Wine Review: Modern Italian Traditionalists

11 10 2017

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

IMG_6926

Reunited with Italy.

I don’t know why, but before yesterday I hadn’t had a bottle of Italian wine for a long, long time.  I’m not a hater or a New World purist; I have a bunch of Italy in my cellar and rank certain Italian bottles and regions among my favourites in the world.  I’ve just been through a phase where nothing has drawn me to that corner of my wine racks in a number of months…there has always been something more enticing to my senses that has kept the country in the press box.  Well, no more:  in order to restore equilibrium to my wine world and reacquaint myself with one of the two traditional cornerstone nations of viniculture, I cracked a pair of Italian bottles last night and reminded myself of why Italy is viewed so loftily by grape lovers everywhere.

On the surface, the two bottles seemed to have very little in common:  one was playful pink bubbles, while the other was a legacy Chianti crafted to centuries-old founder’s standards.  But both in their own way were asserting their place in the often-calcified lore of Italian wine history.  The pink bubbles hailed from the province of Treviso in northeastern Italy, just north of Venice, the world home of Prosecco; but it couldn’t be called Prosecco by virtue of its hue and its choice to forego the region’s Glera grape (which was previously also called “Prosecco” in an attempt to be as confusing as possible), which took the wine out of the threshold criteria of the Prosecco classification. Even though it was produced by a generations-old Prosecco house, it wasn’t Prosecco, and it was OK with that, ambling on its merry mission to bring joy to those who opened it.  The Chianti was a modern take on a wine made to the recipe of a 19th century legendary figure, the one who first set down what it legally meant for a wine to be a Chianti.  While the first bottle gleefully acknowledged its place on the parallel track from history, the second not only embraced its history but walked in its footsteps.  In their own way, I admire each for their paths taken. Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements




Cellar Direct: Summer Vibes, Part 3

7 09 2017

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

FullSizeRender-723

So different, yet so marvellous.

Well, the leaves in my backyard are starting to turn yellow and fall, and my kids just started a new year of school, so it’s probably a good time to wrap up my multi-part summer saga featuring the always-impressive old school wines of Cellar Direct, an online purveyor of European treasures that it offers up to a list of eager email subscribers and then ships nationwide when weather permits.  I recently had the chance to meet Ron van Schilt, one of the founders and owners of the business and the man in charge of sourcing all of the wines offered up across Canada, and his love and passion for his producers and their creations is physically palpable in every word he speaks.  Serious Wines all, and wondrous finds.

Cellar Direct sent me a six-pack sampler of their prior 2017 offerings at the start of the summer that I have been devouring in twos over the past couple months; to see how Wines #1, 2, 3 and 4 showed, click here then here for the recap (hint:  well, well, well and well).  Time to see if the last duo of bottles follow suit.  Like everything else in this offer set, they hailed from France and were the product of hand-worked soils and low-intervention winemaking, but they had basically nothing else in common.  I started off with a familiar face, and a blast from the past. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Moet & Chandon Winemaker Tasting @ Ruth’s Chris

24 03 2017

As it turns out, there is no inopportune time for Champagne.  Although the bubbly beverage has built its brand on being the drink of choice for special occasions and other times of celebration, it turns out that it’s equally nice to kick back with a glass of fine bubbles on an otherwise-normal Thursday afternoon.  It’s even better to kick back with six of them, which is what I was fortunate enough to do when Moet & Chandon winemaker Amine Ghanem came to town to lead an attentive and appreciative group through a good portion of the Champagne powerhouse’s portfolio.

FullSizeRender-565

Amine Ghanem, Moet & Chandon.

Ghanem is one of 10 winemakers employed by Moet & Chandon in addition to their cellarmaster, or chef de cave, who directs and decides on the ultimate blend for each of the house’s Champagnes.  Moet has been doing its thing for centuries (since 1743, to be exact – Ghanem informed us that the very first bottle of Moet & Chandon Champagne arrived in Canada in 1839, before we were even a country!), and as such has honed its house style to a fine point, with very clear goals as to the characteristics it seeks to draw out in its Champagnes and specific strategies in place to reach them.  The three pillars of the Moet & Chandon style are, in Ghanem’s words:  (1) “bright fruitiness”, which is attained in part by careful non-oxidative winemaking techniques, even to the point where the house has developed a technique for “jetting” oxygen out of the neck of the bottle after disgorgment to avoid degradation during the maturation process; (2) “seductive palate”, with a welcoming, easy-to-drink texture aided by full malolactic fermentation; and (3) “elegant maturity”, achieved largely through extended lees contact pre-disgorgment, for much longer periods than required by law.  These foundational principles must be working, as we were told that there is currently a bottle of Moet being popped somewhere around the world every second.

FullSizeRender-566

In case the ten full-time winemakers on staff wasn’t a tip-off, Moet & Chandon is a massive undertaking.  It is the biggest house in Champagne and the owner of its largest vineyard holdings, amounting to almost 10% of the entire area under vine in the region.  Since 1962, it has even had its own brand of proprietary yeast, which helps accentuate the characteristics that reflect the house style.  Moet’s primary brand is Imperial, so named in recognition of founder Claude Moet’s 18th century friendship with a certain French emperor, none other than Napoleon Bonaparte.  Napoleon visited the winery many times and was a steadfast consumer of Moet Champagnes, and in 1869 the Imperial brand was christened in recognition of the 100th anniversary of his birth.  The Imperial NV blend starts out as 800 different base wines, which are gradually combined into 3 proposed blends (each featuring solid proportions of all three of Champagne’s grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay) before one is selected.  The blending is as much of the artistry as the winemaking itself, and the efforts show in the bottle, which led off our tour-of-Moet tasting. Read the rest of this entry »





Happy NYE 2016: Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV

30 12 2016

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

Quick – what’s the most festive thing you can think of to drink right now, right in the middle of this holiday season?  Champagne?  Close.  Champagne wrapped up like a present, complete with bright red bow, in its own custom bottle cozy?  Bingo.  I have long been a proponent of seasonally packaged wines (as long as they’re done right – when done wrong, they’re not pretty), and the holiday edition of the Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV Champagne nails the Christmas/New Year’s vibe about as well as anything I’ve ever seen in a bottle.  Seriously, just look at this thing, first wrapped up:

fullsizerender-521

Wait for it…

Then unwrapped:

fullsizerender-523

Oh yeah.  So sweet.

YES.  That is so, so clever.  And it’s reusable!  How can you go to a New Year’s party tomorrow and NOT bring this?  And it’s on sale online at the moment at Willow Park in Calgary, and maybe elsewhere, at a price that’s shockingly friendly for true Champagne from a historic house.  Oh, and most importantly, the juice lives up to the packaging.

Read the rest of this entry »





Bargain Bubbles: Prosecco Showdown

7 11 2015

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

Bring on the bubbles!

Bring on the bubbles!

Sparkling wine is instantly celebratory — unless you’re opening two bottles simultaneously, by yourself, at your kitchen table, on a weeknight, like I did.  Even then, the brisk pops of the corks out of the bottles lightened my mood and made my analytical tasting exercise a little more festive.  You almost can’t drink Prosecco and be in a bad mood.

Prosecco is very, very hot right now.  Global sales of this Italian sparkler have increased by double digit percentages every year since 1998 (!), and last year they were up an astonishing 32% (!!) over the year before, five times the sales growth of sparkling wine overall (!!!).  In 2013, global Prosecco sales actually overtook global Champagne sales at over 300 million bottles.  Suffice to say it is on trend, buoyed by its general approachability, fruit-centered flavours and highly attractive price tag.  And yet, before now, Prosecco had never featured on Pop & Pour:

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 8.44.02 PM

So since this is uncharted blog territory, allow me to toss out a bit of a primer before we get into the bubbles themselves.  Prosecco is made in the Veneto and Fruili regions of northeast Italy; the Prosecco DOC quality region actually spans and overlaps most of both.  The wine is named after the village of Prosecco (which may have been its birthplace) near Trieste on Italy’s eastern border at the top of the boot.  Its made primary from a grape that used to also be called Prosecco, but as of 2009 is now known as Glera, primarily to annoy you and make it harder for you to remember it.  Just like all quality sparkling wine, it is created by first making a low-alcohol still base wine and then starting a second fermentation of that wine (by adding extra yeast and unfermented juice to it) in an airtight container, such that the carbon dioxide created as a byproduct of the fermentation cannot escape and becomes trapped in the wine, making it bubbly. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2012 Miguel Torres Santa Digna Brut Estelado Rose

9 02 2015

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

From Chile, with love.

From Chile, with love.

Whatever your opinion is on Valentine’s Day, it has had a highly valuable (and surely unintended) side effect on the wine industry:  for one lone day a year, it has shone the spotlight brightly on pink wine.  Rose wines continue to be misunderstood, undervalued, unfairly derided and almost absurdly underrated, so I will happily sing the praises of any day that brings the world’s attention to them ever so briefly, even if it’s a Hallmark-created one.  And if you’re going to grab a pink wine to celebrate February 14th with your true love (and after all the effort I put into the last two sentences, you’d better), I humbly suggest it should be this one, whose flavours are matched equally by its story…and its price.

Miguel Torres is one of Spain’s largest and best regarded wine empires, still entirely family-run after 5 generations.  Torres brands show up in all of Spain’s top wine regions, but the family is also highly prevalent in Chile, where current CEO Miguel Torres Maczassek lived for three years starting in 2009 to head up operations.  Despite being a European, international company, Torres is passionately devoted to telling a local story with each of its labels, and Torres Maczassek himself has a clear love for Chile that shows through when you talk to him and is reflected in his wines.

Read the rest of this entry »