Calgary Wine Life: City & Country, YYC’s Urban Winery, Part II

14 06 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

When I took my WSET Level 3 course a few years back, my instructor mentioned that, were it not for our punishingly cold winters, Alberta might feature a grape-growing climate similar to Alsace! Climate change notwithstanding, I cannot see this situation fully playing out in my lifetime. Nevertheless, a guy can dream. In the meantime, it turns out that our wonderful city does have a winery that makes honest-to-gosh wines from vitis vinifera grapes sourced from more pacific climes. We first met City & Country in April when Peter reviewed a white and two rosés (including a white Zinfandel which was initially approached lightheartedly but which it turns out might be food pairing magic). Tonight I tackle a few C&C reds. First, some background, by way of a quick review.

IMG_2092City & Country can be found east of Macleod Trail and just south of Erlton, although the brand itself predates the bricks-and-mortar winery that started operations this year. Chris Fodor and his wife Karen first made their own wine in 2017 with some help from Pentage Winery in the Okanagan, where their winemaking endeavours were originally housed, but the Fodors’ aspirations were ultimately bigger than just one wine region, or even one country. They reasoned that a winery based in a large city could source grapes or even pressed must from anywhere, so long as everything is temperature-controlled. I’ll mention here that such a model is used by some of my favourite boutique wineries in California and elsewhere in the US, although in these cases the winemakers draw upon a limited number of local options (often very specific, unique sites) for grape sourcing. The Fodors seem to scoff at the notion of such constraints, although understandably the focus of the winery’s initial releases seems to be on grapes from next door in the Okanagan.

IMG_2094The Fodors officially opened the City & Country winery on February 1st, 2020. Of course, COVID-19 struck after a mere month and a half of operations, but City & Country pushed forward with characteristic Alberta resilience, featuring an online storefront, contactless delivery (free across the province for orders over $60),  and wines available at retail locations across the province. In an exciting update from Peter’s prior post, we can happily announce that the tasting room is again open at the time of this writing, with appropriate distancing and sanitization protocols in place. Phew! Although the world is far from out of the woods, let’s support Calgary winemaking and see what the Fodors have to offer. We begin with my favourite black grape. Read the rest of this entry »





PnP – Now on FB!

6 06 2016

After a half decade of technological procrastination, Pop & Pour has finally properly joined the Internet age and now has its very own Facebook page – you can access it here for reviews and other content:

https://www.facebook.com/popandpour

It is still in early development but will be expanded further in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, if you are a fan of the blog, I would be thrilled if you would be willing to Like and Share the page in Facebook – it would be very much appreciated.  New reviews coming this week!

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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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The Great Coravin Test, Part 5: Six Months Later

26 01 2016

To catch you up on the epic journey that is concluding with this post:

  • I got to borrow a Coravin back in July (Part 1)
  • I accessed three awesome bottles with it and wrote tasting notes (Part 2)
  • I checked back on them two weeks later to see how they were doing (Part 3)
  • I dove into some cellar treasures and gave some final Coravin thoughts (Part 4)
  • I promised to come back to my three test bottles one last time…in half a year.

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Take 5. One last time.

How time flies.  Suddenly it’s six months from the week of my original Coravin tasting write-up and I owe this story an epilogue.  After seeing this trio of my bottles front and centre in my cellar on a daily basis and accessing them multiple times through the Coravin needle, I actually felt sort of bad cutting off the foils and pulling the corks out of them like they were any old weeknight wines.  But science does not wilt for sentiment, and I had a job to do.

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The Great Coravin Test, Part 4: Final Thoughts (For Now)

26 08 2015
No Girls Grenache by the glass?  Don't mind if I do!

No Girls Grenache by the glass? Don’t mind if I do!

The sun has shone a little less brightly this week (and not just due to wildfire smoke blocking out the sky) – I had to return my borrowed Coravin, leaving an empty spot on my counter and a needle-sized hole in my heart.  Apart from testing out the device on the three bottles of wine the agent provided to me (adventures catalogued in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this post miniseries), I also went to town last week on a few bottles from my cellar, including a couple of the pricy variety in case you were wondering about my level of Coravin confidence.  Most importantly, I re-accessed the 2012 Tabali Pinot Noir from Chile that acted so strangely I last time I Coravinned my bottle samples just to make sure that all was still well, and it was fresh as a daisy and exactly how I remembered it on first opening, confirming that the Coravin’s preservation record remained fully intact.

I thought I’d end my Coravin saga with a few closing thoughts on the pros and cons of scooping the device for yourself and on whether the amazing features of this wine access wonder-machine justifies its hefty $400ish price tag, particularly for individual wine lovers.  First, the most obvious pro:  there is nothing like this anywhere.  It is literally in a class of its own in the wine preservation game, to the point where it’s almost not fair to call it a preservation device at all:  you don’t have to worry about preserving the wine when you never expose it to the elements in the first place.  You’re not using it to stave off inevitable oxygen decay for a few days or a couple weeks; you’re using it to stop the oxygen time clock from even starting, so that you can drink a bottle from your cellar a glass at a time over any length of time that you want, even years.  That’s just mind-blowing.  Even after using the thing for a month, it’s hard to wrap my head around just how much of a game-changer it is. Read the rest of this entry »





The Great Coravin Test, Part 3: Two Weeks In

2 08 2015

OK, so to recap:

  • I got lent a Coravin and figured out how to use it (Part 1).
  • On July 17th, I accessed three different bottles – a white and two reds – via Coravin and wrote up control tasting notes (Part 2).
  • Exactly two weeks later, on July 31st, I Coravinned the bottles again to see how they were doing.  Now the real fun begins (Part 3, right now).

FullSizeRender-91Some brief methodological notes:  after tasting the bottles on July 17th, I put them back in my cellar as if they were brand new – on their sides, no special treatment.  They stayed there till the 31st, when I gave them a brief chill before accessing them again.  I took detailed tasting notes without looking at my initial set of notes and then compared the two sets after the fact to see if the descriptions were similar and if any notable changes to the wines had taken place.  After the second round of tasting, the bottles are all about half full, and they have been put back in my cellar until I pull them out again for the grand finale of this Coravin experiment six months from now.  So how did the wines do?  Is the Coravin all it’s cracked up to be?  Let’s get to it, again:

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The Great Coravin Test, Part 2: Initial Tasting Report

23 07 2015

The journey continues.

The journey continues.

If you missed Part 1 of this soon-to-be-epic tale, wherein I got a Coravin to borrow and figured out how to use it, you can click here to get caught up.  This post will set the control for my test of the Coravin’s wine-preserving prowess, documenting my initial tasting impressions of three different bottles that I was provided along with the device so that I could give it a spin:  one white, one lighter red and one fuller red.  I actually tasted these last Friday, July 17th, so that’s the point from which the preservation clock starts ticking.  I will taste them all again in a couple of weeks and report back, and then again in a few months to see just how far the magic of the Coravin can stretch.  Word of warning if you ever try this yourself:  when you have a tool that lets you taste as many wines and access as many bottles as you want in a night without pulling a cork, you end up drinking a LOT of wine.  Duly noted.  On to the wines — be sure to check back in two weeks to see how they’re doing!

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The Great Coravin Test, Part 1

19 07 2015
Ladies and gentlemen:  the future.

Ladies and gentlemen: the future.

It is an age-old problem:  what to do with the rest of a bottle of wine if it isn’t all consumed in an evening?  Unless being used to let tight young wines breathe, oxygen is generally the enemy of wine, and once the atmosphere gets its claws on the liquid in a bottle, the results aren’t pretty:  the wine gets flat and stale, brightness and flavours fade, and any distinguishing characteristics are quickly lost.  You can help slow this aerobic inevitability by putting the wine in the fridge overnight, but I always still noticed a difference in the bottle the next day, a slight but undeniable decline.

There have been a few standard approaches invented for dealing with the leftover wine oxygen problem, each effective to different extents.  You can buy a vacuum pump that fits into the opening of the bottle and (at least theoretically) manually sucks out the offending oxygen, leaving a decay-free zone inside the bottle.  This may sort of work at times for short durations IF the pump actually makes an airtight seal with the bottle, which it often doesn’t.  You can instead opt for a separate narrow storage vessel that has a sort of buoy-like floatation device engineered to exactly match the interior circumference of the container; you pour your wine in, plop the float on top and add a lid for good measure, keeping the surface of the wine from any immediate interaction with oxygen.  This is better and more consistent than the vacuum for short stints (I have one, the Savino, which I use for weeknight wines) but not that trustworthy for more than a day or two.  Then there’s the gold standard:  argon.  You pump a little argon gas into the heel of your bottle (from a purchased canister or a fancier system like my Pek Preservino) and, since it’s inert but heavier than air, it forms a harmless protective layer over top of the wine that prevents oxygen from accessing it.  I have left a wine under argon in the fridge for a week and it’s been good as new.

FullSizeRender-71These preservation systems all tackle the problem of wine degradation from different angles, and yet they all share one key thing in common that puts a ceiling on their effectiveness:  they all start with an open bottle of wine.  No matter what tricks you try to keep oxygen away from your precious liquid, once you pop that cork and pour that first glass, you have exposed your wine to the air and the decay clock starts ticking.

But what if you didn’t HAVE to open the bottle?  Could wine be preserved indefinitely if you could somehow access it while keeping its bottle fortress intact?  Enter the Coravin. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2012 Alice May Pathfinder Sauvignon Blanc

27 07 2014

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

Cali grapes, Calgary soul.  This one sticks with you.

Cali grapes, Calgary soul. This one sticks with you.

Earlier this year I was first introduced to Alice May wines, made by Calgary sommelier Alex Good in collaboration with California stalwart producer Barrel 27, thanks to its Cote-Rotie inspired Crosswinds Syrah, which made me sit up and take notice of this new source of killer value wine with a local heart.  Alice May was (and still is) a label focused on the production of Rhone varietals in southern California’s Santa Barbara County, but this, their inaugural white release, has a different French homeland:  Sauvignon Blanc is found both in white Bordeaux (blended with Semillon and Muscadelle) and in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume in the Loire Valley (where it is a single varietal star).  While this may not have been Good’s initially planned direction for his Pathfinder wine (which will be made of the much more Rhone-y Grenache Blanc and Roussanne as of next year), he got the proverbial offer he couldn’t refuse to take some prime Sauvignon from the highly esteemed Coquelicot Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley and he ran with it.  Coquelicot is a cooler climate site situated right close to the Pacific Ocean almost due west from Los Angeles, biodynamically farmed by a top vineyard manager and churning out powerful yet balanced fruit full of character.  And it shows. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: 1863 Taylor Fladgate Port

6 06 2014

What happened in 1863?  Henry Ford was born.  The Battle of Gettysburg helped shape the course of the US Civil War.  Canada was 4 years away from becoming its own country.  And the grapes that went into the Port that I got to try this week were harvested.  There are times when I am reminded just how transportive wine is, how it can be a liquid chronicler of history.  This was one of those times.

Eighteen. Sixty. Three.

Eighteen. Sixty. Three.

It probably goes without saying that it’s exceedingly rare for a producer to release a wine after it has turned 150.  The centuries-old Port houses in Portugal would only have extremely limited quantities of reserves even half that old, which would in most cases be used in minute quantities to add flavour and complexity to the producers’ 40-year old tawny Port release (the 40 years on the label represents the average age of the multi-vintage wines in the bottled blend).  Taylor Fladgate has added to its own reserves over the years with select lots of high-end wood-aged Port from the 19th century, and when the quality of an ancient elixir is exceptional, it will occasionally decide to bottle and release it as a stand-alone offering.  That was the case with this single-harvest Port from one of the best vintages of the 19th century, 1863, which after a century and a half is just being taken out of barrel and readied for sale this fall.  When I say “barrel”, I’m referring to one of only two in existence:  Fladgate has but a lonely pair of barrels of the 1863, which will ultimately make less than 1,500 bottles of the Port for the entire world market.

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Calgary Wine Life: Cork & Canvas CPO Tasting @ Willow Park

6 03 2013

[Cross-posted at www.calgaryisawesome.com]

My two year-old son is going to his first symphony on Sunday.  Before the matinee performance of Peter and The Wolf, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra is putting on an Instrument Petting Zoo so that kids like mine who haven’t experienced live music can see and feel for themselves the difference between an oboe and a piccolo, a trombone and a timpani.  Our city’s remarkable orchestra is constantly innovating like this, striving to make symphonic music more accessible to a broader audience, whether it’s putting on these Symphony Sundays for smaller children or lending their arsenal of talents to performances of music from video games, The Lord of the Rings, or rock and roll bands like Queen.  This fun and unpretentious vibe extends to the CPO’s fundraising efforts as well:  if you want to, you can adopt your own member of the orchestra for a year, or book a concert for your child’s elementary school.  Or, like me, you can drink.

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Calgary Wine Life: Meet Alberta Winestein

30 01 2013

[Cross-posted at www.calgaryisawesome.com]

AlbertaWinestein_logoJPGHow much of your 2012 Christmas shopping did you do online?  In my case, the answer comes perilously close to “all of it”.  No malls to brave, no parking to find, no bags to carry, just page after page of every imaginable type of gift easily accessible from the comfort of my house — it’s hard to see the downside.  The Internet has increasingly become my retail destination of choice, and over the past few years I have purchased any number of things online:  books, movies, furniture, shares, even (sort of) a dog.  But wine?  Forget about it, at least in Alberta.  While e-commerce has started to become an important part of the wine industry in the US, there has been almost a total vacuum in the local market, with no retailers offering a comprehensive online ordering platform and no other service providers stepping up to fill the void…until now.  With its formal launch earlier this month, Alberta Winestein (http://www.albertawinestein.com) is making online wine ordering a reality in our province and is seeking to bring high quality boutique products to every corner of Alberta.

The idea is a simple but powerful one:  find some way to connect the scores of wine buyers across the province to the wares of some of Calgary’s most respected and prestigious shops, to the benefit of all parties.  After a couple years of intense planning, Alberta Winestein founder and CEO Guillaume Bedard is now ready to implement his strategy to realize this goal.  “As a consumer, it was difficult and time-consuming to know what unique products were offered in Alberta from all the best boutique retailers,” Bedard explains.  “We dreamed of a way to ease our search while using state of the art e-commerce services.  We then realized that boutique retailers are themselves under increasing pressure from large surface retailers and are now facing greater competition than ever while trying to address a growing market demand.  That is when Alberta Winestein went from concept to reality:  a central e-commerce platform for amazing boutique retailers in order to ease the purchasing process for consumers.” Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: 6 Wines To Try Before You Die @ Vine Arts

3 12 2012

[Cross-posted at http://www.calgaryisawesome.com]

There are wine tastings and there are WINE TASTINGS.  And then, about 500 feet above those, there was the tasting I went to this past weekend.  It is not blog-boosting hyperbole to say that most of us who walked into Vine Arts on Friday night were stepping into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try wines that we would literally never see again.  The rarity of the event was not lost on the buying public:  the Friday tasting sold out so quickly that Vine Arts scrambled to add an encore showing on Saturday, which sold out just as fast.

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What was so incredible about it, you ask?  It was the near-unheardof chance to taste six of the world’s most famous, celebrated, acclaimed and expensive wines in a single sitting.  Over a span of two hours, I crossed a number of vinous firsts off of my bucket list:  Try a 100-point rated wine.  Try the top dessert wine in the world.  Try a well-aged First Growth Bordeaux.  Try one of the all-time best wines from my favourite region.  And so on.  I have never seen ANY of the bottles in Friday night’s lineup available at another tasting in town, so having all of them together in one room for one occasion was a huge coup for owner Jesse Willis and the Vine Arts team:  it would be like a music lover arranging for the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and Bruce Springsteen to play at a single concert, with the Beach Boys and Queen as opening acts.  For wine geeks like me, this was almost a religious experience.  If you’re not a wine geek, hopefully the excited rambling above has gotten across that this was kind of a big deal. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: St. Urbans-Hof Riesling Tasting @ Co-op Crowfoot

25 09 2012

[Cross-posted at www.calgaryisawesome.com]

Consider this less of a blog post and more of a public service announcement.  If you’re going to remember a single message out of everything I’ve ever written about wine, make it this little piece of advice:  DO NOT BE AFRAID OF GERMAN RIESLING.  I wish I could tell you that this was self-evident information, but there remains this persistent and lingering seed of doubt planted deep in the brains of casual wine drinkers in North America irrationally warning them that German wine in general, and German Riesling in particular, is something to be wary of.  Even (or rather, especially) people who haven’t tried it tend to avoid it, looking askance at its tall tapered bottles and Gothic multisyllabic labels, spouting the well-worn syllogism:  “I don’t like sweet wines.  German Riesling is sweet.  Therefore, I don’t like German Riesling.”  Most people who say this probably don’t realize that:

1.  NOT all German Riesling is sweet — in fact, there has been a concerted movement towards drier (“Trocken”) styles of wine in Germany over the past decade or so; and

2.  Even sweeter German Riesling isn’t sweet like other wines are sweet.  To me, the best expressions of Riesling are those where there is a little residual sugar left in the wine after fermentation, because that hint of sweetness is a necessary counterpart to the firestorm of acidity usually present in good German wines.  The delicate razor’s-edge dance between sweet and tart is the very essence of what German Riesling is all about, and to dismiss a key component of that ballet as something akin to what you find in a $6 bottle of insipid white Zinfandel is to do both yourself and these amazing wines a disservice.  Most people who say they don’t like “sweet wines” actually don’t like UNBALANCED sweet wines, wines with a bunch of leftover sugar and nothing else to level it out.  German Riesling is the antithesis of these kinds of bottles, and the best illustration that not all “sweet” wines are created equal.

If you get past the stereotypes and try a bottle of German Riesling for yourself, I predict you will quickly fall in love; to me they are the most individual, remarkable and memorable wines in the world.  And the best part about joining the German Riesling Revolution is that the wines usually offer remarkable levels of quality for a bargain price.  Many top producers make entry-level bottles that are widely available for under $20 CDN, some of the most impressive of which come from the well-known Mosel Valley winery of St. Urbans-Hof, instantly recognizable for its striking black and copper label design (see the bottle pics below).  Last Thursday, a lucky few of us attended at the Crowfoot location of Co-op Wine & Spirits to hear Urbans-Hof owner and winemaker Nik Weis talk about his property and share a half-dozen of his recent wines.

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Calgary Wine Life: Meet Tim Hendrickson @ Wine Ink

31 08 2012

[Cross-posted at www.calgaryisawesome.com]

Whether it’s wine or cheese, Tim has you covered.

The first time I met Tim Hendrickson, he was selling me cheese.  In between stints as co-owner of some of Calgary’s most interesting and eclectic wine shops, Hendrickson was the resident cheese guru at Blush Lane Organic Market in Aspen Woods, and every time I saw him it turned into an educational experience about cow vs. sheep vs. goat milk, aging and ripening techniques, the nuances and subtle differences between the products of different countries.  The man straight up knows his cheese, and his knowledge and enthusiasm about his wares led me to try things I never would have picked out for myself.  This earnest desire to serve the customer and teach them new ways to appreciate their favourite indulgences translates seamlessly to his current venture at Wine Ink, where he gets to engage with people about his foremost passion. Read the rest of this entry »








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