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 »





Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Clos Siguier Cahors

28 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Today’s release is a fun one. You’ve probably had this grape variety before, or have at least heard of it. Malbec has become the premier grape variety in Argentina, and such wines remain immensely popular. But I’m willing to bet that you haven’t had Malbec from this wine region, which is far closer to its likely place of origin in northern Burgundy, although the grape is far better known as one of the six classic permitted black grapes of Bordeaux (due to climate change, a few more are now being trialed there). Let’s investigate further.

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Malbec

Malbec is often described as inky purple and tannic, although the tannins are typically round and mouth-filling rather than scratchy and abrasive. In the glass, Malbec often yields correspondingly dark fruit flavours as well as some smoky notes. The grape became less popular in Bordeaux after 1956 when frost slaughtered around 75% of the crop. Malbec’s reputation in Bordeaux has only continued to decline since then. According to Stephen Brook, the variety has “little to contribute” to the Bordeaux blending regime, offering large berries that yield dilute, soft wine. There is actually more current interest in reviving Carmenere (!), the obscure “sixth Bordeaux grape” that all but disappeared after phylloxera, a pest that did Malbec no favours either. Rest assured though, all is not lost. If fortunes are decidedly bleak in Bordeaux, the wine region featured here, Cahors, seems hell-bent on ensuring that Malbec will always have a place in its native land. The same frost that wiped out the variety in Bordeaux also devastated the grape in Cahors, the difference being that the latter vignerons dutifully replanted with the same grape. Although the region remains besieged, one of many rustic bastions in a world of homogenized commodity beverages, this enclave of winemakers refuses to go without a fight. 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.)





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 18

18 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

Day 18 of this blogging campaign has me starting off the final week with a slight limp but head unbowed. It has been particularly fun this year, truth be told. The calendar has been superbly curated, considering the perfectly understandable constraints of price point and availability of half-bottles. But I don’t think it is just that. The last few bottles have sparked some enjoyable discussion and debate between the three of us responsible for this Advent blogging set, causing me to reflect on just what it is about wine that is so mesmerizing, so able to inspire passion. Upon reflection, I think for me it is the intersection between art and science. If one knows how wine is made, in a technical sense, one can better assess what is going on with a particular bottle. Maybe this is how I naturally veer, given my professional background… “OK, does this wine gel with how I know it was made?” This sort of conceptual funnelling can provide all kinds of helpful cues as to what I’m experiencing. But then again, what if I am pleasantly surprised? What if I just love the lines of this particular sculpture, heedless of how I know it should present? I think there’s room for both perspectives, within me and within the field of wine assessment more generally. I try to be cognizant of this dichotomy when I see that today’s bottle reads “Cotes du Rhone Villages”.

IMG_1386I’m not implying that I’m disappointed. In fact, this appellation is a deliberate step up in quality from the Cotes du Rhone per se. In the late 1960s, several villages successfully petitioned to include their names on wine labels, in exchange for being willing to submit to higher quality standards. These included the requirement that Grenache must comprise not less than 50% of any given red wine, with a further 20% consisting of Syrah or Mourvèdre in any proprotion. A maximum of 20% of other authorized varieties is also permitted, with these including various obscurities permitted in Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Cinsault, Muscardin, Vaccarese, Terret Noir) along with Carignan. At this point, the Cotes du Rhone Villages appellation has expanded to nearly 10,000 hectares, making it the second largest appellation in the Southern Rhone, half of which can add the name of a specific village to the label. Twenty villages can do this at the present time. This is starting to get the feel of the Dodo Bird verdict from Alice In Wonderland, where “everyone has won and all must have prizes”. Further reinforcing this notion is the fact that the other half of the appellation can distinguish themselves from generic Cotes-du-Rhône by adding the term “village”, albeit without a more specific moniker. The present bottle falls into the latter category, although the producer would certainly take umbrage with the notion that their wines are somehow worse than those labelled Visan or Roaix.

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Domaine Roger Perrin is on the young side for the region, founded in 1969. In what is starting to feel like an eerie theme for me during this December blogging run, Roger died unexpectedly during the harvest in 1969, with well-studied son Luc taking charge. Irked at confusion over his name with that of the famous Beaucastel Perrins, Luc embarked on a quality control campaign to distinguish his estate (the two families are friendly but not related). Tragically, Luc succumbed to a battle with cancer, with sister Veronique and son Xavier carrying on the traditions of hand-harvesting and aging in stainless steel (with the exception of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines). The present wine has been described as a “baby Chateauneuf-du-Pape”, consisting of 75% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 5% Mourvèdre, with a minimum vine age of 45 years. Interestingly, some earlier documentation suggests that the wine was once 5% Counoise and Vaccarese. This wine is made only in good years, with a fairly long maceration period and 20-50% de-stemming depending on vintage ripeness. All this converges on something that is supposed to be an everyday sipper, albeit a step or two above the rest.

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The 2016 Domaine Roger Perrin Cuvee Vieilles Vignes Cotes-du-Rhone Villages is mercifully devoid of faults, suggesting that the Advent Chateauneuf-du-Pape curse does not extend to any “baby” versions. Phew. This leads with a sweeping plush bramble attack of red liquorice, blackberry, and black raspberry, with a few spoonfuls of Mission fig jam and cherry preserve and a dusting of broken clay flower pot, the soil from said pot, juniper, lavender, pineapple sage, and fennel seeds. A cinnamon and ginger snap cookie spice emerges mid-palate, carried along by supple ripe tannins. If Tetley conjured up a black tea flavoured with currants, cacao nibs, and ripe strawberries… this is the sort of warm climate wine I can get fully behind. Neither flabby nor jammy, but hardly a lightweight. Science and art.

89 points    

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Cork Rating: 5.5./10 (Reasonably sharp Diam.)





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar: Day 13

13 12 2019

By Tyler Derksen

While this is my first year contributing to Pop & Pour’s Advent Calendar blogging efforts, I have been a loyal reader since the site’s inception and followed the recounting of the wines in prior calendars with great interest.  Like fan of a TV show seeing a character from past seasons rejoin the cast, I was excited and trepidatious in equal measure when I removed the wrapping on today’s wine: Chateauneuf-du-Pape!  Bottles of Chateauneuf-du-Pape have had a…spotty…calendar history (both the 2012 Domaine Chante Cigale in 2017 and the 2013 Domaine de Cristia in 2018), so much so that Peter, blogging both of them, worried that he might be cursed.  So, will history repeat or will the one year that Peter doesn’t write about it be the year that Chateauneuf-du-Pape shines?  Let’s find out!

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While the wine making tradition at Chateau de la Gardine dates back to the 1700s, the current ownership of the winery began in 1945 with its purchase by Gaston Brunel.  It is now run by his two sons, Patrick and Maxime, along with their wives and children.  The Chateau originally consisted of 10 hectares of vineyards when acquired by Brunel and has grown dramatically since then, now consisting of 52 hectares, the vast majority of which (48 of the 52) grow the various red grapes permitted in Chateauneuf-du-Pape that make up their blend.  In regular format, the Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Chateau de la Gardine is bottled in distinct and unique bottles that found their original design from a hand-blown bottle uncovered by Gaston Brunel when he was looking to expand his cellar.  Struck by the design, he decided that all of his wines would use a similar bottle.  His dedication to this aesthetic was so great that he had to go to Italy to find a glass supplier that was able to produce it for him.  As with many bottles from the region, the regular 750 mL format also has the traditional keys of Saint Peter, the hallmark of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, embossed in the glass.  Sadly the half-bottle contains neither the unique shape nor the embossed keys (they are, however, on the label…it wouldn’t be a Chateauneuf-du-Pape without them).

Today’s bottle is the 2015 Chateau de la Gardine Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Although legally permitted to use eight different red grapes in its blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Muscardin, Counoise, Vaccarese and Terret Noir), Chateau de la Gardine uses only four: 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre and 5% Muscardin, all picked from vines between 40 and 60 years of age.  Those vines are grown in three different types of soils.  The first is comprised of large, round alpine stones; second, Urgonian limestone; and third, sandy clay soils, all of which impart different characteristics into the grapes and then into the wine.  Unlike many producers, Chateau de la Gardine blends the grapes before vinification.  The producer believes that using this more regionally traditional method gives the wine better balance than if the grapes are fermented separately and mixed afterwards.  Once fermented, the wines are then aged between 9 and 14 months, 60% in vats and 40% in oak barrels.  The winery suggests that its Chateauneuf-du-Pape can be cellared for between 10 to 15 years, so we’re diving into this bottle early — good thing the half-bottle format speeds up maturation.

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Cork rating: 5 out of 10.  While the image of the chateau is a nice touch, I was really hoping to see the Keys of St. Peter on the cork.  How am I supposed to know this is a CNDP?

So, have we shaken the Advent Calendar CNDP curse or did CNDP score the most unfortunate of hat tricks?  As it turns out, the latter.  This should come as a bit of a relief to Peter as it proves that he is not personally cursed, just all Chateauneuf-du-Papes in all Advent Calendars.  Based on my own personal experience tasting wines from this region, and also based on tasting notes of others for this particular wine (both Peter’s and Ray’s half-bottles tonight were corked), I have to assume that my bottle is also flawed and that the liquid in my glass does not reflect what this wine truly has to offer.  The nose is incredibly muted and what notes are there are reflective of my past experiences with corked bottles and contains little of the hallmarks of traditional CNDP wines.  Musty locker room shower, carpet, ash, and vegetable peels dominate what little nose there is.  The palate is incredibly thin, displaying none of the dark berry, kirsch, tobacco and leather notes I’m told should be present.  It’s a shame that this wine did not show its potential as I truly love wines from this region.  If nothing else, this continues a humorous, if luckless, storyline.  If there’s a Chateauneuf-du-Pape in next year’s calendar, Ray’s got to write about it.

Not scored: flawed





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 7

7 12 2019

By Tyler Derksen

As we come to the end of the first week of this year’s Bricks Wine Advent Calendar, I’m thrilled to be able to join Peter and Ray’s blogging efforts.  I think this is my first wine entry on Pop & Pour and following these titans of amateur Calgary wine blogging will be no small feat, but today’s wine is oddly appropriate for the endeavour.  Just as I take inspiration from Peter and Ray and their deep knowledge and passion for wine, so too does today’s wine look to an icon of the French wine world for its own inspiration.  Let’s hope we both do them justice.

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We close of the week with the 2015 Clarendelle Rouge from Bordeaux, which is fitting after Bordeaux was sort of called out by Ray yesterday, who began his discussion of the Starmont Cabernet Sauvignon by reminding us that it was a California Cab that beat out the best that Bordeaux had to offer in the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting.  This may not be the Judgment of Paris, but it will be interesting to see how this red blend from Bordeaux stacks up to last night’s New World offering.

Clarendelle is produced by Clarence Dillon Wines, which is a subsidiary of Domaine Clarence Dillon, a family of wineries that includes the legendary Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion.  Clarendelle was launched in 2005 by the Chairman of the Domaine Clarence Dillon, Prince Robert of Luxembourg (the great-grandson of Clarence Dillon, who purchased Chateau Haut-Brion in 1935), in an effort to create an accessible yet quality wine at an affordable price point, one that does not need to sit in your cellar for years before enjoying.  Clarendelle unabashedly takes its inspiration from the famous Haut-Brion, proclaiming this inspiration proudly on the bottle (if you’re going to find inspiration in a particular wine, you could do far worse that Haut-Brion). Unfortunately for me, I haven’t had the pleasure of drinking Chateau Haut-Brion, so I cannot confirm whether or not Clarendelle was successful in combining the elegant, earthy characteristics for which the vaunted Chateau Haut-Brion is known with the approachable and affordable sensibility that was Clarendelle’s genesis.  That said, I am appreciative of the effort to make a quality Bordeaux wine that does not require me to obtain a second mortgage on my house.

The 2015 Clarendelle Rouge is comprised of 83% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Cabernet Franc.  Clarendelle views 2015 to have been a great vintage, due to ideal weather patterns that year.  A warm spring and hot June and July allowed for full ripening of the grapes, while a more temperate August and September prevented the wine from becoming overripe and jammy, enabling the development of balance and complexity. The grapes were harvested from vineyards in a number of sub-regions in the broader Bordeaux AOC, including St. Emilion, Haut Medoc, and Pessac Leognan with some even coming directly from Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion and Chateau Quintus (the St. Emilion property that comprises part of the Dillon stable).

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Cork Rating: 7/10  (clearly effort was made, even for the half bottles).

I decanted the 2015 Clarendelle for an hour before drinking, at the suggestion of online sources.  In the glass, the wine is a beautiful dark ruby colour.  On the nose, fresh raspberry, vanilla, hot chocolate powder, sage, coriander, unlit cigar leaf, leather book binding, mushroom, and wet dirt intermingle giving this a notably Old-World flair.  The palate was brighter than I expected with notes of raspberry, blackberry, plum skin, dark romaine lettuce (probably from the Cabernet Franc), green bean and a slightly bitter peppery note to finish.  The wine is more bold than elegant and certainly embraces its youthful vigour.  I would be happy to drink this again, perhaps with a nice slow cooker stew.  A fine end to the week!

88+ points





12 Days of Vinebox: Day 5

29 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

The westernmost wine region on a map of the Loire Valley in France is Muscadet, maritime stronghold of the relatively neutral but late-ripening, frost-resistant grape variety Melon (or Melon de Bourgogne, or Melon Blanc). I might propose that this wine deserves a better fate than the shrinking total vineyard areas that characterize its current struggle to survive. Melon is a regional speciality and frankly as a grape might not be capable of achieving much more, although the wine world needs to hold on to this sort of heritage, lest everything homogenize into “hedonistic fruit bomb” oblivion. I’m therefore pleased to see such a wine in Vinebox. In theory, Muscadet should be popular for many of the same reasons Pinot Grigio is an international superstar: it’s neutral and hence unobjectionable (said to taste of “subtle green fruit”), approachable, and food-friendly, albeit with considerably more provincial character. I mean, how many wines can taste of the sea itself? Then again, this is the sort of wine that is built to pair well with local cuisine and is therefore supposed to represent but a shard of viticultural diversity, as opposed to stepping up as the next candidate for world domination. Perhaps it is mediocre to great right where it is.

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Muscadet Sevre et Maine is the largest appellation within the broader region, representing around two-thirds of total production. Wines from the broader Muscadet appellation are rarely seen outside the region, made in fairly small quantities, and deemed insipid by international critics. Sevre et Maine refers to a couple of small rivers that flow through the area, which roughly comprises the eastern half of the region. At their best, Sevre et Maine wines are light-bodied, tautly acidic, tangy, and saline in character, although there is some interesting regional variation in them that would be fun to explore. Although traditionally fermented in large old oak vessels, nowadays stainless steel and concrete have become more common. More recently winemakers are seeking to designate unique terroirs within the region, and are even experimenting with Burgundian techniques such as small barrel fermentation. Perhaps the region isn’t going anywhere without a fight. Read the rest of this entry »








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