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 »

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Wine Review: Pewsey Vale’s Regal Rieslings

16 03 2016

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

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I believe, Eden Valley. I believe.

I’ve talked before about how valuable comparative tastings can be.  Want to understand what Malbec tastes like, or what makes California Cabernet different from the same grape grown in Bordeaux, or what oak aging does to Chardonnay?  Don’t buy one bottle and drink it in isolation; buy two or three, which belong to your target group or establish your desired contrast, and have them together.  In this case my research question was:  how does Australian Riesling age, and what happens to it when it does?  My sample set was about as perfect as you can get:  two Rieslings from a star region (Eden Valley), from the same producer (Riesling expert Pewsey Vale), even from the same VINEYARD, separated only by six years of bottle age and the winery’s Museum Reserve library release program.  The results were phenomenal.

The Pewsey Vale Vineyard in the cool and elevated (and thus strangely named) Eden Valley, located northeast of Adelaide and right beside and above the Shiraz mecca (and actual valley) Barossa Valley, is a specialized Riesling-only shrine, exactly what you would see in the textbook description of a great Riesling site:  cooler climate (brought on in this case by its 500m altitude), poor rocky soils, hilly landscape.  The vineyard is 169 years old and has the distinction of being the very first spot planted to grapes in the area; when it was first planted in 1847, those inaugural vines included a few plantings of Riesling.  After the vineyard fell into disuse and disrepair, subsequent owners recognized its potential and single-planted the whole vineyard to Riesling in the 1960s, using cuttings from those first 19th century Riesling vines to do so.  Today all of Pewsey Vale Vineyard’s plantings have been propagated from those original 1847 vines. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Jim Barry Value Red Showdown

13 01 2016

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

I'm not making up the vertical/horizontal label dichotomy, right?  Totally something thematic there.

I’m not making up the vertical/horizontal label dichotomy, right? Totally something thematic there.

Australian wine is in sort of a weird place right now.  I first got into wine during the Great Shiraz Rush just over a decade ago, when critter wines ran rampant and the overtly ripe, sweet, boozy style and approachable branding of big-name Aussie Shiraz rolled over the global wine scene like a tsunami, spawning copycats galore and creating ripples that are only now just starting to settle.  The behemoth brands at the front of this wave are mostly still around today, and their bold, fruity, slightly concocted style certainly retains its share of popularity with casual drinkers, but the world has moved on to other phenomena and the scene in Australia seems caught in aftermath phase, not wanting to totally abandon what brought it to global prominence but understanding that its long-term prosperity is likely tied to being something more than liquor store filler.  The country is taking steps to avoid being a one-hit wonder, surprisingly churning out some of the best Riesling you’ve never tried, finding cooler pockets for Pinot Noir and (especially in Tasmania) sparkling wine, using its plentitude of remarkably old vines to its advantage, and dialling its Shiraz back a notch or two while still keeping it lush and appealing to New World palates.  It is also finding stronger and more quality-focused expressions of its value wines which are less industrial commodities and more genuine expressions of grape and place.  This is where Jim Barry comes in.

This family-owned producer is now run by second-generation executive winemaker Peter Barry, the son of eponymous founder Jim, who was the first qualified winemaker in South Australia’s Clare Valley, where the winery is based.  Its tailored lineup of wines runs the gamut from dynamite supermarket bargains (see below) to one of Australia’s very best and priciest bottles, The Armagh Shiraz (as experienced by me in one of my favourite tastings ever).  I was first converted to the Jim Barry cause a few years ago when I bought the Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon on a whim because of its circus-tent striping on the neck foil and the cricket player on the main label and was wowed by what I found inside.  I could be wrong, but by its participation in the JB value red duel below, I believe Cover Drive becomes the very first wine in PnP history to be reviewed in three separate vintages, following its write-ups here and here.  Can it hold off a spirited challenge from its neck-striped brother, the Lodge Hill Shiraz?  Let’s find out. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2014 Yalumba Old Bush Vine Grenache

18 09 2015

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

Raise a glass to Grenache!

Raise a glass to Grenache!

This is a bottle of eager-to-ripen Grenache from the scorching Barossa Valley in Australia.  This is a delicate, pretty, dainty, almost ethereal wine.  These sentences are both somehow true.  Happy International Grenache Day, everyone!

Yes, the third Friday of every September is set aside to celebrate the wonders of a grape that is prominent on the world wine scene, yet still strangely underrated, often anonymously doing the heavy lifting in a Rhone-style blend and only occasionally stepping out into the spotlight on its own.  This is my second time toasting the grape in September:  I revelled in the glory of the Okanagan’s first ever Grenache back in 2013.  I appear to have missed this global vinous holiday last year, but am now fully prepared to make up for lost time.

Yalumba is Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, founded 166 years ago in 1849 and still in the family today.  You may know them for their string of top notch value wines (the Y Series Viognier is particularly awesome for what it costs), but they have offerings all across the price spectrum, and their standing and longevity has given them access to the types of fruit sources necessary to put quality in the bottle.  With respect to Grenache in particular, Yalumba owns some of the oldest Grenache vineyards in the Barossa Valley; the fruit sourced for this bottle was planted between 1898 and 1973.  Vines that pre-date your great-grandparents used for a $22 wine!  Yalumba is also the only winery in the Southern Hemisphere to have their own cooperage, so they select and import oak and then toast it to their liking and make their own barrels.  Cool. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Vasse Felix Winemaker’s Dinner @ The Lake House

16 07 2015

Let’s play word association.  I say:  “Australian wine”.  You immediately think — ?  You are probably lying if you don’t say “Shiraz”, and with that comes immediate images of big, lush, ripe, fruity, alcoholic reds, bursting with flavour and spice if lacking slightly in nuance.  The wine scene in Aus is certainly becoming more varied and complex as the years go on, but consumer memory changes slowly and initial impressions run deep.  That’s why one of the first instructions that Virginia Willcock, esteemed winemaker at southwestern Australia’s Vasse Felix winery, gave us about her wines was:  “Don’t call them Australian wines.  They’re not.”  At least not in the preconceived way we all think about them.

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Vasse Felix is located in the Margaret River region, a 3 hour drive south of Perth, which is a city surrounded by, well, nothing.  Willcock calls it “the most isolated wine region in the world”, but what it lacks in proximity it makes up for in a much cooler, more temperate, maritime climate than the rest of the country, a growing season that is often compared to that in Bordeaux, and resulting wines that exhibit finesse, elegance and character, wholly unlike the fruit monsters on which Australia made its international name.  Vasse Felix is the first wine estate founded in Margaret River, established in 1967, and it produced the area’s first Cabernet Sauvignon in 1972.  It continues to specialize in Cabernet, and also in Chardonnay, both classic Margaret River varietals, and it does not produce any other types of wines.  As Willcock says, they elected to be the master of a couple trades instead of a jack of all of them (a lesson that many other New World wineries could be well served in learning). Read the rest of this entry »





Longview Showdown: 2010 Devils Elbow Cabernet Sauvignon vs. 2010 Yakka Shiraz

18 03 2014

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

Cab. Shiraz. The ultimate battle.

Cab. Shiraz. The ultimate battle.

This is the kind of tasting opportunity that wine geeks drool over:  two bottles from the same producer (Longview), same region (Adelaide Hills in Australia), same vintage (2010) and same single vineyard (the aptly named Longview Vineyard), made using the same winemaking techniques (fermentation on skins, 18-20 months aging in French oak), differing only by their grape variety, Cab vs. Shiraz.  The Devils Elbow Cabernet Sauvignon was named after a treacherous hairpin turn in the windy road leading up the hills into Longview Vineyard; the Yakka Shiraz was named after a spiny prehistoric-looking plant that grows in it.  Both red offerings epitomize the New Australia now being unveiled to the wine world:  many recent efforts from Down Under try to sell themselves as a counterpoint to the stereotypical blowsy Aussie fruit bombs of years past, but these wines from Longview take that philosophy absolutely to the hilt, offering up balanced, restrained, nuanced flavours and a take on each grape that is dripping with Old World influence.  The similarities between the two reds are plentiful, but when poured side by side, the differences slowly emerge. Read the rest of this entry »





Tasting In Stereo with North of 9 Fine Wine: 2008 Sister’s Run Shiraz

30 08 2011

My co-conspirator for Tasting In Stereo -- check him out!

Welcome to the inaugural version of Tasting In Stereo!  By far the most incredible thing that’s happened to me since I started up Pop & Pour back in March is that I’ve met or come in contact with a number of inspiring people from across the world of wine — producers, professional critics, retailers, restauranteurs, and especially other bloggers, who churn out quality content week after week fuelled only by their passion for this thing that connects us all.  The amount of well-researched, well-written free wine information available online is astounding, and it makes me want to keep writing to keep pace with the standard that’s been set before me.  One of the people who I’ve been fortunate enough to come to know is Tyler Philp of North of 9 Fine Wine in Ontario.  Tyler is a commercial pilot by day, flying an Airbus for Air Canada while gaining increasing familiarity with wine shops across AC’s route map.  By night he’s a family man and a burgeoning wine connoisseur, studying formally through The Court of Master Sommeliers and running both a formal tasting group based out of Alliston, Ontario and an insightful blog under the North of 9 banner.  He’s located just north of Highway 9 (hence the name) that divides the city of Toronto from the county immediately above it and can be found on Twitter at @TylerOnWine — give him a follow!  Whether you are a regular PnPer or have just stumbled on this post via some strange Google search and are wondering what the heck is going on, I invite you to click one of the links above and give North of 9 a visit.

As I described briefly yesterday, Tasting In Stereo is two wine reviews for the price of one:  Tyler and I have conspired together to pick an inexpensive bottle that’s widely available in both Ontario and Alberta, have popped and poured it separately, and have independently written up tasting notes which will be revealed to each other and to all of you in two posts that will be published simultaneously — this one, and its counterpart on northof9finewine.blogspot.com.  Once you’ve made your way through this review, you should definitely check and see if the North of 9 review is more or less flattering and then leave us a comment to let us know what you think about the format and the wine!  If all goes well and our mutual reviews don’t lead to some sort of virtual fistfight, hopefully this will become a semi-recurring PnP/Nof9 feature. Read the rest of this entry »