Wine Review: 2012 Torres Mas La Plana

16 10 2017

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

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Cabernet royalty.

It’s Calgary municipal election night, so my plan was to put off this review until tomorrow.  Then I sat here for 10 minutes biting my fingernails and hitting “refresh” on the election results page on my phone every 60 seconds and realized that (1) the next four years of my civic life weren’t about to reveal themselves anytime soon and (2) I could use some guaranteed good news tonight regardless of political outcome.  And nothing screams “guaranteed good news” like the flagship wine of Miguel Torres, the most consistent larger-production winery I know.

If you have a photographic memory of this blog, you may remember that I have told the story of Mas La Plana once before; if you don’t, you can take solace in the fact that I almost didn’t remember this fact myself.  Nothing about this wine is quite as expected.  It is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Penedes, the heartland of Cava in eastern Spain near Barcelona, an area not remotely known for big red wines but blessed with numerous altitudes and microclimates that allow for pockets of warmth and create opportunity for special sites like the one that birthed this bottle.  It hails from a 29-hectare single vineyard planted before I was born, from Cab vines introduced to Spanish soil between 1964 and 1979 based on cuttings from numerous prior homes, including 1st Growth Bordeaux chateaux.  It looks strangely at home in a Burgundy bottle, unlike any other Cabernet Sauvignon I have seen on a shelf.

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Penedes was the first region in Spain to start using modern winemaking techniques like stainless steel temperature-controlled fermentation, and Torres uses them to great effect here to create a bottle that seamlessly communicates Spain’s history and potential to a global wine world, that imbues the Earth’s most ubiquitously successful commercial grape with the essence of the Torres family’s heartland.  Mas La Plana tells a story that was heard almost immediately, as the wine’s inaugural 1970 vintage beat out Chateau Latour and numerous other luminaries in the Cabernet category of French magazine Gault-Millau‘s 1979 Wine Olympics (which weirdly was the exact same competition that put Oregon Pinot Noir on the world map thanks to Eyrie Vineyards’ stellar showing against the best of Burgundy).  Yet it still retains its humble family roots:  its neck foil reads “Vinetum Paganicus”, a term sometimes used to designate top wines but which to the best of my meagre Latin translation ability appears to simply mean “vineyard of a village”. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wine Review: Buena Vista Social Club

16 08 2017

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

If there was a Most Interesting Man In The World designation for the history of wine, Agoston Haraszthy would be a strong contender for the crown.  I had previously come across his name in a book about the pioneering contributors of the California wine industry and had assumed that he was one of many 19th-century immigrants from Europe to the United States who brought Old World wine knowledge and tradition with him to his new home and helped it propagate.  And he was.  But his tale was anything but rote.

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Haraszthy was born in Hungary to a noble family in 1812, later becoming known by the honorifics “Count” and “Colonel” even though he was technically neither.  He carved his own path throughout his life, stringing together a series of firsts that would be near-impossible to top in this day and age.  He was the first Hungarian to move and settle in the United States; the founder of the oldest village in Wisconsin (and the planter of some of the first grapevines there); the first town marshal and elected sheriff of San Diego; and the founder of the first commercial winery in California (more on that in a bit).  From the time he first arrived in the United States in 1840 to the time he left in 1868, he was at various times a mill owner, an author, a steamboat operator, a butcher, a member of the California State Assembly, and a gold refiner and assayer at the US Mint.

Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





Burrowing Owl Fall Release Set

12 11 2016

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

Burrowing Owl Fall Release Week is quickly becoming one of the highlights of the Pop & Pour blogging calendar.  The winery is highly engaged with consumers and media alike and  is ahead of the game in terms of finding new ways to get its wines into the collective consciousness, and its renown is expanding well beyond its home province of BC as a result.  When the season’s current releases arrive in Calgary around harvest time, I’m ready to do my small part to spread the word.  Bring on the new vintages!

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A glorious Pop & Pour fall tradition.

Burrowing Owl is an Okanagan Valley stalwart, and it’s become such a ubiquitous part of the region that it’s easy to forget the winery is less than 20 years old.  The story started in 1993, when founder Jim Wyse replanted a series of vineyards between Oliver and Osoyoos in the extreme southern Okanagan.  There were no immediate plans to build a winery, but Wyse’s vision expanded once he saw the quality of the new grapes.  Burrowing Owl’s first vintage was 1997, and construction on the gravity-flow winery and massive underground cellar on the property was completed in 1998.

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 Initially focused on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris planted on a single 130-acre site, Burrowing Owl is now up to 14 different planted varietals on 170 acres of estate vineyards in three different sites. It is no accident that the winery is named after the rare underground-nesting owl that was declared extinct in British Columbia in 1980 but is now back on the upswing due to the dedicated conservation efforts of a small group of individuals:  Wyse is one of those individuals, having contributed significant amounts of both time and money to the burrowing owl’s preservation.

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Stelvin Rating: 8/10 (Love the colour, love the side pattern and smoothness; not a huge fan of the top embossing.)

 This year I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to try a sextet of different bottles from the Burrowing Owl 2013 and 2014 vintages, including return engagements with a couple of wines I had in last year’s releases, the Cabernet Sauvignon and the particularly eye-opening Syrah.  Let’s see how the fall 2016 lineup compared, starting with my introduction to one of Burrowing Owl’s founding whites:  Chardonnay.

Read the rest of this entry »





2013 Emiliana Novas Gran Reserva Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon

13 10 2016

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

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Chile: home of Carmenere and inexpensive quality.

If you were starting up a wine venture today and were looking to maintain high quality but stretch your viticultural buck as far as possible, you would almost certainly go to Chile.  While braver souls are now starting to venture to the more extreme climatic and geographical parts of the country in search of cutting-edge lands and the flavour potency and complexity that can come with them, those who stick to Chile’s warm central valley find themselves in something close to a grape-grower’s paradise:  warm, mild, consistent growing seasons, refreshing cooling breezes at night off the surrounding mountains and a relative lack of vineyard pests.  Since the Southern Hemispheric nation is fairly segregated from the rest of the world’s vineyard (with its closest main viticultural neighbour, Argentina, walled off by the Andes), it has managed to keep itself free from the devastating vineyard louse phylloxera, which has ravaged vines almost everywhere else and has required the bulk of the world’s wineries to graft their vines onto resistant North American rootstocks to allow their crops to survive.

What does all that mean from a commercial perspective?  It means that you can have a vineyard with a lot of beneficial, normally highly costly or dangerous features — organic viticulture, no pesticides or herbicides, own-rooted vines — without the associated price tag or risk of crop loss.  That allows you to make bottles like this one, a single-vineyard wine from 25 year-old vines planted on their own rootstocks, farmed organically and then hand-harvested, and then sell it to export markets at a shade over $15 a bottle.  That combination of price and input quality is basically impossible in the majority of the wine world. Read the rest of this entry »





Return of The Mules: Torres Summer Values

12 06 2016

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

It’s been so long since I sat down and wrote a straightforward normal wine review that I’m having trouble remembering how to start one.  Thankfully, I’m aided by an old PnP standby:  if they’re not there already, the Torres family of wines has to be close to the record for largest number of individual write-ups on this site, aided in part by their broad-based dual-continent operation and vast lineup but mostly by their consistent ability to deliver quality and identity for less than you’d expect.  I made the mistake last year of prejudging their “Las Mulas” line of entry-level Chilean wines by its lighthearted name and beast of burden on the label, only to be reminded by the emphatically delicious Las Mulas Rose that Torres takes all its wines seriously.  This year, with the Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Las Mulas brand, I will not make the same error twice.

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The wines for Las Mulas come from Chile’s warm, flat and fertile Central Valley, where the benign climate and the absence of most common vine diseases make it the country’s most productive and most popular grape-growing region.  This can be both a good thing and a bad thing:  obviously getting your crop to ripen without heroic efforts is a benefit, but wine grapes specifically tend to derive much of their flavour concentration and character from having to struggle a bit to grow, and when they’re deprived of that opportunity to strive the results in the glass can be flat and uninteresting.  To combat the Central Valley’s generosity, Torres planted the Las Mulas grapes on nutrient-poor soils and entirely avoided the use of herbicides or pesticides (the vineyard sites are certified organic).  The vineyards are wholly hand-harvested, with nary a machine in sight, making this New World wine done in old school ways…yet somehow still hovering around the $15 CAD mark on the shelf.  Each of the offerings below cleared by (pre-primed) expectations for that price point with ease. 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 »








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