Culmina Winery: Old & New

19 11 2021

By Peter Vetsch

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

Highway 97 runs south from Oliver to Osoyoos and is surrounded by vines on both sides. With Osoyoos Lake in the foreground and the roadway running parallel to a tiny tributary connecting the lake to the bodies of water further north, the landscape rises up sharply to the east and west, creating a large natural amphitheatre with tremendous sun and wind exposure for grape plantings. The highway’s crossroads count up from 1 as you leave Oliver, and if you turn right at the viticulturally famous Road 13 and go just up the hill from the winery bearing that name, you find the long-planned site of Culmina Family Estate Winery.

The vines planted there after years of detailed soil mapping and research are now into their second decade, the winery now a veteran stalwart with an established lineup of quality offerings. But there are still some tricks up its sleeve, starting this year with the release of the first-ever Syrah from the estate (keep it coming) and an ever-increasing portfolio of small-production Number Series wines, the Number releases increasing like the Roads from Oliver to Osoyoos, indicative of a winery not content to rest on its laurels.

It’s one thing to read and write about something and another thing to experience it for yourself. This summer I was finally able to turn off on Road 13 and walk the vines at Culmina, admire the remarkable view and see firsthand the care that goes into the fruit at the estate. (Extreme bonus points for the Tesla charging station in their visitor parking lot, a major rarity that far south in the Okanagan.) I got to see the striking difference between the three plateaus of vineyards that Culmina cultivates: the warm Arise Bench, right in front of and surrounding the winery building; the even warmer Stan’s Bench, slightly higher and more southerly, perfectly positioned to maximize the effects of the sun; and the cooler Margaret’s Bench, shockingly elevated as compared to the other two and seemingly inaccessible on the backside of a steep rocky slope. I got to appreciate the natural majesty of the area, and the concentration of top-end producers in the immediate vicinity — if Road 13 wasn’t enough just down the road, Checkmate and its James Bond villain lair of a winery complex is a couple minutes the other way.

The bet that Don Triggs made on this land has paid off, but Culmina continues to write its story even after his departure. With one clear exception, this tasting set focuses on Culmina’s tried and true releases; Ray will shortly address the more novel end of the winery’s current lineup.

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Amulet Wines: Fall 2021 Releases

1 11 2021

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes]

One of the most anticipated sets of releases out of the Okanagan Valley for me every year are those of Amulet, winemaker Dwight Sick’s Rhone-fuelled collaboration with Dylan and Penelope Roche. Made at Roche’s winery near Penticton, from grapes sourced via Sick’s extensive network of prime vineyard sources (including Kiln House Vineyard, which is assuredly Canada’s most established Grenache site), the Amulet wines are always honest, complex and expressive, firmly demonstrating that Rhone varietals might be BC’s most exciting viticultural play right now. The most arresting part of the Amulet visual experience is the striking golden metal medallion painstakingly hand-glued to each bottle, a replica of an Elizabethan era talismanic coin showcasing St. Michael battling a dragon. Amulet’s recent set of releases breaks new ground in two different ways: not only do they feature a brand new Amulet wine, but also a second medallion, this one dragon-free, featuring a merchant ship at sea and an embossed inscription that translates to: “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous.” It sure is. It took all my willpower not to peel it off the bottle so I could collect the whole set.

The Amulet wines are all crafted using minimal intervention in the cellar: indigenous yeast fermentation, no fining or filtering, and very low doses of SO2 at bottling. Production is microscopic and demand increasingly high, so much so that individual bottle limits had to be imposed on online orders in the Roche Wines shop. The new addition this year is a reserve-level Syrah that pushes its way into consideration as our country’s best rendition of the grape, cementing the vision and increasing confidence of this fledgling label. Bring on the medallions.

New medallion!
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Southern Rhone Unknown: Welcome To The Luberon, Part II

6 10 2021

By Peter Vetsch

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

A common tactic you’ll hear about value hunting in the world of wine is to take a highly exalted and pedigreed region whose wines always sell at a premium — and then see what grows next door, which is quite often similar grapes in similar (albeit never identical) conditions, for a fraction of the price. So if you like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, you should check out Gigondas and Vacqueyras just to the east, which produce reasonable facsimiles of the region’s top dog (absent religious uprisings) without breaking the bank. Of course, when too many people start to follow this advice, the region next door starts to gain its own cachet, and its own prices start to increase, leading value hunters to look even further afield. In part, the Luberon is the region next door the region next door (Ventoux) the region next door (Gigondas / Vacqueyras) the region next door (Chateauneuf), one of the last untouched frontiers of the Southern Rhone on the global export market. However, it is equally a lesser-known mirror of the name region on its other side: Provence. This helps explain its focus on rose, as Ray noted in his introductory post on the area, as well as the need to separate it slightly from its Rhone Valley neighbours.

After a 35+ year wait, the Luberon was established as a formal wine region in 1988, although winemaking has existed in the area for two millennia. It was initially known as the Cotes du Luberon until changing its name to the much-snappier Luberon AOC in 2009. One thing it seems to have in common with both the Southern Rhone and Provence is an affinity for blending: ONLY blended wines are permitted to hold the formal Luberon AOC classification, with any single-varietal offerings forced to bear the inferior IGP Vaucluse designation. The specific blending rules are labyrinthine to the point of being exhausting. For reds, the primary red grapes of the region, Grenache and Syrah, must collectively make up at least 60% of any blend, with Syrah accounting for at least 20%. Other permitted grapes in the red blend include Cinsault (20% or less allowed), Carignan (20% or less), Marselan (10% or less), white grapes (! – 10% or less), Mourvedre and Counoise. Rose rules mirror the red blending rules but allow up to 20% of white grapes to be used. For whites, Ugni Blanc can make up no more than 50% of the blend and can be paired up with Roussanne/Marsanne (20% or less), Viognier (10% or less), Clairette, Bourboulenc, Vermentino and Grenache Blanc. The people who care enough about the tradition and the legacy of the Luberon to comply with these blending rules clearly deserve to have their stories told.

La Cavale fits into that category. Founded in 1986 by successful businessman-turned-senator Paul Dubrule, the estate sits within a UNESCO-protected Regional Natural Park, and is currently reflecting the hallowed designation placed on its lands by auditing its soils and converting to fully organic viticulture. Over the last decade, famed Rhone winemaker Alain Graillot has taken on a consulting advisory role at the winery to enhance the end product, and La Cavale has designed and constructed a massive no-expense-spared facility to plant its flag as the centre of wine tourism in the Luberon. Dubrule’s goal is clearly to embed the Luberon permanently in the global wine consciousness, but for this to succeed, the wine itself has to speak the truth of the region. Let’s see if it does.

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Revisiting the Classics: Joseph Drouhin Bourgogne

23 08 2021

By Peter Vetsch

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

And we’re back. After a brief summer hiatus that involved winery visits, wildfires, new home purchases, way too much packing (with much more to come) and a tiny bit of unplugging from the electronic world, we are hitting the ground running for the impending fall season and have a number of posts lined up for the next few months. Many of them, including the one scheduled after this, focus their attention on uncharted waters: new regions, grapes and bottles, the next frontier of wine exploration. One of the most beautiful things about wine appreciation is that the horizon always stretches farther, and the universe of experience and education is for all practical purposes infinite, allowing for a continual push toward the novel and unexpected. That said, every so often there is value in checking back in with the benchmarks, those classic regions, producers or expressions that have become the North Stars for a particular varietal or style. When we weigh a new vinous experience, we subconsciously measure it against those comparators that first taught us what a given grape or appellation is all about, which can anchor our expectations of what it means to successfully execute concepts like Cabernet Sauvignon, or traditional-method bubbles, or Bordeaux. When the concepts and expectations are shifted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Burgundy, one of the key benchmarks and measuring sticks is undoubtedly Joseph Drouhin.

Maison Joseph Drouhin was founded in Beaune in 1880 as a small negociant producer. Three generations later, it is a Burgundian lodestone, with property in nearly 90 different appellations in Burgundy strewn across 80 hectares located from Chablis in the north down to the Cote Chalonnaise in the south, all meticulously purchased over the years. Joseph Drouhin’s four grandchildren now run the estate, including head winemaker Veronique Drouhin-Boss, (who is also in charge of the winery’s excellent Willamette Valley venture Domaine Drouhin Oregon). Drouhin was one of the first producers in Burgundy to do away with chemical pesticides and revert to horse plowing and natural compost in the fields; now all of its estate vineyards are farmed organically and biodynamically. Their dense plantings, arranged to secure low and concentrated yields, hail from vine stocks grown in their own nursery so that the estate can retain full control over plant quality. While Drouhin’s single-vineyard expressions include some of the most rare and sought-after Crus in all of Burgundy, today we explore the baseline Bourgogne appellation wines which return Maison Joseph Drouhin to its negociant roots, using purchased fruit from longtime suppliers located all across Burgundy to craft a template for white and red Burgundy.

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Drink Chenin Day: South African Sampler, Part I

18 06 2021

By Peter Vetsch

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

As far as concocted wine holidays go, this one has a rather organic beginning. The first Drink Chenin Day, a global celebration of the wonderful and perennially underrated Chenin Blanc, was not self-created by a trade association or a PR firm, but was held in 2014 by a group of American sommeliers and winemakers. Their initiative was picked up by the Chenin Blanc Association of South Africa, which has turned the third Friday of every June into an industry-backed festival of all things Chenin. This year’s Drink Chenin theme for the big day on June 18th (this Friday) is “Chenin & Sushi”, which makes a whole lot of sense, particularly if your Chenin Blanc is in sparkling form — there’s nothing like the bready, yeasty notes of bottle-aged traditional method bubbles playing off the umami funk inherent in wasabi-tinged soy sauce and raw fish. Add in vinegar (in the rice) and citrus (in the wine, like you’d squeeze over fish in the first place) and you have something mesmerizing. I am on board with wine holiday theme years, and hope to see this trend continued by the next grape on the Hallmark docket. World Lambrusco Day is June 21st…maybe steer clear of the sushi for that one.

Photo Credit: chenin.co.za.

True story: one of the first “name” wines that I ever bought when I first started studying wine was a Chenin Blanc. I bought a book that discussed the major wine grapes of the world and listed a pinnacle producer or two for each of them. I took an interest to the Chenin Blanc entry, which described the varietal’s generous texture yet incisive acidity, and summoned up my bravery to enter the closest true wine shop to my home at the time (Calgary’s incredible Metrovino) to look for the recommended landmark Chenin winery. I swallowed hard at the $40 price tag, but walked out with a bottle of the Loire Valley’s Domaine Huet Le Mont Sec. Fifteen years, thousands of bottles and a WSET education later, I write a wine blog that I don’t have time for on evenings and weekends. And I still love Chenin. That bottle pitched me into wine headfirst.

For Drink Chenin Day 2021, we have an array of South African offerings on display that are…largely not Chenin Blanc. However, *spoiler alert* those that are clearly stand out from the crowd, as this Southern Hemispheric nation has embraced this grape (long known as “Steen” there, though less so now) more than most other countries and has clearly reaped the rewards of that allegiance. South Africa has undergone a quality renaissance recently that has largely been tied to improved farming practices and the avoidance of pesky vine viruses, so it is absolutely worth another visit for those whose prior memories are half a decade old or more. Some of the most pleasant vinous surprises I’ve had over the past few years have hailed from this burgeoning wine nation…and that’s without diving too far into their Chenin supply. (Pro tip: try the Raats Dolomite Cab Franc.) Raising a large glass of Testalonga Chenin to you all this weekend! Find some raw fish!

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COVID Wine Life: Fine Vintage Ltd. Food & Wine Pairing Online Course

5 06 2020

By Peter Vetsch

Living pandemic life feels strangely like becoming a new parent for the first time.  You rarely leave your house.  There are places you suddenly just can’t go.  At times you feel like your very will to persist is being sucked from your body.  And you need to find other ways to pursue your interests, in those slices of time not taken up by survival interest and existential pondering.  When my first son was born back in 2011, he was a less-than-ideal sleeper, and there were only so many late evenings that I could spend watching bad TV, waiting for the next wake-up, so that my wife could get a few uninterrupted hours of unconsciousness.  My need to find a better way to spend that time led to this blog, which is now 9 years old and over 600 posts strong.  Now my kids sleep fine (except when they don’t), but during our current times of COVID-19 distancing, that same feeling of isolation weariness started to arise.  It was promptly banished, and my similar hope of avoiding stagnation was satisfied, by a virtual trek through the online Food & Wine Pairing certification course offered by Fine Vintage Ltd.

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Photo Credit/Copyright: Fine Vintage Ltd.

I was highly familiar with Fine Vintage already, having already taken my WSET 2 and 3 classes through their excellent Calgary-based school, one of 18 locations they have across Canada and the US.  Founded by Master of Wine James Cluer (who memorably was a substitute teacher for one of my WSET 3 class days), Fine Vintage has enlisted some of the most respected names in the Calgary wine industry, Matt Leslie and Jennifer Book, as course instructors.  But what if you can’t currently sit in a classroom and share wine with 30-odd strangers in the name of wine education?  Fear not – they now have COVID-friendly solutions too.

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Photo Credit/Copyright: Fine Vintage Ltd.

Fine Vintage has assembled a series of online wine certification courses to help fill the void while the in-person sessions are on pandemic hiatus.  Compiled by James Cluer himself, along with fellow MW Phillip Goodband, they do not result in any formal WSET classification (the WSET, or Wine & Spirits Education Trust, is an independent education and qualification body based in London that only governs over its own licensed courses) but do culminate in a final exam and a Fine Vintage certification.  There are three ascending levels of wine courses, an introductory course on spirits, and the course in which I have been immersed over the past few days, the Food & Wine Pairing Online Certification Course.  This is a 4-6 hour crash course (including the exam, it took me just shy of 5 hours total to complete) about the basic principles and some of the more advanced concepts behind properly matching food and wine.  It costs $99 USD to register and consists of 8 different modules that can be completed in stages at your leisure, from the sanitized comfort of your own home; from my experience, the collective content is easily worth the registration fee. Read the rest of this entry »





Synchromesh Wines, Part II: Storm Haven Awaits

14 05 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

After last weekend’s right-on-cue random Calgary mid-May hailstorm-then-blizzard combo, I now feel comfortable saying that spring has finally arrived in our corner of the world, far later than it should have, as always.  When things turn green and start to grow, and when the world once again sheds its winter coat for another half-turn around the sun, I tend to reach for wines of brightness, freshness.  The heavy reds have their time and place, but it is not here and now.  After Ray’s excellent introduction to the history and new offerings of the rapidly ascending Synchromesh Wines, and after watching my environment awaken and shift into growth mode, I needed some Riesling.  Good thing I have three.

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As noted in our last post, Synchromesh’s crown jewel site is the place where it all began for the winery, the Storm Haven Vineyard right near (and well above) Okanagan Falls.  A subsequent acquisition of an adjacent parcel on the same hillside brought the total vineyard acreage up to 107 acres, but of that only 21 acres are planted to vines, with the rest intentionally left accessible for wildlife habitat and conservation works.  This allows the Dickinson family both to help out local wildlife charities and to ensure that Storm Haven remains an active, lively, biodiverse site in which the vines are a harmonious partner instead of an invasive intruder.  Altitudes range from 1300 to over 2000 feet as the vineyard rises up the base of Peach Cliff Mountain, straddling a fault line and enjoying the corresponding mineral explosion in the sandy loam soils (quartz, granite, slate, metal deposits) that goes along with such geologically interesting positioning.

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Storm Haven Vineyard.  Photo Credit: Andrew Melville.

Riesling makes up over 70% of the plantings here — I was honestly surprised they planted anything else at this hallowed Riesling altar, one of the top sites for this grape in the country.  The remaining acreage is largely comprised of Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, except for a single block (0.33 acres) of own-rooted Cinsault which was planted last year.  It’s safest to assume that the latter is destined for rosé, but I would absolutely buy a single-vineyard Storm Haven red Cinsault, if Synchromesh needed any further production ideas.  Tonight’s Rieslings all express the site-hewn power, intensity and scope of Storm Haven, but in varying degrees.  All also hew to Synchromesh’s Riesling credo of low alcohol, notable residual sugar and incisive acidity; the combined ABV of this trio of wines is 24.14%, basically equivalent to a single bottle of Turley and a Moscato.  Let’s start at the quieter end of the crescendo, although with these wines “quiet” only applies in a relative sense. Read the rest of this entry »





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

26 04 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

Calgary’s craft beverage game has been significantly elevated in recent years.  When I first moved here for good in 2005, the idea of buying small-batch booze made locally was barely a possibility, let alone a point of pride.  Fast forward 15 years and a tweaked legislative regime, and our fair city is now home to over 50 breweries (and even a brewery district), multiple distilleries, and a surprising number of cideries, complete with a now-permanent homemade presence in restaurants and retail outlets.  But even with this dramatic expansion in Calgary-created alcoholic options, I can’t say that I ever expected that we would have a fully functioning wine producer within our civic boundaries.  Well, colour me an insufficient visionary:  meet City & Country, Calgary’s first ever urban winery.

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Located just east of Macleod Trail and just south of Erlton, a couple minutes north of Alloy restaurant, City & Calgary is a bricks-and-mortar winery as of this year but has been a producing brand for a couple of vintages before that.  Owner and hospitality industry veteran Chris Fodor and his wife Karen have long had a dream of making their own wine, and they accomplished that goal in 2017 with some assistance from friends at Pentage Winery in the Okanagan, which served as their initial base of operations.  A 2018 vintage in BC followed, but the Fodors’ dream was not site-limited:  the ultimate goal was to establish a production facility in an urban locale and to source grapes from a variety of different regions, both inside and outside of Canada.  As long as the fruit (or pressed juice or must, depending on the supply arrangement) could be transported quickly, safely and in a temperature-controlled manner, this setup offered greater flexibility, more winemaking options and the ability to avoid, or at least mitigate, the vagaries of weather, animals (damn you bears!) and other local conditions in a given region and vintage.

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In 2019, the Fodors obtained the necessary funding to set up their urban winery in Calgary, moving production to the city late in the year and officially opening the doors of City & Country winery on February 1st, 2020.  The cosmos, of course, scoffed at mortal dreams and aspirations, and the Fodors’ grand opening lasted only a month and a half or so before the doors were forced to close back up as part of the COVID-19 pandemic response directives.  Like so many others rolling to adapt with the times, City & Country is still trucking along virtually, focusing on its online storefront, offering up its wines to retail locations in the province and arranging for contactless deliveries.  They are the only Calgary wine business I’ve seen to date to offer free delivery across Alberta, available on all orders over $60.  They have assembled 3-bottle and 6-bottle tasting packs allowing people to sample both their base lineup and some limited-edition specials, complete with tailored videos, tasting notes and pairing recommendations.  They continue to run their business and pursue their dream, in a world that makes no sense but that needs wine more than ever.  I recently got to raise my first ever glasses of local wine to their vision and toast to their continued efforts to make us a winemaking town. Read the rest of this entry »





Gerard Bertrand: Spring Sessions

10 04 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

As we came to the end yesterday of what felt like the first actual Calgary spring day of 2020, as warmth and sun and open sky allowed for some temporary reprieve from the surreal creeping dread of our daily pandemic existence, there was no better time to consider the virtues of fresh, bright, appealing, pleasant wines.  You don’t realize how much you miss pleasant until that sensation of easy comfort and untroubled joy is no longer as accessible in the world around you.

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Some wines thrill with complexity, but when life is plenty complex enough at the moment and you can actually sit outside without a jacket, sometimes the better vinous thrill is the bottle that can just provide happy company for a short while.  When I wrote about Gerard Bertrand’s marvellous Estates reds a month and a half ago, I almost opened these bottles instead, but decided to switch the order at the last moment.  Do you even remember a month and a half ago?  Now, having to firmly self-motivate in order to write at all, this vivacious patio trio felt like a vital lifeline to simpler, better, more pleasant times.  Two whites and a barely-rosé, perhaps the palest combined set of wines ever featured on PnP, shone through my malaise like this sunny day.  (Then it snowed again today.  But I digress.)  Let’s meet them. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: The YYC COVID-19 Wine Delivery Survival Guide

21 03 2020

By Peter Vetsch

This blog is first and foremost a public service vehicle.  It exists to connect people with wine, especially people in the Calgary area.  Normally the connection sought is an intellectual or emotional one, as we endeavour to share our knowledge and passion about this liquid art that inspires so much within us.  We generally don’t have to worry about establishing a physical connection with wine, because, well, when can’t you get access to wine?

Er.  About that.

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It turns out you can’t get access to wine when a fast-spreading, highly contagious, novel and potentially lethal monster pathogen is wreaking global havoc and you’re confined to your house, flattening the curve and hoping that your cellar can last for the duration.  It turns out that you can’t get access to wine when wine shops across the city are closing their doors to help preserve public health.  In these times when the path to accessing wine is no longer a given, the best connection to wine that we can offer people is the kind that actually literally puts a bottle of wine in their hands.  Luckily, Calgary’s local wine industry is way ahead of us on that front.

Below is a list of all of the wine shops in the city who are offering home bottle delivery as we all strive to survive quarantine during the COVID-19 epidemic.  We will aim to keep it updated as this era of social distancing and transmission prevention continues, so if you see any shops missing or note any required corrections, drop us a line or leave us a comment and we’ll make the fix.  Where applicable, we will also set out any prices or conditions associated with each store’s delivery option. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2015 Culmina Hypothesis

20 03 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

My initial intent was to write this piece without a singular mention of COVID-19. I wasn’t sure I wanted this sort of historical tag on a bottle review…this too shall pass, right? It then occurred to me that wine itself is usually about the vintage, the year it was made. Wine is historical, and other things besides. I also don’t particularly want to talk about  our current global situation. We are all experiencing some degree of anxiety (not to mention other painful emotions) in our own ways, and do I want to fan those flames? Not really, but at the same time, I’m not in the business of denying aspects of the human condition. Perhaps this is a chance for me to ask all of our readers to say safe, look out for one another (even at a social distance), and retain hope that we got this. Because we do. Peter and I are going to keep doing this blog (for which this is post #600 — see? history), because we love what we do and because this is a great way to remain connected. At this moment join me, will you, in experiencing some of the most iconic red wine that Canada has to offer?

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Don Triggs

As a wine lover a tad obsessed with Gruner Veltliner, I immediately recall that Culmina and founder Don Triggs are responsible for one of Canada’s first plantings of this white grape, and they still produce Unicus, a wonderfully salty, flinty, yet surprisingly fruity rendition that does this wacky variety proud. It turns out that Don’s first vinous love is in fact red Bordeaux varieties. You likely recognize the surname. Yes, Don Triggs co-founded Jackson-Triggs, one of Canada’s largest commodity wine brands. When the giant Constellation Brands purchased Jackson-Triggs in 2006, Don thought briefly about retirement…or rather, what to do with retirement. Don and spouse Elaine decided to found a boutique winery, in essence taking the very opposite stance from the path that had previously brought him so much success, focusing instead on a deep desire to make terroir-driven wines. You see, Canada’s relatively cool climate doesn’t always reliably ripen red Bordeaux varieties. Although Merlot is more forgiving, Cabernet Sauvignon needs ample sun and heat. Far from daunted, Don and Elaine embarked on an intense research program to figure out just how “Canadian Bordeaux” could become more fact than fiction. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Stephane Rousset Crozes-Hermitages

18 01 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

The Cellar Direct offer train rolls on this weekend, and obviously they have my personal wine preferences bugged:  after offering my favourite kind of white wine (Mosel Riesling) last offer, they have moved on to my favourite red grape (Syrah) this week, straight from its spiritual homeland in France’s Northern Rhone.  This relatively compact, narrow winegrowing area runs north-south and is split in half by the Rhone river, with the regions of Cote-Rotie, Condrieu, St. Joseph and Cornas tracking the river’s west bank and Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage hugging the east.  There is a part of the Rhone that curves gradually out to the east before almost immediately swerving back to the west; right at that cut-back bend lies the mighty hill of Hermitage, the most esteemed appellation in the Northern Rhone, with its understudy Crozes-Hermitage spreading out in concentric circles to the north, south and east behind it.

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Crozes-Hermitage is both literally and figuratively in the shadow of its namesake, both considerably larger (1,700 hectares of grapes under vine as compared to Hermitage’s 136 hectares) and more varied, a hodgepodge of sites and soils, its wines varying widely in ambition and quality.  Given this level of variety, it’s hard to know what you’re going to get in any given bottle of Crozes; the region itself lacks the automatic pedigree and heightened standards of its neighbours.  So how to approach this appellation, the Northern Rhone’s biggest, which is often promoted as a budget-friendly alternative to its neighbouring luminaries?  Hook your wagon to specific producers or sites as opposed to the region as a whole.  Find those in the most compelling areas with the best soils and sites, those with a relentless focus on quality vineyard and winemaking practices.  I’m aware that this can be easier said than done.  Don’t know where to start?  Start right here. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 24

24 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Another year, another Advent, another calendar complete, and another December blogging marathon brought to the finish line.  After 24 days and 24 different half-bottles, I am left partly eager to again regain access to my own cellar and my own agency in terms of nightly wine selections, but mostly impressed at the tremendous range and consistent quality of the 2019 Bricks Advent Calendar.  For my money, this third edition of Bricks’ December crate was by far the best to date, with no bottle (other than the one impacted by the Chateauneuf-du-Pape curse, a mystic force beyond mortal defences) a disappointment and all of them compellingly showcasing their varietal and region with admirable typicity, all for a price tag averaging a shade under $20 per split.  That’s not an easy feat, but it was accomplished with flair — mark me down for next year’s calendar already.

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Our annual Pop & Pour Advent tradition is to wrap up our calendar coverage with each author’s Advent podium wines, as well as a dark horse candidate that particularly captured their attention.  In order to ensure neutrality and avoid cross-contamination of opinions, all three of us separately wrote down and submitted our lists; any overlaps (and there were many) are a testament to the wines involved and not a function of any groupthink.  If you had a Bricks calendar for 2019 and have been following along, let us know your top 3 wines in the comments below!  Without further ado, our list of winners:

Ray Lamontagne’s Top 3 Wines

  1. 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 23):  A  pure, seamless meld of power and complexity.
  2. 2016 Kettle Valley Winery Pinot Gris (Day 11):  The freshest side of orange wine.
  3. 2017 Robert Biale Vineyards “Royal Punishers” Petite Sirah (Day 14):  A purple behemoth that is not without subtleties.
  4. DARK HORSE — Porto Quevedo 10 Year Old Tawny Port (Day 8):  An old style from a small yet classic house.

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Tyler Derksen’s Top 3 Wines

  1. 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 23):  Bold yet structured, this wine delivered at every level.  Perhaps a bit predictable after last year’s Top 3 lists from Peter and Ray, but this bottle deserves the top spot.
  2. 2016 Kettle Valley Winery Pinot Gris (Day 11):  Easily the biggest surprise of the calendar for me.  Mild disappointment (I’m not a huge fan of Pinot Gris) turned a complete 180 when I brought the glass to my nose.  Wonderfully balanced, this exemplifies what orange wine can be when done right.
  3. 2016 d’Arenberg “The Noble” Wrinkled Riesling (Day 22):  This made my list for pure hedonistic pleasure.  It may not be perfectly balanced, but a flower-shop nose keeps this from being one-note.
  4. DARK HORSE — 2017 Robert Biale Vineyards “Royal Punishers” Petite Sirah (Day 14):  This was definitely in the running for the podium until the last few days.  Evilly dark, the myriad of notes on the nose and palate made this both delicious and interesting.

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My Top 3 Wines

  1. 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 23):  A Ken Wright back-to-back calendar sweep.  He takes no Advent prisoners.  The biggest point of intrigue this year was the remarkably stark difference between this dark, rocky Freedom Hill Pinot and last calendar’s bright, elegant Shea Vineyard Pinot, especially since each hail from the same 2015 vintage!  Terroir indeed.
  2. 2016 Kettle Valley Winery Pinot Gris (Day 11):  Probably my most memorable calendar wine, that perfect combination of orange wine’s bitter phenolics and white wine’s purity of fruit.
  3. 2017 Robert Biale Vineyards “Royal Punishers” Petite Sirah (Day 14):  A true statement of identity, and a clarion call of Petite Sirah’s suitability in California.  A deep, dense, gritty, lasting experience.
  4. DARK HORSE — 2016 K.H. Schenider Dornfelder Trocken (Day 2):  The World’s Best Dornfelder™ is an old friend whose acquaintance I made a while ago, but it never ceases to thrill and impress.  Each successive bottle is a reminder of the potential of this grape when grown in the right spots and handled the right way.

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All I know is that I will be heading out and grabbing some Ken Wright (full bottle versions) during Boxing Week — no Advent calendar will ever be the same unless he’s involved.  As Advent reaches its zenith, consistent with Bricks tradition, we finish off the long and winding road of the calendar with both a toast to the journey of the past 24 days and a half-bottle of bubbles to allow us to make it.  Tonight’s wrapping paper slips off to reveal the Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV, probably the most compelling sparkler to grace a calendar to date, from one of my favourite Champagne houses.  I first tried Pol Roger in WSET class, where it was held up as an exemplar of what classic Champagne should resemble.  This Reserve version of Roger’s standard NV Brut bottling takes its status as comparison reference seriously:  it is a roughly equal blend of all three grapes of Champagne (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay), with 25% of older reserve wines from Pol Roger’s cellars added to the base vintage (2013 or 2014, if I had to guess).  After blending, secondary fermentation and disgorgement takes place 33 metres below ground after regular hand-riddling and around 4 years maturation on lees.

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Our collective Christmas Eve present is a deep straw colour run through with millions of racy pinpoint bubbles that continue their ascent to the top of the glass even after over an hour’s worth of exposure to air.  The eager and festive nose combines vanilla bean, tapioca, butter croissant, lemon drop, black jujube, aloe and toasted almond, albeit in a more focused and chiselled way than the largely confectionary descriptors might suggest.  Rich and almost custardy on the tongue, the Brut Reserve is firmly structured on rails of electric acidity, the only thing restraining the expansive flavours of salted butter, charred lime, matchsticks, Golden Delicious apple, crystallized ginger and fresh caramel.  An extended persistent finish allows for plenty of reflection on where are now are and how far we have come.  A delightful toast to the season, to the upcoming joys of tomorrow morning, and to the sheer lazy pleasure of not having to blog for the rest of the month!  Merry Christmas, all.  Until next Advent.

90- points

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Cork Rating:  7.5/10 (I love the little “PR” logos ringing the metal cork cap. Classy and classic.)





Wine Review: Road 13’s Rhone-ish Reds

29 08 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Welcome back to Road 13, with my red follow-up of Peter’s prior glowing praise for the white offerings from this Okanagan stalwart. I admit that some inevitable pangs of envy rose up when I heard about just how delicious Rousanne can be in the hands of this  particular producer. Nevertheless, I was pleased to have my opportunity with the reds, one another classic Rhone riff in the form of a GSM blend, the other a more unique joining of a classic stalwart from the same region (the “S” in the “GSM”) with Malbec, a Bordeaux grape that unexpectedly found its fortunes in the New World.

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Road 13’s labels, and indeed its very name, conjure up some pleasant associations for this country boy who has for some time now been irrevocably relocated to the big city. The name came about when the operation then known as Golden Mile Cellars was sold to Pam and Mick Luckhurst in 2003, with the new proprietors wishing to emphasize the more specific location of their winery and the three vineyard sites providing them fruit. A shift to terroir-driven wines occurred, buoyed by an earnest desire to celebrate the region’s rich agricultural history. A natural born gardener, Mick hated just sitting around and loves collecting farm equipment. Pam brought bookkeeping expertise and a natural aptitude as a wine taster. Both sought to learn viticulture, a process they readily admit continued throughout their stewardship of the winery, yet the result of this humbling journey has still been numerous winemaking awards. The last Road 13 red I had, a 2011 Syrah-Mourvedre opened in 2018,  positively dazzled. Hopefully these provide more of the same. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Road 13’s Rare Whites

12 07 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

This may be the last post from me for a while, as I imminently prepare to head off of the continent for a little bit on a proper Viking vacation.  (If anybody knows a great wine shop in Copenhagen or Billund, let me know immediately.)  But fear not, Ray will still be here to keep the blog alive for the rest of July, and I have one last gasp of Canadiana in me before I bolt the country.  Tonight’s trio of whites from the Golden Mile Bench’s Road 13 Vineyards makes me realize that I should have been following this winery more closely before now, but I will try to make up for lost time.

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Clean and classic labels, eye-opening wines – but not sure about 2018’s italics.

Road 13 has had an interesting last 12 months, as it was named the Winery of the Year at Wine Align’s National Wine Awards of Canada in 2018 and was then promptly sold before the year was out.  Long-time proprietors Pam and Mick Luckhurst, who acquired the winery (then-called Golden Mile Cellars) and were responsible for first renaming it and then building it into a well-respected national brand, decided to move into retirement (the winery itself having been their first, not-that-relaxing-as-it-turns-out attempt to retire) and accepted an offer from Mission Hill’s / Mark Anthony Brands’ Anthony von Mandl to purchase the company.  The winemaking team remains intact, however, as does the winery’s vision and present focus on the potential of Rhone varieties in British Columbia, an endeavour that I back fully, having had enough marvellous Okanagan Syrah recently to make me wonder what else from the south of France would flourish here.  As it turns out, the white Rhone side of the equation is just as compelling as the red.  But we start with a scion of a Road 13 classic. Read the rest of this entry »








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