KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 25

25 12 2017

Merry Christmas!  I am NOT blogging tomorrow.

49 different reviews, covering two totally different types of drinks and written by 4 different people, have now been posted on this site in the month of December.  It has been the most Herculean effort in the history of Pop & Pour and I’m unabashedly thrilled to be at the other end of it, but as these things always are, it has also been rewarding without measure.  It’s been a new experience to blog with others and share this space with alternate viewpoints and different frames of tasting reference, but to also be able to share what goes into getting something down on paper and then up on the site has felt like a weight off my shoulders, and when those other authors contribute as consistently and impressively as Tyler Derksen has, the burden lifts even further.  Massive thanks to Tyler for a killer blogging debut.

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Our Christmas reward.

I usually round off the KWM Whisky Advent experience with two things:  a heartfelt kudos to Andrew Ferguson and the Kensington Wine Market team for somehow making this remain fresh and interesting year after year, and the list of my top whiskies of the calendar.  I emphasize the first even more than usual this year, because the breadth and diversity of whiskies in 2017 surpassed any previous year I’ve tasted through, lacking only (IMO) something from Japan to round out the lineup – maybe next year?  I may de-emphasize the second this time around, because my whisky podium for this calendar ended up decidedly weird.  But I’m sticking with it, because that’s what you do with traditions.  Here goes.

  • Best Value Dram:  Glengoyne 15 Year (Day 21) — An utterly delicious 15 Year Single Malt Scotch, from a distillery that once invaded Islay as a marketing ploy, for $77?  In.
  • Honourable Mention:  Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 2004 Caol Ila (Day 5) — Tyler gave the most props to this out of his lineup of whiskies, and Caol Ila is one of both of our favourite distilleries, somehow managing to balance Islay peat and surrounding flavour just right time and again.
  • Honourable Mention 2:  Ardbeg Corryvreckan (Day 18) — Look.  I may have been in an apocalyptic mood while drinking this whisky; it may also be that this whisky inevitably puts anyone drinking it in an apocalyptic mood.  Ardbeg is decidedly not my thing, but a week later I can objectively recognize that this was the most layered, Ardbeg-est Ardbeg I have come across.  I will never buy it.
  • 3rd Place:  Cadenhead’s Dailuaine-Glenlivet 12 Year (Day 1) — This was as rugged and rustic as a lumberjack living on the beach, but there was something gripping and honest about it that I still remember 24 days later.
  • 2nd Place:  Hyde 1938 No. 6 Black Label Special Reserve (Day 6) — The best Irish whiskey I’ve ever had?  Almost assuredly.  Hyde keeps impressing calendar after calendar, and this was the most complex and noteworthy thing I’ve had from them.
  • 1st Place:  Shelter Point Artisanal Single Malt Whisky (Day 11) — OK, I’m seriously not trying to make this a Whisky Bible/Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye thing, and I’m not sure I would say that, if I blind-tasted all 24 calendar whiskies side-by-side, I would rate this as objectively the best one.  BUT:  without a shadow of a doubt, it incinerated my expectations far more than anything else I tasted in December, possibly in all of 2017.  Since Day 11 ended, I have gone back to KWM to buy more Shelter Point because it opened my eyes to the promise of Canadian whisky to such a degree.  And that is why it is my winner for 2017.

If you vehemently disagree with the above, just remember that I have no real qualification or standing to be evaluating whiskies.  Let me know what your top 3 was for #KWMWhiskyAdvent 2017! Read the rest of this entry »

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 24

24 12 2017

Well, the children are tucked all snug in their beds — not sleeping yet, of course, as that would be asking for a miracle — so the time has come to close the curtain on a riotously fun Wine Advent experience and give some kudos to the bottles and people that made it all happen.  The first thank you obviously goes to the remarkable team at Bricks Wine Company, who eagerly took on this half-bottle Advent challenge and then went all out foraging through a not-all-that-overflowing 375 mL market to put together 24 quality bottles reflective of their identity as a shop and their value proposition to their customers.  Way to go — all of your effort clearly showed through over the course of this month.  I would also be remiss not to thank my ultra-awesome co-collaborators Dan Steeves and Ray Lamontagne for their blogging prowess and oh-so-necessary assistance that allowed PnP to forge through two parallel booze Advent calendars at the same time. I’m hoping this won’t be the last time you see their work on this page.

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As for the bottles that shone brightest, I asked each Wine Advent writer to give me their thoughts about their 3 favourite wines of the 2017 calendar and separately made up my own podium of winners for comparison purposes.  There was a lot of jostling in the silver and bronze spots, but the gold medallist was a runaway unanimous victor:

Ray Lamontagne’s Top 3 Wines

1.  2011 Raventos i Blanc “De La Finca” (Day 12):  Buzzsaw acidity is the lens through which all that spiced sourdough and fruit is focused.

2.  2015 Frog’s Leap Zinfandel (Day 15):  A down-home BBQ in a bramble patch.

3.  2010 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant (Day 22):  Peppered blueberries baked into a gingersnap, this can hover by anytime.

DARK HORSE – 2014 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Rouge (Day 20):  Oh look, another Pinot from…Sancerre??  Don’t injure yourself on all those stony outcroppings.

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Dan Steeves’ Top 3 Wines

1.  2011 Raventos i Blanc “De La Finca” (Day 12):  Beautiful acidity with complex layered nutty and toffee flavours with an exceptional finish.

2.  2015 Gruber Roschitz Chardonnay TBA (Day 23):  Great balance for being lusciously sweet, with mouthwatering acidity and an incredibly long and lingering finish.

3.  2015 Schug Carneros Pinot Noir (Day 13):  Beautiful fruits with powerful structural elements that showcases the value that New World Pinot Noir can offer.

DARK HORSE – 2012 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino (Day 2):  The later wines are fresher in my memory, but this was a beautiful bottle.

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Cork Rating:  7/10 (Score bumped by the awesome shade of blue on the metal cap.)

My Top 3 Wines

1.  2011 Raventos i Blanc “De La Finca” (Day 12):  Just a clear notch above the rest in terms of complexity, structure, power and soul.  A true emotive experience.

2.  2015 Krutzler Eisenberg Reserve Blaufränkisch (Day 14):  So effortlessly refined, luxurious yet precise, an eye-opening reason why you should all be drinking more Blaufränkisch.

3.  2015 Stuhlmuller Vineyards Chardonnay (Day 21):  California Chardonnay is largely responsible for giving itself its own reputation for blowsy, overoaked, overripe, overblown wines, but bottles like this show why everyone made such a fuss about it in the first place.

DARK HORSE – 2016 Bella Sparkling Rose “Westbank” (Day 1):  This showed me something that I hadn’t yet seen in Canadian wine; I can still vividly picture its live-wire energy.  It was our first bottle and I remember it more than most of the others.

The fact that three generally like-minded wine lovers picked nine completely different wines to round out their podiums after all zeroing in on the same winner gives you some indication of the overall quality of the wines in this calendar.  The diversity of great bottles in this 24-day span has been phenomenal.

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Merry Christmas from my family to yours!!

There’s not much time or space left to talk about bottle #24, which was the De Venoge Cordon Bleu Brut Select NV Champagne, an appropriately celebratory finish on the night before Christmas.  That ends up being a blessing in disguise, as my bottle was not showing I expect it should have.  It was a VERY dark gold coming out of the bottle and had almost no mousse or carbonation to speak of, smelling heavily of dulce de leche, Kraft caramels and hot sandpaper and tasting flat and roasted and bitter, like coffee left too long on the burner.  Blowtorched black jellybeans, soggy parchment and molasses rounded out a Guinness-like flavour profile.  If I had to guess, I would say this cork didn’t sufficiently hold its seal as the wine sat for some time after bottling but before sale; it’s not as ragingly faulted as my unlucky Brunello on Day 2, but since I highly doubt it’s in condition, I’m not going to score it.  I will instead set it aside and remember the other remarkable bottles that I enjoyed so much, and hope that we’ll get to do it all again next year.  Until then, thanks for following along!





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 21

21 12 2017

This is my second last wine post of Advent 2017:  the coming two days will see Dan and Ray post their Bricks calendar wrap-ups, and the next time you hear from me will be on Christmas Eve, for the grand half-bottle Advent finale.  It’s almost hard to believe our countdown to Christmas is almost done; it’s almost harder to believe that I actually survived it (though perhaps I shouldn’t say that yet).  And Bricks appears determined to send me off in style, because Day 21’s wrapping comes off to reveal an absolute firecracker of a Chardonnay:  the 2015 Stuhlmuller Vineyards from Sonoma’s Alexander Valley.  I think this grape is still in a down phase when it comes to much of the consumer world, but we seem to be entering a period where many of the regions previously responsible for Chard’s worst oaky boozy excesses have started to dial it in just right, at least on the quality wine side of the spectrum.  And there is no better representative of this evolution than California.

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Stuhlmuller Vineyards was founded by a husband and wife team who got their start in 1982 growing and supplying grapes to neighbouring wineries.  They didn’t become a full-fledged estate winery until 2000 but have already developed a reputation in the crowded California wine scene, particularly for Chardonnay, which makes up over half of its acreage.  The Alexander Valley is in the northeast corner of Sonoma, inland from the coast and due north of the better-known Russian River Ralley; its eponymous Russian River runs up and along the eastern edge of Stuhlmuller’s vineyards in Alexander’s southwest corner, where it and the Russian River Valley come together with Dry Creek Valley.  Much like Napa, the grape-growing conditions in the Alexander Valley are helped by two separate ocean-induced effects:  morning fog coursing in daily through the Chalk Hill gap, and cool nights spurred by ocean breezes, both of which provide the grapes relief from the scorching California heat, help preserve precious acidity and lead to more balanced ripening.  This bottle shows the results of all that climatic effort, clocking in at 13.9% abv.

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Cork Rating:  3/10 (Friendly advice – no phone numbers or websites on corks. This has both.)

This is Stuhlmuller’s “entry-level” Chardonnay, but it’s clear from the start that no shortage of care went into its creation.  It was fermented sur lie (on its spent yeast cells) over 8 months and matured in French oak, mostly small-barrel barriques but only 5% new.  It is a rich golden colour in the glass and finds that perfect harmony between Chardonnay’s careful fruit and oak’s at-times exuberant influence, mixing fresh pear, peach and Granny Smith apple pie with ginger chews, almond shortbread, oatmeal cookies and rubber boots.  Simultaneously full and cutting on the palate, the Stuhlmuller’s oak-aided roundness is run through with a table saw of slicing acidity.  It is beautifully poised on the tongue without losing the weight and body that is a defining feature of Chardonnay, a honeyed swirl of caramel apple, white flowers and a bracing quality on the finish like a cool sea breeze.  Refined and restrained but still California in essence — exactly what New World Chardonnay should be.

92 points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 20

20 12 2017

When the days hit double digits starting in 2s, I know our calendar work is almost done.  I’m not going to lie:  I’m ready not to be writing tasting notes and blogging on a daily basis, at least for a little bit.  But then I unwrap a bit of an Advent mystery and find myself sucked in all over again, pulled once more into the insatiable curiosity that goes with loving wine.  This time it came from revealing a bottle bolding displaying “Sancerre”, likely THE Old World heartland of Sauvignon Blanc and a renowned white region in France’s eastern Loire Valley…but then noticing things that seemed off.  Did it seem kind of dark inside?  Is that a maroon neck foil?  Wait – does that say Sancerre ROUGE?  (Granted, I have already had a white wine in this calendar say that it was a red wine by mistake, but this bottle actually IS one.)

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It turns out that red wine makes up close to 20% of Sancerre’s yearly production, all of which is required by appellation rules to be 100% Pinot Noir.  And there is perhaps no estate in Sancerre that takes its reds more seriously than Domaine Vacheron, which plants 11 hectares of Pinot alongside 34 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc and doesn’t treat it like an afterthought in the cellar.  The Domaine is now in its fourth generation of family ownership and has revamped all of its vineyard practices in the hands of the two young cousins who now direct its operations, Jean-Laurent and Jean-Dominique Vacheron.  They converted the estate to biodynamics in the early 2000s and now only fertilize the chalk and silex soils with composts made on the property, harvest by hand, ferment using only native yeasts and bottle according to the lunar cycle.  Their Pinot Noirs are partly matured in stainless steel tanks to preserve their fruit and partly in large neutral barrels for oxidative effect without oak flavours.

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Cork Rating:  2.5/10 (Not only is it boring as sin, it doesn’t do that great a job at its primary function of holding in liquid.)

This is my first ever bottle of Vacheron, the 2014 Sancerre Rouge, from a property that is almost at the literal centre of France.  I was a little leery from the outset as the cork came out of the bottle completely sodden and squeaky, but the wine inside seemed to bear no ill effects.  It was a fully transparent ruby in the glass and emitted a distinctive and attention-grabbing set of aromas:  beyond the more expected Pinot smells of cranberry, underripe raspberry and violets, there is a pronounced vegetal greenness (dill/pickles; Ray says nettles), a tangy citric bite (tangerine, gooseberry) and a base industrial rockiness (flint, car tire skid marks) that differs markedly from your run-of-the-mill Old World Pinot earthiness.  The palate adds salted watermelon, pomegranate, lava dust and crushed roses on a light, deft body structured mainly by prominent papery tannins.  This is a compelling mirror of its rocky soil and a suggestion that Pinot has the potential to ascend from its eternal Sancerre understudy status.

88- points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 18

18 12 2017

For those few brave stragglers who have stuck with us through this dual Advent adventure, we are three-quarters of the way there.  This is the last wine of the third of four columns of the Bricks Wine Advent crate:  we are a week from Christmas and six wines from having to pick our own bottles again for dinner.  Tonight’s bottle is a bit of a double-take wine, a Canadian split that is five years back-vintage for an offering that currently retails for around $20 for a full bottle (out east, at least).  It’s not often that I get a chance to see how value-priced local wines stand up to a bit of time, though I would love to hear the story of how Bricks came across this as a calendar opportunity.

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“This” is the 2012 Cave Spring Chardonnay from the Niagara Escarpment region.  The winery was the first to plant vinifera grapes in Niagara and among the first to recognize the vinous potential of the region.  It was also the first in Niagara to tack on its own spa as a tourist attraction, making it an early leader at recognizing the area’s business potential as well.  The Niagara Escarpment line of wines represents the second of four tiers of Cave Spring wines, where grapes are sourced from multiple different vineyards within the subregion; the most interesting part of this wine is that it appears to be a blend of standard Chardonnay grapes with Chardonnay Musqué, an aromatic, floral, spicy mutation of the varietal that adds some olfactory punch to what can otherwise be a fairly neutral grape.

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RED wine???

One thing about half-bottles is that they accelerate a wine’s aging curve, because (1) oxygen is the primary thing that matures (and ultimately degrades) a wine and (2) there is a greater ratio of oxygen to wine in a 375 mL split because the ullage (the space between the wine and the cork at the top of the bottle) is the same for all sizes of wine.  This 2012 is therefore further advanced in its life than a standard bottle would likely be, and it’s starting to show.  The wine is a shimmering lemon-gold colour in the glass and showcases its multi-clone blend in a musky, tutti-frutti nose of honeydew, Meyer lemon and cantaloupe, accented by remnants of once-toasty oak and sulphur-y struck matches.  Medium-bodied, with still-present scruffy barrel tannin and fading acidity, this Chardonnay is not quite sure where it is on the palate:  the fruit has kind of gone to a murky place, the oak has resolved to a pastry crust/vanillin glaze, and the wine overall seems to have one foot each in two different stages of development, clinging to the remains of its youth while also giving in to the inevitability of age.  I think it likely would have stood out more a couple of years ago, but it remains a solid expression of what Niagara Chardonnay can do at a wallet-friendly price.

87+ points

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Steven Rating:  6/10 (Dig the colour, but there’s only so high I can go with two underlined letters.)





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 18

18 12 2017

The world has ceased to be.  Welcome to oblivion.

That is some approximation of what I felt when I cracked tonight’s calendar door after this particular day and saw Ardbeg Corryvreckan staring me back in the face.  Between and early and constantly stressful workday and other obligations, I was ready for a friendly Labrador retriever of an Irish whiskey or something fun from some other new wacky whisky nation.  Instead I got the Mordor of Scotch whisky, from the producer most commonly associated with near-merciless peat levels in its bottlings.  Before levels of peating in whisky became something people tried to top each other at for no reason (looking at you, Octomore and Supernova, the latter of which is, to no one’s surprise, an Ardbeg), this distillery was probably known as THE foremost purveyor of peat, with most of its offerings featuring 55 ppm of peat phenols, the highest in the calendar to date.

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Nothing means anything.

This particular bottle of Ardbeg, the weirdly named (they’re all weirdly named) Corryvreckan, gets its moniker from a famous whirlpool located just north of the Scottish island of Islay from which this derives.  Even this whisky’s NAME is sliding off into the abyss on the label (welcome to oblivion), in honour of both the marine landmark and my current mood.  Before this gets too depressing, I should point out that the Corryvreckan is actually one seriously decorated whisky:  it was named World’s Best Single Malt (!!) at the World Whisky Awards in 2010 and has received a swath of other critical accolades.  A quick Google search results in much gushing about this French oak-matured monster, which retails for a relatively tame $120 given the buzz around it.

This is like drinking a junkyard:  my first aromatic notes were old rubber hoses, car tires, motor oil, shoe polish, kerosene and leather on fire, plus this weird melting-plastic offgas vibe at the start of every sniff that hammers home the whisky’s identity.  Ardbeg is rugged, fiercely peated, fiercely Islay whisky, and the Corryvreckan shies away from none of that.  There is a sweetness to the back of the palate, an apple cobbler and poached pear pleasantry, but that’s then almost immediately sacked and pillaged by industrial malaise and every conceivable sensory experience arising out of an old factory falling apart while still operating, with a finish like eating still-red fire pit ashes.  Welcome to oblivion.





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 15

15 12 2017

Tonight’s wine might suffer from a disconnect between actual and anticipated identity.  When the first words you note on a label are “California Viognier” and the listed alcohol clocks in above 14%, you think you’re in for a fun, flouncy, slightly provocative stone fruit and flower party.  When the label in question is from an Oakville winery, based in the heart of Napa, which is the heart of big, brash, Cali wine, you doubly brace yourself in anticipation of something raucous.  This bottle is solidly drinkable but has none of that carefree, sultry attitude.  It’s Viognier without joy.

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Miner Family Winery was founded by a husband and wine team in 1996, making this 2015 Miner California Viognier their 20th anniversary vintage bottling.  They make an astonishing array of wines, from Cab and the other Bordeaux varietals to Burgundy’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to the reds and whites of the Rhone Valley to Tempranillo and Sangiovese.  There are multiple bottlings of most of these, so their winemaker obviously stays busy.  The winery’s pride and joy is likely its 20,000 square feet of underground cellaring caves carved into a Napa rock face, which were dug at great expense shortly after Miner came to be.  Despite being Napa-based, they source from across the state of California, as evidenced by the straight “California” designation on this particular bottle.  62% of this Viognier comes from a single vineyard in Paso Robles, while the other 38% comes from the Sierra Foothills; since the wine crosses appellations, it has no choice but to revert to the broader state-wide statement of origin on the label.

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Stelvin Rating:  8/10 (Love the gold, love the sun god logo, love the interest yet simplicity.)

The 2015 Viognier is a surprisingly pale lemon colour coming out of the bottle, partly due to the lack of any oak treatment (which deepens the colour of white wines).  It is almost shockingly lean and citric for a 14+% abv California Viognier, leading with lemon zest and mountain stream aromas backed by frozen honeycomb, Tums and talcum powder.  It broadens slightly in waxy, watery ways on the tongue, adding tart pear fruit and some kind of tropical musk, but retaining an overall sense of distance and a prevailing greenness — fresh leaves and flower stems, grass and baby spinach — finishing with a touch of astringency.  Viognier’s trademark bouncy peachiness and sensual mouthfeel don’t make an appearance, almost like these grapes were picked before those elements got there (harvest dates: August 19th-27th); despite significant sugar ripeness, the phenolics and ultimate character of the wine never quite caught up.  I had no issue crushing the bottle, but this would not be the expression that Viognier sends with its cover letter to land a job interview.

87- points








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