National Zinfandel Day: An Interview With Ravenswood Founder Joel Peterson

15 11 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Happy National Zinfandel Day! Although we do not feature many interviews on Pop & Pour, we felt that the chance to publish a Q & A correspondence that I recently had with Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, commonly described as California’s “godfather of Zin”, would be a consummate way to celebrate, especially when paired with tasting notes for one of Ravenswood’s most iconic wines. To me, Zin embodies a key dialectic at play within wine appreciation: that between elegance, austerity and grace on the one hand, and sheer hedonism, richness and bold frivolity on the other. As an avowed disciple of Pinot Noir, you can deduce which pole of the dialectic I might ultimately prefer. However, wine is so immensely enjoyable precisely because there is ample diversity, so many different experiences to chase down and absorb. And I do like having my mind blown by huge flavours as much as the next bon vivant. If I am being honest with myself, a well-crafted Zinfandel may do a better job of resolving this particular dialectical dilemma than almost any other black grape:

Aroma-Wheel

There are some very specific cherry varieties listed here. I approve. (https://zinfandel.org/resources/zinfandel-aroma-wheel/)

The best Zins feature succulent, approachable berry fruit in lockstep with robust secondary flavours of smoke and spice, all festooned on a moderately formidable structure of fresh acidity and fine ripe tannins. They are fun and serious in equal measure: light yet dark, carefree yet intense, simple yet complex. Joel Peterson masterminds just this sort of Zin. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wine Review: 2016 Buena Vista North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon

17 10 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

IMG_8980

A rare sighting.

The $25 California Cabernet Sauvignon is an endangered species nowadays; once a stalwart gateway drug for luring novice wine drinkers into a lifetime of vinous enlightenment, it has now been superseded in that endeavour by numerous other New World crowd-pleasers that are managing to offer similarly accessible and overt pleasure at wallet-friendlier prices.  The combination of rising land costs, fire- and drought-inspired production difficulties and the utter shredding of the Canadian dollar as compared to the US greenback on world currency markets has more or less eliminated California as a source of solid value wine in our market.  Buena Vista Winery is trying to change that, but with this series of factors arrayed against it, it’s fighting an uphill battle.

I have previously written about the remarkable, riotous, barely credible but actually true history of Buena Vista, the proud owner of the label “first commercial winery in California”.  It is well worth refreshing your memory about, but the Coles Notes version must at least mention:  (1) Agoston Haraszthy, who may have been the first Hungarian to emigrate to the United States, who founded the winery and who essentially crammed six lifetimes of zaniness and adventure into one shortened 19th century thrill ride; (2) 1857, the year Haraszthy founded Buena Vista, part of a major ambition to establish high-quality vitis vinifera grapes in hospitable California soils; (3) Nicaragua, where Haraszthy fled barely a decade after Buena Vista was first established, with angry and misled company investors potentially at his heels; and (4) alligators, which apparently ate him there.  Never a dull moment at Buena Vista in the 1850s and 60s. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Domaine Chandon Sparkling Wine Dinner @ Elwood and the Rabbit

13 04 2018

By Dan Steeves

Chandon is a name that instantly makes me think of the luxurious Champagnes from the famous (and largest) Champagne house Moët & Chandon, but its North American offspring Domaine Chandon is not just a clone of its majestic parent company.  It has a vision to be different and create its own legacy by providing a pure expression of what California is all about, while at the same time maintaining the quality that is inherent in its French pedigree.

When Domaine Chandon was established in the Napa Valley in 1973 it was not the first international venture for Moët & Chandon (Chandon Argentina was established first in 1959, and California was succeeded by Brazil in 1973, Australia in 1986, China in 2013, and most recently India in 2014) but it was the first French-owned sparkling wine venture into the US, which now hosts operations from many of the large Champagne houses. Moët & Chandon recognized the potential of the area for sparkling wine production, especially Carneros, which at the time was seen as too cold and infertile to grow grapes (coming from Champagne, they knew it’d be perfect). Moët & Chandon purchased 400 acres of Carneros vineyard land for mere pennies on the dollar in today’s market. It was a humble California beginning for the M & C Winery on March 26, 1973, whose official address was John Wright’s garage, but within a few years the current winery facility was built and opened to the public and the house’s name was officially changed to Domaine Chandon. The 45th anniversary of Domaine Chandon just passed a few weeks ago with the winery holding firm as a longstanding powerhouse in Napa Valley, seeing over 200,000 visitors a year and likely holding the honour of being the largest producer of traditional method sparkling wine in the US.

The line up of Domaine Chandon California wines available in Alberta –  Blanc de Noirs, Brut, and Rosé

Having visited the Moët & Chandon mothership in Épernay (the heart of Champagne) a couple years ago and being fan of all their Champagne wines, I was ecstatic at the opportunity to try the Chandon California wines alongside some delicious food from Bridgeland’s Elwood and the Rabbit. The dinner was hosted by Brian Fairleigh, the Brand and Wine Educator for Domaine Chandon, whose infectious passion for sparking wines is matched closely by a wealth of knowledge about every aspect of Domaine Chandon. Brian made it clear that comparing Moët & Chandon Champagne with Domaine Chandon is like comparing apples to oranges: the two are very different, although they share the same adherence to quality and excellence in the vineyard and cellars. Domaine Chandon aims to showcase the fun, vibrant, sunny California fruit flavours and builds wines that are accessible, enjoyable, and made for everyone to enjoy all year round. Many people only reserve sparkling wines for times of celebration, and although they are perfect for those times, they are equally as enjoyable for a casual sip with friends or an accompaniment to almost any meal. Brian was happy to show us some great pairings. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2013 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc

4 12 2014

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

Sauv Blanc:  my reawakening continues.

Sauv Blanc: my reawakening continues.

I’ve been experiencing a sort of Sauvignon Blanc renaissance lately.  For the longest time I all but ignored the grape:  I had tried and was clinically impressed but not emotionally roused by many of the SBs and blends of Bordeaux and the Loire; I had lapsed firmly into the camp of “if you’ve tried one New Zealand Sauv Blanc you’ve tried them all”; and I did not hold out much faith that California (too hot) or Canada (too nondescript) could work any magic with the varietal.  But wine, if you let it, has a funny way of pointing out the absurdity in rigidity and making sure your horizons are always boundless.  In the past few months I’ve been blown away by the remarkable and wildly original Greywacke Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough and equally amazed by the textural magic of the Alice May Pathfinder Sauvignon Blanc from Cali.  Now add a third one to the list:  the Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc, from Napa Valley of all places, not only offers a dynamite sensory experience but also seamlessly exudes a sense of place while doing so. 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 »





Wine Review: 2008 Fog Crest Vineyard “Laguna West” Chardonnay

15 02 2012

I had to use the promo pic from the website instead of my actual pic, for obvious reasons. Sure is foggy.

I just finished reading the book Judgment of Paris by George Taber, which is primarily a recounting of the now-legendary 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting where California Cabernets and Chardonnays shockingly upset top French Bordeaux and Burgundies in a blind tasting evaluated by renowned French judges, but which also tangentially describes the birth and rapid growth of the California wine industry.  The truly amazing thing about the J of P tasting wasn’t that the California wines upset the French; it was that the California wineries represented in the competition didn’t even exist a decade earlier.  Many of them entered their first, second or third vintages EVER in a tasting contest against historic French bottlings that dated back centuries, which in the world of wine should have been a recipe for embarrassment.  I now think about this every time I open a Cali Cab or Chard because, as a recent disciple of wine, I’ve only ever known California as a world vinous powerhouse; it’s remarkable to think that 40 years ago it would have been laughable to describe it that way.

To coincide with my finishing the book, I felt it only appropriate to open a California wine in commemoration, and the Fog Crest has been a bottle I’ve been very interested in trying, largely because the producer brings in ultra-famous Cali winemaker David Ramey as a consultant to help craft its Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.  Fog Crest is based out of the Russian River Valley sub-region of Sonoma County, an area known for having a notably cooler climate than the surrounding area, helped in part by cold morning fogs (hence the winery name).  These climatic conditions make RRV an ideal spot for growing grapes like Chardonnay that show their best in cooler sites.  My favourite thing about this wine has to be its thematically-accurate, dry-ice-induced foggy promo pic from its website (see above left), the set up for which almost inevitably involved some marketing guru saying:  “See, FOG Crest?  Get it?”  (I get it.)   Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2008 Kenneth Volk Enz Vineyard Mourvedre

11 01 2012

The bottle looks exactly like it tastes: black label, black wine.

How many old-vine, single-vineyard, 100% Mourvedre wines have you ever heard of coming out of North America?  Before last month, my number stood at zero.  Then my best friend Marc, a burgeoning wine lover himself (I’m working on it), got me this bottle for Christmas; it was one that he had tried at a party and couldn’t get out of his head, leading him to hunt it down and grab one for each of us.  It was about the most intriguing Christmas gift that I got this year — obviously I do good work in picking friends.

While most California winemakers would shy away from grapes like Mourvedre in favour of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and other varietals more recognizable to the general public (and therefore more sellable), Kenneth Volk seems to immerse himself in them.  While his company Kenneth Volk Vineyards also makes the classics, it produces a special series of “Heirloom Varietals” wines that examines and honours “underappreciated rarities” that don’t often get their day in the sun in the US.  Mourvedre certainly qualifies — while I’ve seen it in a GSM (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre) or two from my home continent, I’ve never seen it get the spotlight to itself domestically until now.  This particular Mourvedre is from the Enz Vineyard located in the tiny Lime Kiln Valley AVA in central California:  it can be found just southeast of San Jose, about 1/3 of the way south from San Francisco to LA.  Interestingly (or crazily), Lime Kiln Valley finds itself immediately beside the San Andreas Fault, one of the more tectonically unstable places in the world (you want interesting soils as a winemaker?  Plant in an earthquake zone!).  Even cooler, this bottle comes from one of the oldest grapevine plantings in all of California:  almost 90 years old, the Mourvedre vines in Enz Vineyard were planted in 1922.  Think of all the wines that come out of California.  Now think that, pre-dating almost all of them, before “California wine” meant anything to anyone, there was this lone patch of Mourvedre planted in this obscure valley close to the coast.  Who would plant Mourvedre in California in 1922?  Who knows?  But that decision let me, almost a century later, crack open this mysterious and alluring bottle, because it had previously worked its magic on a great friend.  Wine rocks.

Read the rest of this entry »








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