Wine Review: 2019 Amulet Rosé

18 04 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

What better exemplifies the highly bizarre combination we currently face — our relieved celebration of the actual arrival of spring (I hope) after an astoundingly long winter, plus our enhanced need for vinous companionship amidst the eternal stress of a global viral pandemic — than a gigantic magnum of rosé?  And of the gigantic magnums (magnii?) of rosé to choose from, what one better exemplifies the resourceful spirit and brave acceptance of  supervening realities that we need to emerge from the other side of our immediate world health catastrophe than the 2019 Amulet Rosé?  (Also, what better time in our world history to clutch any kind of amulet as close as humanly possible, especially ones that you can drink?)  This is the defining wine for our times.  Let me explain.

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I initially tasted the inaugural release from Amulet Wines, winemaker Dwight Sick’s Rhone-focused side collaboration with Dylan and Penelope Roche, this past November.  I was highly intrigued by the red and white 2018 Amulet offerings, the former of which was anchored in the Grenache grapes from the Okanagan Kiln House Vineyard from which Sick had previously grown and bottled the first Canadian varietal Grenache wine ever released, and I looked forward to the 2019 release the next fall.  Instead, I received it in February, very shortly after the 2018s had landed and scant months after the grapes had come off the vine.  And instead of a red and a white, the 2019 vintage featured a double-sized pink:  magnums only, and a mere 258 bottles produced.  Why? Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: The Whites of Castoro de Oro

31 07 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

It’s alive. The blog, that is. Peter is enjoying some much needed R & R overseas and got to sample hybrid grape Solaris for the first time. Don’t get too jealous of that particular detail. Although I’d welcome a chance to add this one to my life list, apparently we aren’t missing out on all that much. Meanwhile, let yours truly guide you through another Pop & Pour Okanagan run that will span two posts and six wines. I’ve enjoyed tasting these, particularly as I reflect on how this family owned winery has seamlessly melded careful viticulture, whimsical yet clever branding, and an earnest appeal to passion and hard work. All this yields a singular focus on making award-winning handcrafted wines from grape to glass. It seems warranted to begin with the whites. But first, some further background.

IMG_E0849The Castoro de Oro estate vineyard was planted in 1980. Located in the esteemed Golden Mile, this site seems engineered by Mother Nature to deliver full ripeness in the grapes, yet not at the expense of acidity. Here we have vines facing southeast to provide ample sunshine, with the grapes also growing on a slope right next to a lake, factors that together work to mitigate any effects of frost. This is all well and good, but too much heat can cause flabby wines that lack precision. Fortunately, a mountain provides evening shade that permits the grapes to cool off during the summer, preserving tartness and resulting in a key balance between acid and ripe fruit flavours. This is particularly important for white wines, for which acidity is the only source of freshness and structure (well… for the most part. Tannins from wine skins and barrels sometimes play a small role).

Enter Bruno Kelle and (Calgarian) Stella Schmidt, self-described “partners in life and wine-making”. They acquired this site and launched the Castoro de Oro winery in 2006, farmers who like to make wines that most people can afford. I can jive with that, although I can find it hard to relinquish the role of “guy who is supposed to assess these wines in a serious way according to certain criteria”. I’m going to wear that black hat here, because to some extent I have to… AND, I’m also going to attempt to appreciate these wines based on the winemakers’ own vision. Here we go. 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 »





Happy Canada Day: Stag’s Hollow Summer Set

1 07 2017

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

Happy Canada Day all!  Our majestic and humble home turns 150 today, which makes me both celebratory and reflective, emotions which both inevitably lead to wine.  (OK, many things inevitably lead to wine, but these do too.)  As a nation, even at its sesquicentennial, Canada is still young and developing, growing increasingly confident in its global identity but not yet possessed of that inner calm of countries who have already seen and lived through it all.  As a wine nation, we are younger still:  while grapevines have been planted in Canada since the 19th century, our movement towards becoming a commercial producer of quality wines probably only dates back 40 to 50 years; the oldest producing vinifera vines in British Columbia are likely of a similar age.  In many ways, we are still finding ourselves and only starting to chart our path.

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British Columbia wasn’t blessed in centuries past with Burgundy’s army of soil-testing, site-delineating monks, who segregated cohesive parcels of land and determined which grapes did best in which spots.  As such, and without a suite of indigenous varietals to choose from, BC is playing global catch-up, still trying to sort out what might succeed in its soils and what is destined to fail.  In this New World landscape, it would be useful for the province to have a sort of advance wine scout, someone who is unafraid to push the envelope in terms of planting options and help set the boundaries for the area’s future course.

I nominate Stag’s Hollow Winery in the Okanagan Falls, which, led by winemaker Dwight Sick, has done nothing but innovate since I first found out about them.  Make reserve-level small-production Tempranillo?  Check.  Create the Okanagan Valley’s first-ever bottling of Grenache?  Check.  Solera-style fortified wines?  Orange wines?  If you can envision it, Sick and Stag’s Hollow have probably made it, and have expanded the range of possibilities for Canadian wine in the process.  A recent further jump:  Albarino, the crispy, crunchy white grape that is the pride of Galicia in northwest Spain, features heavily in Portugal’s Vinho Verde and has been gaining an increasing worldwide audience.  I had never yet seen a Canadian version of this hot and trendy grape – but if I had had to place a bet on who would be among the first to come up with one, it turns out that I wouldn’t have been wrong.  I got to check out this trail-blazing New World version of Albarino along with a couple other patio-friendly new releases from the winery just in time for summer. Read the rest of this entry »





Burrowing Owl Spring Releases

16 05 2017

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

Some people chart the seasons using a calendar; others look to the melting snow and the first robins to mark the start of spring.  For me and this blog, the new season only arrives when the box of new releases from Burrowing Owl is delivered and tasted.  I can now happily announce:  spring is here.

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OK, yes, I had a glass of the Chardonnay before the tasting started.  I regret nothing.

Burrowing Owl is one of the few Canadian wineries that has been consistently able to juggle both quantity and quality, producing 35,000 cases annually from 16 different varietals grown across 170 acres and three different estate vineyard sites encircling the scorching southern Okanagan hubs of Oliver and Osoyoos.  It is likely best known for its Bordeaux varietals, but also makes room in its vineyard sites for less expected offerings like Tempranillo and Viognier, not to mention a killer Syrah that is proof of concept of the region’s suitability for the grape.  Burrowing Owl’s two largest vineyards are scant minutes away from the US border, on western-facing slopes angling down towards the temperature-modulating Lake Osoyoos, which both restrains the Okanagan desert heat during the day and extends it at night.  The third is due west of Oliver, in the neighbouring Similkameen Valley, using its proximity to Keremeos Mountain to help grow Bordeaux whites Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, where 2017’s spring releases conveniently start. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2012 Stag’s Hollow Grenache

20 09 2013

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

You may be looking at history -- Canada's first 100% Grenache?

You may be looking at history — Canada’s first 100% Grenache?

I will spare you the details of why I haven’t posted in awhile; suffice to say that it involves multiple children under the age of 3, potty training, vomit, and the inexorable loss of sanity.  As a result of the above, these first 50 words have taken 25 minutes to write.  But I will not be deterred, because today is something bigger than you or I or the trials of parenting.  Today is International Grenache Day.  And today I get to write about a wine that I have followed from a distance for a long time, even though it is brand new to market.

I have recently come to realize and embrace that, when it comes to reds, I’m a Rhone guy.  I have adored Syrah for quite some time, but in the last few months I have become increasingly enamored with the southern French region’s other red offerings as well.  I tried with piqued curiosity my first varietal Carignan, the ’70s shag carpet of wine.  I devoured Mourvedres from Bandol to Washington State and back.  And I opened my heart to the joy and beauty of Grenache.  There may be other grapes that I enjoy more at their peak expressions, but I don’t know if there’s another grape out there that disappoints as seldom as Grenache does.  No matter how much it costs or where it’s from, it always hits the mark and is reliably bright and juicy and enjoyable.

But what it’s not, at least until now, is from Canada.  Grenache is generally a hot-climate grape, one that needs a lot of sun and a lot of warmth to ripen.  It’s best known in the Mediterranean climates of southern France and the arid deserts of Spain, occasionally popping up in the equally balmy South Australia or the equally parched eastern Washington.  In Canada, where every grape imaginable seems to be planted with hope somewhere, I had never heard of Grenache being grown, and certainly had never seen it being bottled on its own, until I happened to stumble on a Twitter mention of this project by Stag’s Hollow winemaker Dwight Sick.  I have been thoroughly intrigued by the idea of Okanagan Grenache ever since, and after some relentless cyber-stalking, I was lucky enough to snag a bottle of this inaugural experiment and see for myself how this warm weather red adapted to my home and native land. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Moraine Winery Cliffhanger White & Red

26 06 2013

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

Before I get started, let me first express both my condolences to anyone whose home or business has been impacted by the recent flooding in Calgary and my gratitude to the legions of municipal workers, police/fire/rescue crews and citizen volunteers who have worked tirelessly to repair and restore affected areas.  I think we’re all a little desensitized to disaster coverage that we see on the news, but when the areas underwater are streets in your own city where you’ve walked, shops that you’ve frequented, or the arena of the local team, the veil of distance gets ripped away and the footage quite literally hits home.  Hang in there, Calgary.

Welcome back, blogging.  It's been awhile.

Welcome back, blogging. It’s been awhile.

So you haven’t heard a lot from me in recent times, but I have marginally decent excuses for my prolonged blogging absence.  In the past couple months I have changed jobs, moving back into law firm life at a boutique shop recently founded by some former (and now current) colleagues, and I have also welcomed a new child into the world.  My second son Max was born on Fathers Day, and events both leading up to his birth and since his arrival have taken up most of my attention.  I therefore feel somewhat justified in playing the Major Life Events card in an attempt to excuse the rather ridiculous gap between PnP postings.  If my last 10 days has been any indication, I would expect more of the same down the road, but I will try to keep the blog moving forward, if only to ward off the comment spambots that have descended like hungry vultures in the past few weeks.  I’m not dead yet, Internet.

Anyway, on to the stars of today’s post, which are two wines from a relatively new Okanagan producer that I was lucky enough to try recently.  Moraine Winery is a recent addition to the renowned Naramata Bench subregion of the Okanagan, located just northeast of Penticton along the eastern shores of Lake Okanagan.  Naramata has gotten enough critical attention recently that many wineries with any trace of property there are trumpeting the affiliation with the area, even if the bulk of their vineyards lie elsewhere in BC.  Not so with Moraine:  each of its two vineyards, named Anastasia and Sophia after the owners’ two daughters, lie within the Naramata Bench itself, and all of the grapes for its wines come from these sites.  Moraine’s proprietors Oleg and Svetlana Aristarkhov relocated from Alberta to pursue their winegrowing dreams, so I like them already.

Stelvin Rating:  1/10 (Give me something to work with here...giant Ms next vintage?)

Stelvin Rating: 1/10 (Give me something to work with here…giant Ms next vintage?)

The Cliffhanger series of wines are Moraine’s entry level offerings, each likely checking in at under $20 retail in Alberta ($15 at the cellar door).  This is the price point at which Canadian wines tend to make me nervous, as it can often be challenging for an Okanagan or Niagara producer to put together a compelling, estate-grown, quality bottle for less than $20 given the land, labour and equipment costs and climatic challenges common to all Canadian wine regions.  Thankfully, both the 2011 Cliffhanger White and the 2011 Cliffhanger Red are strong and enjoyable introductory efforts from a producer that I’ll be watching going forward. Read the rest of this entry »








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