Wine Review: Winter Warmers, Part 1

23 02 2018

By Dan Steeves

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

The end of February is slowly approaching and we are less than a month away from the first day of spring. That means warmer weather is in our sights and we soon won’t have to deal with any more snow, right? That might be wishful thinking, but we can certainly hope it is the case! Until that warmer weather shows up and takes permanent residency in the prairies, we will need to keep staying warm and spending our evenings huddled around the fireplace with a nice glass of full-bodied red wine. Although I personally drink all types of wines all throughout the year (nobody should deprive themselves of rosé for months on end), there is no doubt that I enjoy more red wines over the cooler winter months, not only for the warming effects of a 15% ABV Cabernet Sauvignon, but also because we tend to eat more hearty full-flavoured comfort foods during this time and less light and refreshing fare.

To get you through the next month until you start seeing green on the ground, we have reviewed a few robust red wines that will be great at keeping you warm and satisfied until the spring flowers start blooming. We kick off this two-part series with reviews of great value reds from two regions known for their big red wines:  Bordeaux, France and the Colchagua Valley, Chile.

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KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 6

6 12 2016

Tonight’s whisky is of interest for a number of reasons.  It’s the first blended whisky in the 2016 calendar (quick refresher:  a single malt whisky is one made from malted barley from a single distillery; a blended whisky is one made from a blend of malt whisky and grain whisky from multiple distilleries).  It’s by far the cheapest of the offerings to date, at $60.  And it comes from the garagiste negociant of the scotch world, Compass Box, a producer that doesn’t own a distillery or make its own whisky, but instead sources both selected whiskies from top distilleries AND selected oak barrels from top cooperages, then creates custom whisky blends that it runs through its own bespoke wood program.  Since single malt whiskies get the Bordeaux/Burgundy treatment in the whisky world while blended whiskies are lucky to get the Languedoc-Roussillon treatment, there can be obscene value to be found in an artisan blender who cares enough to do things right.  Compass Box not only brings the quality and the interest factor that is often missing from the bigger blends, but it also pushes the envelope on everything from whisky transparency rules (more on that below) to labelling, where they laughably outstrip anyone else in the UK.  Check out this bad boy:


Photo Credit:  The Whisky Exchange.  Pure artistry.

That’s what I’m talking about, although it’s not the bottle on tap tonight.  Instead we were treated to the other half of Compass Box’s entry-level Great King St. line:  in Day 9 last year we had the peated Great King Glasgow Blend, whereas this year we have the unpeated Artist’s Blend, a mixture of four different whiskies from four different distilleries, first aged separately and then combined for a secondary maturation in Compass Box’s own French oak barrels.  Most blends would give you absolutely no information about the identity and makeup of the underlying whiskies in the bottle; Compass Box gives you as much information as it possibly can.  The four whiskies are:

  • 46% Girvan, a Lowland grain whisky matured in American Bourbon casks
  • 29% Clynelish, a Highland single malt matured in American Bourbon casks
  • 17% a mystery Highland single malt matured in new French oak
  • 8% Teaninich, a Speyside malt matured in sherry butts

How cool is that?  One thing Compass Box is not legally permitted to do is reveal the ages of the various component whiskies, which for some arcane reason cannot be done except in response to a direct inquiry.  So they did the next best thing and actually put an automatic request button on the Artist’s Blend website where you can get the info via email.  Naturally I had to make a request, and when I did the mystery was solved via instantaneous mail arrival in my inbox.  I’m not supposed to publish the results of the inquiry, so click the link above and go do it yourself – the components may be further along than you think!


The Artist’s Blend was certainly paler, fresher and cleaner than its peated cousin, sort of making me want to do some housekeeping with aromas of Mr. Clean, tonic water, Honey Lemon Halls and wet quartz.  However, my attention was then drawn away from my kid-encrusted home by a jolt of verve and energy on the palate, where vanilla, woodsmoke and gingery spice wrapped around a centre of citrus-infused Bourbon (a tasting note I wrote before finding out about the 75% Bourbon cask aging this went through, by the way).  It’s a touch straightforward but plenty delicious for its minuscule price tag.  If you want a house whisky, this is calling your name.

Calgary Wine Life: Thomas Perrin Beaucastel Component Tasting

23 02 2016

FullSizeRender-242I’m having myself a bit of a tasting month here.  A week after sitting down to some incredible 50, 51 and 52 year old Taylor Fladgate Ports, I was treated to one of the most memorable experiences of my wine life:  a chance to taste through the individual varietal component wines of the unparalleled Chateau de Beaucastel with proprietor Thomas Perrin, the first time such a tasting had ever been held in Alberta.  Beaucastel is the legendary estate of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the top region in France’s Southern Rhone Valley and the first area declared to be an Appellation d’Origine Controllee (AOC – now Appellation d’Origine Protegee, or AOP) in 1936, known for producing rich, dense and complex reds and whites of remarkable quality and longevity.  The Perrin family has owned Beaucastel for over 100 years, having purchased it shortly after most of the vineyards were ravaged by the phylloxera louse and just before the scourge of World War I. Two wars, 100 hectares and five generations later, Thomas Perrin and his family members carry on the legacy of the Chateau and the Perrin name.

Beaucastel’s winemaking philosophy was created and entrenched largely by Thomas’ grandfather Jacques Perrin, whose name graces the estate’s top wine, Hommage a Jacques Perrin, released only in top years.  The elder Perrin converted the entire estate to organic viticulture back in 1962, when almost nobody would even have known what that meant and the prevailing wisdom pushed hard the opposite way, toward the increased use of vineyard chemicals and pesticides.  Chateauneuf-du-Pape permits the use of an astounding 13 different grape varietals, 14 if you count the white version of Grenache (reds – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Counoise, Terret Noir, Muscardin, Vaccarese; whites – Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Clairette, Picpoul, Bourboulenc, Picardin), which is way more than your standard high-end rigid French appellation; Beaucastel makes a special point of using them all, white and red, in every vintage of its CNDP release.  They plant, harvest, vinify and mature each varietal separately, as each has a different growth curve and ripeness window, but in all cases they aim to tell the harmonious story of grape, soil, climate and region, of terroir, in their wines.


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Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 9

9 12 2015

Compass Box!!  I was quite excited to pop open door #9 and find one of my favourite value plays staring back at me.  This blended scotch whisky clocks in at a scant $53, making it the cheapest bottle in this year’s Advent lineup to date by a wide margin, yet it has the substance and dexterity to become the weeknight warrior whisky of your dreams.  Don’t like blends, you say?  Get over yourself.  Our collective manic obsession over single malts (whiskies made only from malted barley made from a single distillery) has turned well-made blended whiskies (made from a mix of malted barley whisky and grain whisky from multiple distilleries) into the prime values of the spirit world, and Compass Box does blends up right.  CB is a boutique blender that obtains spirits from a variety of top distilleries and crafts its own distinctive lineup of bottlings, known to me for sporting some of the best labels in the industry.  This bottle, the Glasgow Blend from their Great King St. line of whiskies, uses a high proportion of malt whisky and ages all of the grain whisky it uses in first-fill American oak barrels, which beefs up the body of the grain spirit and adds fullness and sweetness to it.  I defy anyone to try this and say that it deserves to be priced at half the cost of an equivalent single malt.


The Glasgow Blend is a peated and sherry cask-aged scotch, but each of these potentially powerful flavour influences is held carefully in check.  There is brine (sherry) and iodine (peat) on the nose, but as supporting players to an otherwise bright and friendly aroma set of beeswax, baked apple, golden raisin, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and maple walnut.  Smooth yet zesty, it livens up the tongue with sweet honeycomb and lemon meringue balanced by ocean spray and a smoky, burnt-wax note like blown out birthday candles.  The sweetness lingers on the finish along with a subtle warmth from the 43% alcohol.  This isn’t the most complex and esoteric whisky on the market and it isn’t trying to be, but it is a highly satisfying dram, carefully made, and it costs a shade over $50.  Sign me up.

Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 3

3 12 2015

Third day of the calendar, second whisky I have never heard of, first blended malt.  You may remember from yesterday that a single malt scotch means one whose component spirits have been distilled in a single distillery; it may therefore not come as a surprise to learn that blended whiskies are those whose component spirits hail from different distilleries and are blended together.  Blended malt whiskies are blends whose components are entirely whiskies made from malted barley as opposed to other grains and are generally seen (not always rightly) as superior to “blended whiskies”, which can be a mix of malt and grain whisky.  Phew.  Some producers, like tonight’s, don’t make their own spirits at all, but instead act sort of like wine negociants, sourcing whiskies made from various distilleries and then using them to create and bottle their own custom blends.  As whiskies seem to transfer and flow across producers much more often in the scotch world than in the wine world, this is neither a bad nor an uncommon idea, and many of these blending specialists create killer drams at highly reasonable prices.  A bottle of the Wemyss (pronounced “Weems”) Malts The Hive 12 Year Blended Malt Scotch Whisky will set you back $77 at KWM; not too shabby for a scotch of that age.


Wemyss Malts have a trio of blended malts in their profile which they have set up to meet three different flavour profiles:  Spicy, Peaty, and Honeyed.  Guess which one The Hive is meant to represent?  The bee on the label pretty much says it all.  Yes, this is the Honeyed Malt, made from a variety of malts from Speyside, and apart from a questionable dalliance with sherry casks (who tastes sherry and thinks “honey”?), it accomplishes its flavour mission fairly well.  It is a gorgeously dark, burnished amber colour and smells immediately of honeycomb (natch, though I swear I wrote that note before reading about the whole Honeyed Malt thing), salt lick, Brie cheese (thanks, sherry) and cedar, with a hint of leafiness on the fringes.  Despite being by far the lowest abv whisky in the calendar so far at 40% the alcohol flares almost immediately on the palate, somewhat obscuring the viscous, almost oily texture and sweet flavours of the scotch; I’m not sure why it can’t keep itself in check better or if the balance is off somehow.  Once you get past the boozy heat there’s a pleasing confectionary array of maple, butterscotch ripple, cream soda and, yes, honey, with layers of celery salt, mesquite and tree bark lurking underneath.  It’s unquestionably tasty, but due to its inability to successfully harness the lowest alcohol level you will commonly see in a whisky, I have to think it’s a bit of a step down in quality from the last two days.  Rocking label though.

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 19

19 12 2014

With a scant five days left until the last calendar door swings open, we’re setting a new age record today with a whisky whose name is about as hilariously British as they come:  The Antiquary 21 Year Rare Old Blend.  (And Scotland:  you voted to stay in the UK, so you can’t get mad at me when I say “British”.)  The Antiquary is a sub-label of the Tomatin distillery which was featured here back on Day 12 — if you start researching scotch you’ll realize just how much a seeming multiplicity of brands and labels are consolidated under a very limited number of owners.

Did Jane Austen come up with this name?

Did Jane Austen come up with this name?

“Rare Old Blend” is an accurate description for this calendar, as I believe this is is just the 4th blend out of 18 scotch whiskies so far; it’s a single malt world out there in terms of consumer demand, although high-quality blends are probably the place to look for near-equal character and complexity at a way better price.  This 21 year old blend comes in at $115, extremely reasonable for a whisky of that age.  It’s a mixture of whiskies from all over Scotland, primarily Speyside and Highland but with a “splash” of Islay and Lowland scotch thrown in.  Campbeltown apparently failed to make the cut. Read the rest of this entry »

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