anything else at this hallowed Riesling altar, one of the top sites for this grape in the country.  The remaining acreage is largely comprised of Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, except for a single block (0.33 acres) of own-rooted Cinsault which was planted last year.  It’s safest to assume that the latter is destined for rosé, but I would absolutely buy a single-vineyard Storm Haven red Cinsault, if Synchromesh needed any further production ideas.  Tonight’s Rieslings all express the site-hewn power, intensity and scope of Storm Haven, but in varying degrees.  All also hew to Synchromesh’s Riesling credo of low alcohol, notable residual sugar and incisive acidity; the combined ABV of this trio of wines is 24.14%, basically equivalent to a single bottle of Turley and a Moscato.  Let’s start at the quieter end of the crescendo, although with these wines “quiet” only applies in a relative sense. Read the rest of this entry »





Gerard Bertrand: Spring Sessions

10 04 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

As we came to the end yesterday of what felt like the first actual Calgary spring day of 2020, as warmth and sun and open sky allowed for some temporary reprieve from the surreal creeping dread of our daily pandemic existence, there was no better time to consider the virtues of fresh, bright, appealing, pleasant wines.  You don’t realize how much you miss pleasant until that sensation of easy comfort and untroubled joy is no longer as accessible in the world around you.

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Some wines thrill with complexity, but when life is plenty complex enough at the moment and you can actually sit outside without a jacket, sometimes the better vinous thrill is the bottle that can just provide happy company for a short while.  When I wrote about Gerard Bertrand’s marvellous Estates reds a month and a half ago, I almost opened these bottles instead, but decided to switch the order at the last moment.  Do you even remember a month and a half ago?  Now, having to firmly self-motivate in order to write at all, this vivacious patio trio felt like a vital lifeline to simpler, better, more pleasant times.  Two whites and a barely-rosé, perhaps the palest combined set of wines ever featured on PnP, shone through my malaise like this sunny day.  (Then it snowed again today.  But I digress.)  Let’s meet them. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 17

17 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a week left in Advent.  As our December wine journey starts wending its way to the finish line, Tyler yesterday rightly complimented the calendar on its diversity and variety to date, commenting on how every day has been a fresh and exciting adventure to a different place, grape or style.  Perhaps that triggered the jinx, or perhaps we fell into a trap set by the 7s, but tonight’s Day 17 reveals a strikingly familiar face, one just seen back on Day 7:  Clarence Dillon’s Clarendelle.  Whereas our first week of Advent ended with the Clarendelle red, our last week of the calendar starts with the 2018 Clarendelle Bordeaux Blanc.

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Tyler covered the history of Clarendelle in detail in Day 7’s entry, noting that it was a recent effort of Clarence Dillon Wines to create a brand-based and price-conscious Bordeaux wine “inspired by Haut-Brion”, another winery forming part of the Dillon empire, with some help from the Haut-Brion winemaking team.  I’m not sure I fully buy this motto, which is notably plastered on this half-bottle’s front label; “inspired by Haut-Brion” is largely code for “I also own Haut-Brion and can say this without being sued”.  That said, if I owned Haut-Brion I would probably put its name on everything else I owned too.  The man who purchased the great First Growth in 1935 has a few impressive buys on his resume:  a legendary financier, Dillon pulled the Goodyear company out of receivership, and then later bought Dodge, and then Chrysler, all within the span of six years and all before dropping 2,300,000 francs on Haut-Brion.  He was basically the Monopoly man.  His son, also named Clarence Dillon, was the US Secretary of the Treasury and the Ambassador to France.  And the prince of Luxembourg is in the family tree somewhere.  You get the idea.

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White wines used to make up half of Bordeaux’s production not even 60 years ago; now they are less than 10%, as a combination of soil-based vineyard replanting and shifting consumer tastes have seen the region focus more and more on Cab- and Merlot-based red blends.  Most of Bordeaux’s whites are blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, with a smattering of Muscadelle here and there (I initially thought these three were the only permitted white grapes of Bordeaux, only to be roundly corrected by the following Rolodex of allowable white varietals:  Sauvignon Gris, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Merlot Blanc (??), Ondenc and Mauzac [at least possibly made-up], Albarino, Petit Manseng and Liliorila).  There are less than 1,000 hectares of Muscadelle planted in all of Bordeaux, the bulk of which is used as a floral-accented blending component to sweet wines like Sauternes. It is a delicate, fragile and discreet grape, not known for prominence either in any part of its flavour profile or in any notable white Bordeaux blends.  Its name notwithstanding, it is not related at all to the Muscat grape family, instead arriving on the scene as a crossing between an unknown vinifera parent and Gouais Blanc, a grape that’s utterly un-noteworthy on its own but has some remarkable procreation skills, acting as parent for a large swath of vinifera grapes (like Chardonnay) that we currently know and love.

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I mention all of this because my first thought when I saw the blend composition on this bottle, uttered out loud in spite of myself, was:  “That is a sh*t ton of Muscadelle.”  The Clarendelle website helpfully advises that they sometimes add “a touch of Muscadelle in certain vintages” of their Bordeaux Blanc; the 2018 vintage is 42% Semillon, 30% Sauvignon Blanc and 28% Muscadelle.  I have never seen that much Muscadelle in a single wine ever (although there is apparently a 100% Muscadelle Bordeaux Blanc out there, which I now must track down).  The combo of Muscadelle and Semillon means that 70% of this white is made up of restrained, reticent varietals — can the Sauvignon Blanc minority pump up the volume and bring out the extrovert in this wine?  (Spoiler: no.)

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Cork Rating:  5.5/10 (Elegant font and graphics, although the composites aren’t my favourites.)

The 2018 Clarendelle is a pale but vibrant lemon colour and emerges elegantly if cautiously in the glass.  Its strikingly alpine, floral nose conjures up crystal clear images of that mountaintop field of flowers in every Sound of Music poster or Ricola commercial, honey-lemon Halls meets honeysuckle meets liquid nitrogen, with hints of crystallized pineapple lurking around the edges.  This delicate Swiss chorus is joined on the palate by white grape (maybe Muscadelle is like Muscat in actually bringing out grape flavours), pear, tonic water, lime popsicle, rock dust and white tea flavours, laced with a touch of Semillon’s lanolin, the acid quietly tremulous as if unsure where to cut in.  The overall combination is pleasantly neutral, if sort of self-effacing as a result, the wine not really flashing its personality until a finish that lasts way longer than you might expect.  Haut-Brion it is not (percentage of Muscadelle in the 2018 Haut-Brion Blanc:  0%), but as far as introductory signposts to Bordeaux blanc go, it strikes the right chords, if in a slightly tentative manner.

87+ points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 3

3 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Three days into this year’s half-bottle extravaganza and we haven’t seen a standard-shaped Bordeaux or Burgundy bottle yet.  First off was the reinforced bubbles bottle, followed by the Germanic flute (which trickily held a red), and tonight it became immediately clear that the streak was going to continue.  Can we roll with the punches?  Yes we can.

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This is also the third straight day that I’ve peeled off the tissue paper to find a familiar friendly face:  Day 1’s Tawse has been my go-to Ontario stalwart for years, Day 2’s K.H. Schneider makes the best goddamn Dornfelder in the world, and Day 3’s can is brought to you by the wonderful, hospitable, salt-of-the-earth people at Fox Run Vineyards, from New York State’s gorgeous Finger Lakes area, a winery and a region that I was lucky enough to visit back in 2016.  That was the same year that this wine — sort of — was named the feature white of the Calgary Stampede.  Meet the Fox Run Vineyards On The Run Unoaked Chardonnay, can edition.

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Fox Run is a New York State institution.  This pastoral property on the western shores of Seneca Lake was originally a dairy farm before grapes were first planted there in 1984.  Fast forward 35 years and the winery now owns 50 acres of east-sloping vineyards and focuses on crafting a wide variety of estate wines under the watchful guidance of longtime winemaker Peter Bell.  While they rightly take pride in their excellent Riesling lineup, their Chardonnays are in my mind an equal part of their house identity, both the spritely unoaked Doyle Family Chardonnay and the marvellous barrel-fermented Kaiser Vineyard Chardonnay.  I believe that this can is made up of the former, although the can itself gives away no hints of its specific identity.  The can also strangely does not indicate a vintage, perhaps to avoid the annoyance of having to re-print can labels for each successive harvest; however, I am told that it is most likely not a NV wine and is instead probably the 2018 edition of the Doyle.  This is excellent news, because it means that it is likely also 8% Traminette, a lovably bizarre, slightly soapy, melony hybrid whose vinifera parent is Gewürztraminer (hence the name), which is normally added to the Doyle Chardonnay as a minority blending partner to rev up its personality.  (Fox Run also makes a varietal Traminette, which you absolutely must buy if you ever get the chance.  Traminette is amazing.)

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Cork Rating:  I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do with this.  2/10.  Nice tab.

First impressions:  spritz!  The release from the can causes multitudes of tiny bubbles to cling to the sides of my glass for a good ten minutes while a reductive matchsticks and smoke aroma blows off.  What remains is a chiselled aromatic profile of fresh lemon, smoked lime, honeydew, wet grass, pina colada and something oddly like boxed cake powder or Premium Plus soup crackers, the latter two of which I will credit to the Traminette.  The olfactory intrigue does not arise due to any lees stirring or barrel contact, of which there was none — Fox Run built the Doyle in as linear a fashion as possible, save only for the incorporation of this Chardonnay’s mischievous blending brother.  The regimented cool-climate style takes over on the crisp, lean, precise palate, whose relatively neutral flavours of Asian pear, underripe white peach, river rocks and chalk dust are energized by a tight line of acidity that is not undercut by any excess in body or weight.  I almost think this would have been better off being drunk straight out of the can as opposed to splayed out in a Burgundy glass — it is a straight-shot linear wine well-suited to patios and campsites, its low alcohol and pH priming it to provide immediate refreshment, but its mission not extending to unfolding in layers over time.  That said, its consistency and focus are a continual joy with each successive vintage, and, it turns out, with any given container.

87+ 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 »





Amulet Wines: Vinous Talismans

6 11 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

When the intrepid Dwight Sick left his longtime position as winemaker at Stags Hollow Winery and took up the same role at the Naramata’s Moraine Winery, he took two things with him:  (1) a trailblazing sense of adventure, forcing drinkers to check their premises regarding which grapes can work best in the Okanagan Valley, and (2) access to the best and most established plantings of Grenache in Canada, from the Kiln House Vineyard near Penticton.  That combination could never lie dormant for too long.  Sick helped plant the Kiln House Grenache vines over a decade ago, and he nurtured them into the Okanagan’s first bottling of varietal Grenache after years of effort and patience.  It didn’t seem right to let the red Rhone dream die, so soon after it had been realized.  So Sick didn’t.

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Enter Amulet Wines:  a special new side project that Sick has undertaken in collaboration with Dylan and Penelope Roche of the thrilling recent Okanagan venture Roche Wines, fulfilling a vision 15 years in the making.  Amulet is focused solely on Okanagan-grown Rhone varietals, a lesser-known but burgeoning (and shockingly effective) subset of British Columbia’s melting pot of grape influences.  The inaugural Amulet release is a duo of bottlings, both blends, both heavily featuring the Kiln House Vineyard, both aimed at proving that Canada is (or at least can be) a New World Rhone haven.  As Dwight Sick was one of the first to make me believe the truth of this latter proposition, I was eager to see how far an entire brand focused on this goal, and inspired by his vision, could carry it.

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First things first:  god damn are these visually commanding bottles of wine.  I don’t know how gripped I am by the “good versus evil” thematics that pervade the Amulet branding, but I am entirely enthralled by the bottles themselves, which harken back somewhat to Sick’s old Cachet bottlings from Stag’s Hollow in their transparent monochrome-and-red colour scheme.  However, what particularly elevates these new offerings are their centrepieces:  the curved golden metal coins emanating from the heart of each bottle, which are apparently replicas of Elizabethan-era “Gold Angel” coins, depicting St. Michael slaying a dragon, that were carried or worn as amulets to ward off evil.  Whatever these coins added to the overall production cost of the bottles, it was worth it — they are simply stunning.  I tried to pry mine off the bottles once they were empty, but to no avail.  I’ll look for a dragon next time.  Were the wines equally as compelling as their packaging? Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Road 13’s Rare Whites

12 07 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

This may be the last post from me for a while, as I imminently prepare to head off of the continent for a little bit on a proper Viking vacation.  (If anybody knows a great wine shop in Copenhagen or Billund, let me know immediately.)  But fear not, Ray will still be here to keep the blog alive for the rest of July, and I have one last gasp of Canadiana in me before I bolt the country.  Tonight’s trio of whites from the Golden Mile Bench’s Road 13 Vineyards makes me realize that I should have been following this winery more closely before now, but I will try to make up for lost time.

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Clean and classic labels, eye-opening wines – but not sure about 2018’s italics.

Road 13 has had an interesting last 12 months, as it was named the Winery of the Year at Wine Align’s National Wine Awards of Canada in 2018 and was then promptly sold before the year was out.  Long-time proprietors Pam and Mick Luckhurst, who acquired the winery (then-called Golden Mile Cellars) and were responsible for first renaming it and then building it into a well-respected national brand, decided to move into retirement (the winery itself having been their first, not-that-relaxing-as-it-turns-out attempt to retire) and accepted an offer from Mission Hill’s / Mark Anthony Brands’ Anthony von Mandl to purchase the company.  The winemaking team remains intact, however, as does the winery’s vision and present focus on the potential of Rhone varieties in British Columbia, an endeavour that I back fully, having had enough marvellous Okanagan Syrah recently to make me wonder what else from the south of France would flourish here.  As it turns out, the white Rhone side of the equation is just as compelling as the red.  But we start with a scion of a Road 13 classic. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Moraine Winery Spring/Summer Set

28 06 2019

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

Wine is indelible.  It can leave impressions and fasten itself onto moments or events with surprising, graceful ease.  Show me a bottle or producer that I’ve had before and I will often be immediately taken to the scene where I had it last, even if it was otherwise unmemorable.  In the case of Naramata’s Moraine Winery, the scene already had memories to spare, and every bottle since has carried them back to me.

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My first encounter with the wines of then-up-and-coming Moraine was almost exactly six years ago today.  I remember because Calgary was underwater, as the great flood of 2013 wreaked havoc on the heart of my hometown.  I also remember because I had become a dad for the second time ten days prior, on Father’s Day; the power and energy of the tempests that made the waters rise seem to have imbued themselves in my son Max ever since.  The white, black and red labels of Moraine marked my first return to the blog after Max’s birth.  He just finished kindergarten two days ago.  The wheels of time continue to spin, but our wines mark our occasions.

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Moraine was founded by current owners Oleg and Svetlana Aristarkhov, ex-Albertans who headed west to follow their passion into the world of wine.  Their two estate vineyards, the older and larger Anastasia and the younger Pinot Noir-devoted Sophia, are named after their two daughters; the winery name reflects the glacially deposited rocks that form a key part of the terroir at their Naramata site.  When I first came across Moraine it was in its early stages of life, just finding its way as a new winery.  In this current encounter it is in a different phase of life, and in the midst of a significant transformation:  a new winemaking facility and cellar is being built, a new larger tasting room and hospitality centre has just opened, and as of last year the wines are being crafted by a new winemaker, albeit one who is a familiar face on the BC wine scene.  Dwight Sick, who spent the last decade as the winemaker at Stag’s Hollow, came to Moraine just before the 2018 harvest, the final critical piece to this next stage of the winery’s growth and development.  Yet Moraine’s focus still remains anchored in Anastasia and Sophia, and the ever-maturing vines they hold.  I got the opportunity to taste some of Sick’s first Moraine releases, as well as an early single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Sophia, to get a sense of how far Moraine Winery has come. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Culmina Spring Releases, Part 1

30 05 2019

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

IMG_0135You have to admire a guy like Don Triggs.  After co-founding the eponymous Jackson-Triggs, taking the brand to meteoric heights and carrying the cause of Canadian wine along with it, Don parted from the brand in 2006 when it was subsumed into the massive Constellation empire, his finances and legacy secure, a career in wine that started shortly after his graduation in the late 1960s drawing to a close, retirement beckoning.  But instead of choosing that comfortable path, he threw himself back into the breach once more, this time thinking smaller in scale and fixated on quality.  This next quest started, literally, from the ground up.  With the aid of legendary vineyard consultant Alain Sutre, Triggs spent a year scouring the Okanagan Valley for just the right site, one that could reliably and properly ripen red Bordeaux varietals, including Canada’s white whale, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Finding a promising spot with southeast-facing exposure on what is now the Golden Mile Bench, the Okanagan’s first legally recognized sub-Geographical Indication (GI), they carried out a slew of temperature and soils tests and discovered that the microclimate of the site (at least in terms of degree-days, a measurement that tracks relative aggregate temperature over the course of a growing season) was very similar to that of Bordeaux.  Arise Bench, the inaugural estate vineyard of Culmina Family Estate Winery, was acquired, and Don Triggs’ newest project came to life.

Having located a potentially ideal site for big, chewy reds, Triggs and Sutre only had to look up to find complementary cooler spots for elegant whites.  Two separate and increasingly higher-altitude benches a short hike up the adjacent hillside completed the Culmina vineyard collection:  Margaret’s Bench, at almost 600 metres of elevation a truly unique Okanagan location, welcomes Riesling, Chardonnay and Canada’s top plantings of Gruner Veltliner, while mid-level Stan’s Bench splits time between these whites and Malbec and Petit Verdot to round out Culmina’s Bordeaux blends.  This three-tiered vineyard elevation stairway is the foundation of everything Culmina does, every square inch mapped and studied to maximize the location of each vine planted.

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As Culmina established its identity in the Okanagan, its lineup of releases began expanding: its base Winery Series line, culminating (no pun intended) with Hypothesis, the Bordeaux blend that was the mission statement for the venture, has now been joined by two other sets of releases.  The light-hearted R&D line (which stands for either “research and development” or Don and his twin brother Ron, who are featured in childhood form on the labels) allows Culmina to let its hair down a bit and focus on budget-friendlier wines that are a joy to drink; the limited-release Number Series is a set of small-lot one-offs that push the boundaries of possibility on Culmina’s trio of sites.  I had the opportunity to taste some of the winery’s latest releases, which have just started to hit shelves now, and track the continued upward trajectory of one of Canada’s most exciting wine projects. Read the rest of this entry »





12 Days of Vinebox: Day 2

26 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Happy Boxing Day!  Hopefully you are full of holiday cheer and post-holiday deals, have all of the presents you want to return neatly stacked in a corner and are ready to get down to business on the world’s coolest post-Advent calendar, one vial at a time.  Let me be the first to tell you that blogging 100mL of wine is a highly stressful experience — you get 2/3 of a glass to fully formulate an impression and write detailed tasting notes, so every drop matters.  It definitely aids the focus, as near-panic often does.  Hopefully you can be a bit more frivolous with your vial.

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I picked this test tube in my Vinebox blogging selection draft with Ray because I was highly curious to check out a Provençal red, a relative rarity in these parts.  Provence is globally known for being the pink wine hub of the world, and for good reason:  80-90% of the bottles that come out of the Cotes de Provence are roses.  They are a well-oiled pink buzzsaw of a production region, dialled into the patio trade in massive quantities…but they are also, more quietly, home to high-quality reds and whites, and in fact, the top producers in the area often make all three.  One such producer is the historic Chateau de Bregançon, centered around an 18th century castle built on a slope overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  The estate has been owned by the same family for over 200 years, which is now in its 7th generation of stewardship of the grounds, including 52 hectares of vineyards in prime growing areas, on exposed hillsides featuring tons of sun and surprisingly little rain given their oceanfront locales.  If you HAVE to make wine anywhere, why not make it the Mediterranean riviera?

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Quick tangent that may be of interest to only me:  Chateau de Bregançon is one of 18 estates to have been awarded the “Cru Classé” designation in Provence, which it turns out is the only French wine region besides Bordeaux to have a classification/ranking system tied to producers as opposed to vineyards.  The “Cru Classé” was conceptualized in 1947 by some of the longstanding wineries in the area, who commissioned a series of experts to research the winemaking chops and history of the local producers and create a listing of the best of the best.  They did so in 1955, and of the original 14 Bregançon made the cut and was therefore immortalized as elite (because once you’re named Cru Classé, you can’t be un-named).  Sadly, the designation doesn’t appear on the Vinebox vial, but I know it’s there in spirit.

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I had difficulty locating any information at all about this 2015 Bregançon Cotes de Provence, but based on the reds currently listed on their website, it’s a good bet that this one contains healthy proportions of both Syrah and Mourvedre, two of Provence’s principal red varieties (the others being Cinsault, Grenache and the lesser-known Tibouren).  What I can advise with more certainty is that the wine is surprisingly deep and rich in colour, especially after you’re used to yet another pale pink Provençal rose, a hefty ruby-purple that is just shy of opaque.  You can smell it as soon as you crack the bottle, flint and whetstone, blueberry and currant, hot rocks and sauna, flesh blood and ink (the latter set making Syrah seem ever more likely).  Sharply structured, the wine’s most prominent features on the palate are firm scrubby tannins and whiplash acidity, but these are softened and broadened by pure red fruit and violets arranged over this Cru Classé’s iron spine.  A thoroughly impressive Vinebox debut for me – can’t wait to see what the future holds.

90 points








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