Wine Review: Winter Warmers, Part 2

27 02 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Red or white? Before wine became a serious subject of study for me, I gravitated towards whites, and not premium quality ones either, a preference that was likely the product of early learning (e.g., that box of German plonk that was a nigh-permanent fixture on the kitchen counter) coupled with an irrational phobia of such mythological creatures as “tannin-induced hangovers”. As it turns out, there is a general trend in humans towards a greater appreciation for bitter flavors and pucker-inducing sensations that comes with age and experience. Years later, I adore red wine while continuing to appreciate characterful whites. At this point the distinction between red versus white is but a minor factor in my choice of which wine to consume at a given point in time, one that can sometimes influence me at the very early stages of decision-making (“is it a red or a white night?”), but that ultimately carries less weight than varietal, region, style, or what’s for dinner. The Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada webpage indicates that at the national level, Canadians prefer red wine to white, with the exception of British Columbia, where whites are more popular. Heedless of the overall trend, many (myself included) continue to associate winter with hearty reds. Without further ado, let’s launch into part 2 of our robust red reviews, following Dan’s introduction from late last week.


2011 Montecillo Rioja Reserva ($18)

Spain has more area under vines than any other country and is the third largest producer of wine in the world. Spanish wine on the whole was considered rather rustic and ragged until a major shift towards improved quality occurred in the mid-20th century, before which time it was not unheard of to dilute the wine with lemonade to increase palatability (!). Rioja remains the best-known area for red wine production in Spain, although recently a few upstart regions have made inroads. Tempranillo is Spain’s top indigenous variety, with plantings doubling across the country over the past decade, and is the dominant grape in almost all Rioja reds. I found a great quote from a top Rioja producer in Benjamin Lewin’s book “Wine: Myths and Reality”: “Everywhere in the world, people want to make wine like Burgundy. But it is not in our history, we have  always blended”. Historically, Rioja’s very warm vineyards resulted in full ripening of any given grape varietal, such that blending was necessary to achieve the desired complexity. In a traditional blend, fruitiness came from Tempranillo, while Garnacha (Grenache) provided more color, body, and alcohol, with relative rarity Graciano providing acid to offset the softness of the other two. This classic blend often yielded wines featuring what Lewin calls “savory, almost animal notes of mature red fruits”. Use of American oak for aging has also led some to conclude that Tempranillo is rather neutral flavor-wise, with vanilla and char notes from oak constituting Rioja’s “true” distinctive flavor profile. Regardless, much Rioja is now made in a soft, fruit-forward style. Some producers have decided to split the difference and offer both traditional and modern bottlings. Read the rest of this entry »


Wine Review: 2010 Kirkland Rutherford Meritage

15 08 2012

Not just wine FROM Costco, wine BY Costco. Too weird.

I had to.  Every time I’ve gone into Costco to grab a bottle or two, my eyes always linger for a moment with morbid curiosity on the various Kirkland bottles for sale.  I can wrap my head around Costco-brand ketchup or Costco-brand paper towel, but I have no idea what to make of Costco-brand wine, particularly since Kirkland (Costco’s proprietary label) keeps spitting out offerings from a vast array of well-to-do regions like Chateauneuf-de-Pape, Champagne, and, as seen here, Napa Valley.  These areas have an established pedigree in the wine world:  this particular bottle comes from Rutherford, arguably Napa’s most prestigious, highest-quality and most expensive sub-region.  Rutherford is a tiny area in the heart of the Valley — when I went to Napa it took about 3 minutes for us to drive from one end of it to the other — and is one of the best places in the world to grow the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, and its name on a label usually signifies that you’re going to be shelling out at least $50-$60 (and often much more) for the privilege of the bottle.  This bottle was $17.  The utter dichotomy in my head between “Rutherford wine” and “produced by Costco” made me have to see what was inside.  One disturbingly inexpensive Napa Cab later, I cracked the Kirkland tonight feeling equal parts anticipation and dread. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2004 Andrew Will Sorella

18 07 2011

I may have let PnP’s 50th wine review pass with a $13 bottle that didn’t quite scream “momentous occasion”, but I wasn’t about to let review #51 similarly slip by without bringing out the big guns.  As a belated “happy 50th”/”I can’t believe I’ve written 30,000+ words about wine for free” gift to self, I went to my current favourite red wine region last night for a special bottle:  the 2004 Andrew Will Sorella red blend from Washington State.  I got this wine for my birthday this year from a couple of very discerning and wine-savvy friends (thanks Tyler and Corey!) and am proud that I actually held out for 2 months before my resolve totally melted away…give me a premium Washington red and my willpower just evaporates.  The current release price for this wine is $75 to $80 a bottle, but I’m guessing a back-vintage bottle like this (the current vintage is 2008) probably pushed $100 or more.  Let’s get to it. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2007 Laughing Stock Portfolio

12 05 2011

Attention-grabbing headline:  This is the best bottle of Canadian red wine I’ve ever had.

Charter member of my Canadian Wine Hall of Fame.

This wine has everything going for it:  great back story, great marketing, great product.  Laughing Stock Vineyards is located in (on?) the Naramata Bench, one of the most prestigious and quality-driven areas of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley wine region.  The winery’s name comes from the fact that its two proprietors both once had successful careers in the financial/investment sector before giving them up to pursue their vinicultural dreams, thus opening themselves up to failure and ridicule if things didn’t go well (note: if you want to win my heart, make your winery name a pun).  Their cleverly-designed bottles reflect their past lives, and they’re not just empty packaging for what’s inside — the juice lives up to the allure of its container. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2006 RedHeads Studio Esule

16 04 2011

Awesome label, domineering wine.

Here we have a wine with a great back story, a fun concept and a kick-ass label, but which is made in a style that just makes me cringe.  It’s from the McLaren Vale, one of the premium wine regions in Australia located immediately south of Adelaide in the dead centre of the country’s southern coast, and it takes the super-ripe, ultra-concentrated Aussie style to crazy, irrational extremes.  It is probably a well-made wine for its style, but I will take a rather harsh stand and say that there shouldn’t BE any wines of this style.

But let’s rewind to the good stuff first.  RedHeads Studio is a garage wine collective located in south-central Australia.  “Garage wine” is a term used to describe high-quality, small-production artisan wines generally made by winemakers who don’t own vineyard land themselves but who buy grapes from growers and make custom wines in small crushing/fermenting facilities.  Some of the first such facilities in Bordeaux, France were actually in garages, which is what coined the term.  RedHeads is home to a number of such custom winemakers, who are often responsible for creating modern, edgy wines. Read the rest of this entry »

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