Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 7

7 12 2019

By Tyler Derksen

As we come to the end of the first week of this year’s Bricks Wine Advent Calendar, I’m thrilled to be able to join Peter and Ray’s blogging efforts.  I think this is my first wine entry on Pop & Pour and following these titans of amateur Calgary wine blogging will be no small feat, but today’s wine is oddly appropriate for the endeavour.  Just as I take inspiration from Peter and Ray and their deep knowledge and passion for wine, so too does today’s wine look to an icon of the French wine world for its own inspiration.  Let’s hope we both do them justice.

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We close of the week with the 2015 Clarendelle Rouge from Bordeaux, which is fitting after Bordeaux was sort of called out by Ray yesterday, who began his discussion of the Starmont Cabernet Sauvignon by reminding us that it was a California Cab that beat out the best that Bordeaux had to offer in the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting.  This may not be the Judgment of Paris, but it will be interesting to see how this red blend from Bordeaux stacks up to last night’s New World offering.

Clarendelle is produced by Clarence Dillon Wines, which is a subsidiary of Domaine Clarence Dillon, a family of wineries that includes the legendary Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion.  Clarendelle was launched in 2005 by the Chairman of the Domaine Clarence Dillon, Prince Robert of Luxembourg (the great-grandson of Clarence Dillon, who purchased Chateau Haut-Brion in 1935), in an effort to create an accessible yet quality wine at an affordable price point, one that does not need to sit in your cellar for years before enjoying.  Clarendelle unabashedly takes its inspiration from the famous Haut-Brion, proclaiming this inspiration proudly on the bottle (if you’re going to find inspiration in a particular wine, you could do far worse that Haut-Brion). Unfortunately for me, I haven’t had the pleasure of drinking Chateau Haut-Brion, so I cannot confirm whether or not Clarendelle was successful in combining the elegant, earthy characteristics for which the vaunted Chateau Haut-Brion is known with the approachable and affordable sensibility that was Clarendelle’s genesis.  That said, I am appreciative of the effort to make a quality Bordeaux wine that does not require me to obtain a second mortgage on my house.

The 2015 Clarendelle Rouge is comprised of 83% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Cabernet Franc.  Clarendelle views 2015 to have been a great vintage, due to ideal weather patterns that year.  A warm spring and hot June and July allowed for full ripening of the grapes, while a more temperate August and September prevented the wine from becoming overripe and jammy, enabling the development of balance and complexity. The grapes were harvested from vineyards in a number of sub-regions in the broader Bordeaux AOC, including St. Emilion, Haut Medoc, and Pessac Leognan with some even coming directly from Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion and Chateau Quintus (the St. Emilion property that comprises part of the Dillon stable).

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Cork Rating: 7/10  (clearly effort was made, even for the half bottles).

I decanted the 2015 Clarendelle for an hour before drinking, at the suggestion of online sources.  In the glass, the wine is a beautiful dark ruby colour.  On the nose, fresh raspberry, vanilla, hot chocolate powder, sage, coriander, unlit cigar leaf, leather book binding, mushroom, and wet dirt intermingle giving this a notably Old-World flair.  The palate was brighter than I expected with notes of raspberry, blackberry, plum skin, dark romaine lettuce (probably from the Cabernet Franc), green bean and a slightly bitter peppery note to finish.  The wine is more bold than elegant and certainly embraces its youthful vigour.  I would be happy to drink this again, perhaps with a nice slow cooker stew.  A fine end to the week!

88+ points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 6

6 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

Oh, California Cab. As one of the world’s benchmark wine styles, victor over Bordeaux in the infamous 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting, this will of course have a place in any wine Advent calendar worth its salt. I also cannot prevent my mind from conjuring up such pejoratives as “overly oaked”, “heavily extracted”, “boozy”, and even “Mega Purple“. I will concede that for many consumers at the time, and many even now, massive size is a virtue. Fortunately a sea change began in the 2000s. A much-needed shift started taking place, from a winemaking culture focused largely on harnessing a technical wine science to yield a consistent product to please the average consumer, towards a “grassroots” middle path where science still matters but is now free to marry more European notions such as restraint, finesse and elegance, and even the notion that reasonable vintage variation can add interest and pleasure to the wine-drinking experience. It is no longer safe to make black and white assumptions about the monolithic nature of Cali Cabernet, and wineries like Starmont have played a key role in this paradigm shift.

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The name Starmont originally graced a bottle of Carneros Chardonnay in 1989. From there the name grew into a full-fledged brand, relocating from its original home with the more established Merryvale brand to the Stanly Ranch property, home to a couple of quality Carneros vineyard sites. Although the wines are no longer produced at a “green” facility built at one of these sites (that facility was sold this year), the commitment to sustainability remains. Although best known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Starmont does not shy away from Merlot or Syrah. There is an interest in seeing how each varietal does in its place, whether said place is the Stanly Ranch itself, the Carneros AVA, or the broader Napa Valley and North Coast AVAs, and this interest in terroir may have something to do with one of the men at the helm.

Starmont winemaker Jeff Crawford was born in Alaska but has managed to become superbly well-travelled, picking up bits and pieces of winemaking knowledge from places as far-flung as Greece. His general approach is to use his travels and reading to cram his brain with as much history, winemaking philosophy, technical acumen, and tasting experiences as possible. His unceasing quest has led to equipment upgrades at the winery, yet Jeff wishes Starmont to remain a “microcosm” of the Carneros region: a source of even-handed, balanced yet structured wines that can still convey some degree of subtlety.

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The 2017 Starmont North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon is bottled under the very broad North Coast AVA appellation, with the grapes hailing from vineyards across the northern part of the state (41% Sonoma, 37% Lake, 13% Napa, 9% Mendocino). The wine is 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petite Syrah, and 8% Merlot. This blending approach renders much of the philosophy behind terroir irrelevant for this particular bottle, unless the concept of site specificity is somehow extended to rather large tracts of land that exist as legal entities rather than embodying bona-fide “climats”. Nevertheless, the goal here was to obtain a mix of sites that reveals restraint in the final execution. Handpicked, hand sorted, and de-stemmed fruit was not crushed at the winery, leaving over 90% of the berries whole. This approach, if you were wondering, can prolong fermentation, as sugar release from the berries is delayed. This gives winemakers more control over the process, and can also enhance fruitiness and yield a more delicate, silky texture in the finished wine. After a cold pre-soak, the wine spends an average of 14 days fermenting on the skins and is then aged for 15 months in a combination of American and French oak (30% new).

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Stelvin Rating: 6/10 (hey, this is a decent Stelvin: vinous colour, nice font.)

This is indeed pretty silky in the mouth, with a supple, velvet-like latticework of tannins reinforcing a rather light-bodied frame. The aromas do tick all the right boxes: blackcurrant (duh!), some cool climate black cherry, even maybe red cherry Nibs, Aero bar, Swiss mocha instant coffee mix, nutmeg, MacIntosh’s toffee, very slight red pepper flake and well-worn cedar plank. The oak notes I am pulling off this are assertive but not overly intrusive. All of the ripe yet fresh fruit is powdered with graphite and waves goodbye with a medium-duration plume of oaked red currant jelly. An efficient, seamless purple elegance, one that you will likely enjoy but that is unlikely to provide total recall a year from now.

88+ points





Yalumba: Introducing Samuel’s Collection, Part II

23 11 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Having already acquainted myself with the first half of Yalumba’s newly compiled seven-wine Samuel’s Collection (and made a mental note to track down the other whites in the Collection beyond the Viognier, as Eden Valley Chardonnay and Roussanne sound glorious), I was eagerly awaiting my turn on the back nine of this reorganized and rebranded assembly of mid-level bottlings, which for the first time let the Barossa’s calling card take centre stage.

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Each of the Yalumba Barossa Shiraz and Barossa Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon previously went by different monikers, aimed towards different audiences just emerging from the critter wine wave:  the former was known as the “Patchwork Shiraz”, while the latter was called “The Scribbler”.  At some point it was rightly decided that a more serious veneer and a highlight of place better suited these focused, linear wines than a kitschy name and the playful marketing that rode the length of the first Aussie wine trend; the outside of the bottle now more accurately reflects the liquid within.  Bring on the Shirazes. Read the rest of this entry »





Volcanic Hills II: Eruptive Reds

13 10 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

The Volcanic Hills story is a charmingly Canadian one.  Founder Sarwan Gidda’s father Mehtab moved to the Okanagan Valley from East Punjab, India in 1958 with his wife and children, becoming the first Indo-Canadian family to settle in West Kelowna.  After a few years, Mehtab and family were some of the most prolific apple farmers in the valley, but from the late 1970s onward, slowly but surely, their agricultural vision began to drift to grapes.  Ray’s excellent introduction to Volcanic Hills Estate Winery outlined how Sarwan took the next step from grape farming to wine production in the 2000s, and how his children are now helping to carry on this burgeoning family legacy.

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Volcanic Hills is largely a grower-producer, making the bulk of its portfolio from its own 68 acres of estate vineyards in the West Kelowna area, carrying on the Gidda family’s initial farming mission.  Not only are all of VH’s Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Zweigelt (yes, Zweigelt) and Marechal Foch (oh yes, Foch) wines made from 100% estate fruit, but all such grapes are own-rooted, planted on their own original rootstocks as opposed to being grafted onto disease- and pest-resistant rootstocks from non-vinifera species, as is the case with the bulk of wine grapes worldwide.  However, while the other two posts in this producer series will focus largely on what Volcanic Hills can do with its own fruit, the four reds below are exceptions to the VH rule and are instead sourced from warmer climes with longer growing seasons which can reliably ripen them.  The Giddas have contracts with other growers in Oliver and Osoyoos from which they obtain their Bordeaux reds and their Syrah, all of which are on offer at the winery for well under $30.  The price points of the entire Volcanic Hills library are such that John Schreiner was moved to name a recent article about them “Wines You Can Afford”.  But price is only one part of the equation; do they deliver for what they cost? Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: The Reds of Sunrock Vineyards

4 07 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

You cannot make truly good wine without ripe grapes. Simple, no? Insufficient sugar in the fruit is not going to leave much for yeast to consume, and such starved fungi are not going to produce something with sufficient body (and alcohol) to merit any sort of “greatness” mantle. Moreover, grapes need heat if they are to attain physiological ripeness. This refers to the changes in tannins and other chemical components that occur largely in grape skins, stems and seeds during the ripening cycle beyond the mere increase in sugar.  These changes are what produce the key varietal aroma signatures we know and love, preventing a wine from tasting green, weedy, and brittle.

Although sugar ripeness and physiological ripeness are clearly correlated, it would seem that grape hang times might be a stronger predictor of physiological readiness than just heat alone, although in my view (and botanically speaking) you aren’t going to get any degree of maturation, period, without heat. The key question for wine quality is: how much heat is too much? Overly ripe grapes mean clumsy, muddled wines that are boozy, lacking in precision or definition, and often almost devoid of any sense of place or regional character. Such wines are going to be tremendously fruity and powerful, but may not offer much in the way of nuance or balance. As I read up on Sunrock Vineyards, which could very well be the hottest single vineyard site in British Columbia, I wonder how they approach these ripeness issues.

Sunrock is owned by Arterra Wines Canada, formerly the Canadian subsidiary of the massive Constellation Brands, but recently acquired in 2016 by the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan (for some reason that tickles my funny bone…I’m sure we drove many a substitute teacher to drink). Arterra farms around 1300 acres of Okanagan vineyard, with the expected corresponding range of quality tiers. Jackson-Triggs might be the best known of Arterra’s brands, and the single-vineyard Sunrock labels formerly carried this name as the top tier of that portfolio. Sunrock is now a standalone winery, a fine example of a large corporate entity with the good sense to recognize and preserve the unique character of a single site. And what a site it is. Read the rest of this entry »





The Patient Vintner: Bodega y Cavas de Weinert

24 05 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

If I was to tell you that I was drinking the current release of a mid-tier offering from a well-regarded producer and from a name region, made from 70-110 year-old vines, and that the vintage date on the bottle was 2006, what would you guess the region was?  Rioja – maybe a Reserva offering from a traditional-minded producer?  Champagne, if you are extremely liberal with your definition of “mid-tier”?  Somewhere in Italy?  Portugal?  You would probably be most of the way through the global wine region Rolodex before you landed on Mendoza, Argentina, and once you did, you would probably immediately discard the possibility, knowing this to be the heart of bold, fruity, approachable Malbecs that are released and enjoyed in their youth.  Bodega y Cavas de Weinert, and its current-inventory $25 old-vine 2006 Malbec, will cause you to re-evaluate all of your presumptions; they are an anachronism in all the best ways.

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This classical estate actually has a rather recent history:  the winery dates back to 1890, but its current identity was tied to its acquisition by Brazilian Bernardo Weinert in 1975. Swiss winemaker Hubert Webber has been at the helm since 1996, when he was ensconced at the ripe old age of 27; his mission has been to craft wines from Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines that avoid early showmanship and start to reveal themselves after a decade or more, as it is only then that the Bodega will release them to market.  Lengthy barrel aging (up to 5-6 years in large oak foudres in Weinert’s cool granite cellars), then further time in bottle pre-release, is the estate’s hallmark — Weinert follows the old-school Spanish model of only allowing his wines into the public sphere when they are deemed ready to drink, whether or not this follows the standard chronological vintage release playbook.  In other words, don’t necessarily assume that the 2007 will follow the 2006 as the next wine on the shelf.

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The relatively modest prices of the finished wines might be reflective of advantageous land and labour costs in Argentina, but they are not the result of any lack of care in the vineyard:  Weinert’s vineyards, located in Mendoza’s top subregion of Lujan de Cuyo, feature largely ungrafted own-rooted vines that are a minimum of 25 years old and are exclusively hand-harvested.  Fermentation takes place in cement tanks, and Weinert’s cellar boasts both the largest barrel in Argentina (44,000 L) and the oldest barrel in the world, each of which are a reminder that the goal of the Weinert wines’ extended time in barrel is not wood flavour transference (which increases the newer and smaller the barrel is), but gentle, lightly oxidative maturation.  I had the opportunity to taste a trio of Weinert offerings, all 12-13 years old (as is par for the course in this particular corner of Mendoza), to explore this wholly unique take on Argentinian viniculture.  Malbec first, as always. Read the rest of this entry »





Ripasso and Appassimento in Niagara: A Virtual Tasting with Barclay Robinson, Winemaker at The Foreign Affair

15 04 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

As a wine lover, I often feel I am walking a tightrope of sorts between appreciation of bare-bones, terroir-driven wines of place on the one hand, and esoteric, funky winemaking techniques on the other. My allegiance gravitates implicitly to the former camp, populated by relatively pure expressions of soil and grape variety that eschew the muddying effects of various vinification tricks of the trade. Then again, I can be a sucker for the weird, particularly if there is true intent behind the decision to use a particular cellar technique: the careful realization of a particular vinous vision can be every bit as compelling as what results from a more hands-off approach. It turns out that in some cases, particular techniques are the tradition. And traditions, like other aspects of culture, are meant to be shared, applied to new contexts, and ultimately celebrated.

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Enter Barclay Robinson, winemaker at Ontario producer The Foreign Affair, who recently shared the story and results behind some of these techniques and traditions in a personal virtual tasting.  This was a lot of fun, Barclay being exactly the sort of guy I like tasting with: erudite yet down to earth, funny yet quick to impart knowledge. The winery, situated in the Vineland area of the Niagara Peninsula, is completely unique in the Canadian context. Founders Len and Marisa Crispino lived as expats in Italy, where they fell in love with the Amarone wines of Valpolicella. These burly concoctions are made using the the appassimento process, in which the grapes are dried after harvest for to up to 6 months, typically resting on bamboo racks or straw mats, or alternatively strung up from the ceiling where air can circulate and work its dehydrating magic. These raisined grapes provide a very concentrated must (the juice to which yeast is added after crushing to make wine), which makes fermenting the resulting wine to total dryness quite a challenge. I have grown to appreciate Amarone over the last year or so, although its combination of high alcohol, intense flavour concentration, and a unique nut-like bitterness can be polarizing. The Crispinos decided to bring this winemaking approach to Ontario, albeit using the Bordeaux varietals known to do well in the Niagara Peninsula (alas, Niagara Corvina is not a thing at this juncture). Read the rest of this entry »








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