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 »

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Calgary Wine Life: A Field Guide to the Wines of Albert Bichot

10 02 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

Peter has kicked off the 2019 blogging campaign in style, with an intriguing comparison of wine preservation methods that will make a significant contribution to the annals of Pop & Pour science. And me? Well, I’m back doing one of the things I do most frequently on this blog: covering a tasting. This one was a casual drop-in scenario, bypassing the formal sit-down presentation, and on this date that was just fine by me. The frigid weather has left me irascible and more than a little crabby. Fortunately, we’ve got a prescription for those blues… and its not more cowbell. It is glorious, glorious Burgundy.

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I’ve mentioned my love affair with Burgundy (and Pinot Noir more generally) enough times on PnP, so I won’t belabour the point here. I had not tried any wines from Albert Bichot before, but I was promptly faced with 15 (!) of them, in a carefully curated sequence of whites and reds, from Chablis to Grand Cru, complete with a bonus round detour into Beaujolais Cru territory. Fifteen! I was titillated and daunted in approximately equal measure. How the hell is a guy supposed to keep these all straight, what with the small pours, limited analysis time, and numerous distractions around the table? I like to meditate on a half-bottle or more, savouring and seeing how the wine develops over time, as one’s palate habituates to the initial impressions. This is another kettle of fish entirely, with a pace more like Whac-A-Mole than a game of chess, although I do have my tricks, particularly a powerful secret weapon: “Beginner’s mind”. This is an application of mindfulness, where one deliberately pays attention to the present moment, concentrating the attention into a laser beam focused only on the wine in the glass, and then seeing what associations are dredged up. With beginner’s mind, you explicitly adopt a form of make-believe in which you imagine that the liquid in the glass is foreign, entirely novel, never before encountered, and see what this clean slate provides. Might sound hokey, but give it a try during a tasting. It’s like a palate cleanser for the brain. All this aside, I will not take much credit for the fact that I WAS ultimately able to keep all these wines distinct in my mind’s eye. This was more testament to the artistry of the 6th generation producer Domaines Albert Bichot. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 14

14 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

After last night’s quirky yet mightily delicious Rioja, I’ve got the distinct feeling that this weekend run of three wines is going to deliver fireworks. Lo and behold, today’s reveal is a Chablis from one of the best known, most emblematic producers in the region. Burgundy remains my favourite wine region despite many strong contenders. And Chablis, that northern Burgundian outpost of stark minerality and abject crystalline purity, is a particularly singular wine region unto itself. Plagued by viticultural hazards, including regular springtime frosts and the odd unpredictable hailstorm, grape growing is no easy task in this hinterland. I continue to marvel at exactly how these hard-working vintners can distill these harsh conditions into such sheer, stony, precise, pixelated and elegant wines. They are known for a distinctive “gunflint” note, described as “goût de pierre à fusil“, or “steely” if you prefer something rather less martial. ‘Minerality” remains hard to definitively pin down as a construct. We have to date identified no specific “mineral” receptors in the human gustatory system, and yet one cannot reasonably deny the existence of such aromas in certain wines. I’ve even heard the argument that Chablis is where Chardonnay shines most brightly, its true spiritual home. The notion that this grape’s genuine essence could be more ethereal mineral than gaudy fruit intrigues me to no end, subjective viewpoint though it may be.

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William Fevre began with the 1959 harvest, although William’s father Maurice was growing grapes back in the 1930s, mainly in Chablis’ Grand Cru vineyards. Today William Fevre owns the largest number of Grand and Premier Cru vineyards in the region, populated mostly by old, low-yielding vines. The estate was purchased by the Henriot family of Champagne in 1998. Although such a takeover can sometimes be a harbinger of decreased quality, the Henriots instead implemented a new philosophy geared towards better preservation of the nuances of Chablis terroir: use of new oak was abolished in favour of old barrels with an average age of 6 years. Grapes are grown organically, although the estate isn’t particularly fussy about getting official certification. William Fevre seeks to preserve even the most muted variations across individual sites. This focus is coupled with an emphasis on “instant appeal” in the wines, one of those ideological melds of tradition and avant-garde technology that works, and works well.

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The 2015 vintage in Chablis was characterized by a late onset of winter, with some frost and rain until the end of May followed by hot, dry weather at the start of June until the end of August. This is pretty optimal for the Petit Chablis and (non-Cru) Chablis vineyards, lesser sites where grapes can struggle to reach an appropriate degree of ripeness. Indeed, the fine folks at Bricks chose well here. According to William Fevre cellarmaster Didier Seguier, “It’s a perfect vintage for the lower appellations, Petit Chablis and Chablis… These can be difficult in cool, late years, but in ’15 they have a good level of ripeness and freshness.” The entry level Chablis AOC profiled here is harvested manually, with the grapes receiving a brief, gentle pneumatic press followed by gravity settling of the juice. Some fine lees is retained, and the wine does undergo malolactic fermentation (many basic Chablis do not, although I believe the practice has become more common in the region of late). Maturation occurs only in stainless steel.

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Cork Rating: 3.0/10 (Points for total and utter clarity as to region and vintage. Alas, there is little else to score here.)

This all sounds textbook. Frankly, that’s exactly what I am expecting here, in the very best way. I am not disappointed. The fruits include tart Granny Smith apple and the most stern and austere of the green pears, followed by some suggestions of under-ripe hard nectarine, lemon and watermelon rinds (you know, that watery white stuff), a few ghosts of pineapple and starfruit. White berries do occur in nature (e.g. the snowberry) but they are largely unpalatable. If one were indeed edible, I feel I would detect such a note in this taut, precise little dynamo. A pleasing minerality of matchlock musket, chalkboards, and Epsom salts begins to billow from the glass, and I welcome more associations of green banana peel, salted cultured butter, margarita glass rim, and Siberian peashrub/caragana flowers (let’s go with “acacia” for those of you following along on a tasting wheel). The fresh acid is far from meek, malo notwithstanding, and the finish recalls an abrupt sharp slap followed by a few conciliatory caresses. This aggression will not stand, man. Truth be told, this is far too classy to merit more than a few allusions to anything truly bellicose.

89+ points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 8

8 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I am on a Chardonnay kick of late. Admittedly, though, California Chardonnay has not been on the docket much. If it were, Carneros would perhaps be one logical starting point for a guy who enjoys delicate renditions. This AVA spans both Napa and Sonoma counties, is moderately cool and windy, and enjoys a number of day degrees comparable to Beaune. Make no mistake, however. The sunshine is more intense and the growing season is longer than in Burgundy, leading to more prominent fruit flavours even as the grape’s acidity is preserved. A gentle winemaking hand yields a sip full of pure crystalline citrus and apple fruit character, gracefully lifted up by the acid and a distinct silky texture. A heavy-handed approach mars this regional signature almost completely, yielding a wine that might score points with some reviewers but that shows little distinction by way of place.

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With family roots in the Rheingau, Koerner Rombauer, his wife Joan, and their two children arrived in the Napa Valley in 1972. They became partners in Conn Creek winery, learning the wine business there and then staking out on their own in 1982. Rombauer vineyards was a run-away success, serving as an initial home base for numerous other up and coming California wineries (e.g., Duckhorn, Spottswood) while Koerner and Joan also made their own wines. Rombauer Vineyards purchased its first Chardonnay from the Carneros region in 1990, from the Sangiacomo family. This partnership fit lock and key, with Carneros grapes and Rombauer’s winemaking providing a synergy that resulted in numerous accolades, including four appearances on Wine Spectator’s “Top 100 Wines” list. The Rombauers purchased their own vineyard in Carneros in 2002, the same year that Joan tragically died from pancreatic cancer. Today a third generation of Rombauers remains employed at the winery. Carneros Chardonnay remains one of their standard bearers, with Wine Spectator claiming that “Rombauer defines the California Chardonnay style that so many adore”. So a big boozy white, ripe with tropical fruit aromas, buttery and decadent? Hmmm. Read the rest of this entry »





Burrowing Owl Fall Release Trio

8 11 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

I have now been receiving and reviewing Burrowing Owl releases since 2015, and in addition to some minor shock about my blogging longevity, this has also given me enough familiarity and enough reps with the wines to truly help me understand the winery’s house style.  The whites tend to be creamy and generous, often buoyed and propelled by oak but not at the expense of the underlying fruit.  The reds are bold and ripe yet not overdone, a strong reflection of the scorching desert-like climate of the estate’s Oliver, BC home.

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Year over year, the releases and the winemaking choices behind them come across as impressively consistent, part of the reason why Burrowing Owl has long been on the short list of top quality wineries in the Okanagan Valley.  Now that the snow on the ground here in Calgary seems permanently settled in until April, it feels like there’s no better time to tuck into this trilogy of warm, rich, classic bottles, which always seem to be best enjoyed with a notable chill in the air, starting with a wine that just might be setting a new PnP record. Read the rest of this entry »





Global Champagne Day Taittinger Technical Tasting @ Alloy Restaurant

21 10 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Happy (belated) Global Champagne Day! There is probably no better way than a champagne tasting to shake off what has become a considerable amount of wine writing rust. Tasting bubbles, bantering with a few friends, listening to a knowledgeable and engaging speaker — good for the soul. As usual I arrive at the restaurant too early, a neurosis that rarely extends to other important engagements in my life but one that seems omnipresent where wine events are concerned. I simply do not want to miss anything. Right away there is a glass of Cuvee Brut Reserve NV (non-vintage) in my hand, Taittinger’s entry level offering, and at this point I do not mind waiting. IMG_2148Taittinger’s Mikael Falkman comes highly recommended, although on this occasion he seems more inclined to let these majestic wines speak for themselves. He does come to life near the end of the tasting with an exuberant blend of knowledge and humour.  Mikael makes sure to provide a concise history of this famed house, but I particularly appreciate his expositions of the Taittinger family’s winemaking philosophy. I will provide these gems and nuggets along with my tasting notes for each wine. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Nautilus Technical Tasting with Winemaker Clive Jones

25 07 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

The more New Zealand wine I drink, the higher it climbs in my esteem.  Renowned for its superb array of cool climate vineyards and their purity of fruit expression, New Zealand provides a fine showcase for my favourite black grape, Pinot Noir; I have also met few who cannot appreciate the unique and ultra-distinctive style that is New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. We were all exceptionally pleased to welcome to Calgary Nautilus Estate’s winemaker Clive Jones, who travelled all the way from the globally renowned Marlborough region to put an array of his wines through their paces before us. Limits on word count and reader attention span mean that I must immediately plunge into telling six different stories about six different Marlborough wines…OK, five stories. You’ll see below.

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2017 Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc (~$23)

Clive’s knack for explaining technical winemaking details in highly entertaining fashion becomes immediately apparent as the tasting begins. He feels fortunate that a vintage as challenging as 2017 in Marlborough, one marred by not one but two cyclones, could yield a wine of this caliber: “It did get 92 points…if we care about points.” I don’t, but much of the world at large does.

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Nautilus winemaker Clive Jones

Only about half of 2017’s grapes were picked before the weather turned foul, but miracles were wrought and enough of the remainder were able to be used in the final blend. This crisis averted speaks to the classic advantage for those making a varietal wine from a blend of different sites year in and year out, a characteristic that Marlborough (with its myriad soil types and small-scale regional differences in elevation and climate) shares to some extent with Champagne. With an array of lots from different parcels to choose from, careful adjustments can be made by the savvy winemaker to land on a house style every time. The intent in Nautilus’ case is to dial down the aromatics (but not too far down) and dial up the palate weight, yielding something with a pleasing texture that maintains the drinker’s interest. Interestingly enough, part of Clive’s strategy involves adding around 1% of barrel-fermented wine to the Sauvignon Blanc blend, the remainder hailing from trusty temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. This calculated attempt to tame what is usually a fiercely aromatic, high-acid variety while still exalting the grape’s fundamental identity executes its mission with precision. 

Read the rest of this entry »








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