Wine Review: $21 Old World Supremacy

11 07 2017

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

FullSizeRender-676This will be the last PnP post for a while – in a couple days I’ll be escaping the country on summer vacation and will not be thinking much at all about word counts or flavour descriptors while I’m gone.  Expect palm tree and sea turtle Instagram pictures and not much else until the end of the month.  I therefore felt compelled to send off July on the blog with a double-feature, a head-to-head review of two Old World value level wines with near-identical just-a-shade-over-$20 price tags and almost nothing else in common.  It’s Italy vs. France, a contest of different grapes, winemaking styles, vintages and approaches, with the main unifying links being longstanding traditional estates and a quest to over-deliver on quality for a supermarket price tag.  Enjoy the summer! Read the rest of this entry »





Domaines Paul Jaboulet Ainé: Parallele 45 Trio

6 07 2016

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

There are not many producer names as synonymous with their home region as Jaboulet and France’s Rhone Valley.  From their pinnacle bottling La Chapelle from the world-renowned hill of Hermitage (which I have had once and vividly remember to this day) down through the rest of their lineup, the wines of Domaines Paul Jaboulet Ainé are known and revered the world over, although until recently they were decidedly under-represented in our market.  That has now thankfully changed, and Alberta once again has full access to some of the best wines the Rhone has to offer.

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The Jaboulet winery was first started by Antoine Jaboulet in 1834, who then passed it to his two sons, Paul and Henri, to carry on his legacy.  Paul, the older son, gave the winery his name (the “Ainé” in “Domaines Paul Jaboulet Ainé” literally translates to “eldest”), and it stayed in the family for almost 175 years before finally being sold in 2006 to the Freys, a family of French winemakers with properties in Champagne and Bordeaux.  Caroline Frey (fittingly the eldest daughter of the family), who is now 37 and so was in her late 20s at the time of the acquisition, assumed the mantle of winemaker and has instituted sustainable vineyard practices and carried forward Jaboulet’s reputation for classic quality.

Parallele 45 is Jaboulet’s entry-level lineup of Cotes du Rhone wines, so named because the 45th parallel of northern latitude runs right through the Rhone Valley, bisects some of the Domaine’s vineyards and is only a couple kilometres from its cellars.  The bottles all bear an inscription found on a monument in the nearby village of Pont de l’Isere (which, and I am not making this up, is at 45.0040 degrees N latitude):  “Ici Commence Le Sud” – The South Starts Here.  Post de l’Isere looks to be on the southern edge of the Northern Rhone as opposed to the northern edge of the South, but the mantra still fits, and Jaboulet’s wines straddle both sides of the Valley.  I got to taste through the full Parallele 45 lineup – white, pink and red, all of which share the same $18ish wallet-friendly price tag – and see how well they carried forward the tradition of this great name. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Thomas Perrin Beaucastel Component Tasting

23 02 2016

FullSizeRender-242I’m having myself a bit of a tasting month here.  A week after sitting down to some incredible 50, 51 and 52 year old Taylor Fladgate Ports, I was treated to one of the most memorable experiences of my wine life:  a chance to taste through the individual varietal component wines of the unparalleled Chateau de Beaucastel with proprietor Thomas Perrin, the first time such a tasting had ever been held in Alberta.  Beaucastel is the legendary estate of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the top region in France’s Southern Rhone Valley and the first area declared to be an Appellation d’Origine Controllee (AOC – now Appellation d’Origine Protegee, or AOP) in 1936, known for producing rich, dense and complex reds and whites of remarkable quality and longevity.  The Perrin family has owned Beaucastel for over 100 years, having purchased it shortly after most of the vineyards were ravaged by the phylloxera louse and just before the scourge of World War I. Two wars, 100 hectares and five generations later, Thomas Perrin and his family members carry on the legacy of the Chateau and the Perrin name.

Beaucastel’s winemaking philosophy was created and entrenched largely by Thomas’ grandfather Jacques Perrin, whose name graces the estate’s top wine, Hommage a Jacques Perrin, released only in top years.  The elder Perrin converted the entire estate to organic viticulture back in 1962, when almost nobody would even have known what that meant and the prevailing wisdom pushed hard the opposite way, toward the increased use of vineyard chemicals and pesticides.  Chateauneuf-du-Pape permits the use of an astounding 13 different grape varietals, 14 if you count the white version of Grenache (reds – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Counoise, Terret Noir, Muscardin, Vaccarese; whites – Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Clairette, Picpoul, Bourboulenc, Picardin), which is way more than your standard high-end rigid French appellation; Beaucastel makes a special point of using them all, white and red, in every vintage of its CNDP release.  They plant, harvest, vinify and mature each varietal separately, as each has a different growth curve and ripeness window, but in all cases they aim to tell the harmonious story of grape, soil, climate and region, of terroir, in their wines.

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Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2014 Yalumba Old Bush Vine Grenache

18 09 2015

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

Raise a glass to Grenache!

Raise a glass to Grenache!

This is a bottle of eager-to-ripen Grenache from the scorching Barossa Valley in Australia.  This is a delicate, pretty, dainty, almost ethereal wine.  These sentences are both somehow true.  Happy International Grenache Day, everyone!

Yes, the third Friday of every September is set aside to celebrate the wonders of a grape that is prominent on the world wine scene, yet still strangely underrated, often anonymously doing the heavy lifting in a Rhone-style blend and only occasionally stepping out into the spotlight on its own.  This is my second time toasting the grape in September:  I revelled in the glory of the Okanagan’s first ever Grenache back in 2013.  I appear to have missed this global vinous holiday last year, but am now fully prepared to make up for lost time.

Yalumba is Australia’s oldest family-owned winery, founded 166 years ago in 1849 and still in the family today.  You may know them for their string of top notch value wines (the Y Series Viognier is particularly awesome for what it costs), but they have offerings all across the price spectrum, and their standing and longevity has given them access to the types of fruit sources necessary to put quality in the bottle.  With respect to Grenache in particular, Yalumba owns some of the oldest Grenache vineyards in the Barossa Valley; the fruit sourced for this bottle was planted between 1898 and 1973.  Vines that pre-date your great-grandparents used for a $22 wine!  Yalumba is also the only winery in the Southern Hemisphere to have their own cooperage, so they select and import oak and then toast it to their liking and make their own barrels.  Cool. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Les Halos de Jupiter Cotes du Rhone

11 02 2014

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

You can take the emptiness of the bottle as a sign of how good this wine is.

You can take the emptiness of the bottle as a sign of how good this wine is.

It had all the hallmarks of a crappy week:  utterly frigid weather, lack of sleep due to a teething baby, tons of stuff to do at the office.  But everything changed yesterday afternoon when I had an unexpected visitor at work:  a courageous rep from The Wine Syndicate who braved the cold to drop off a box of 5 killer-looking wines for me to try.  One of them in particular caught my eye, a French red from the Southern Rhone with a decidedly un-French approach to branding.  It was the first vin de France I had ever seen with a planetary body on the label, and I knew as soon as I saw it that I was opening it that night.  As it turns out, I lucked out, because this is a comfort wine to the nth degree, the ideal way to warm up after plunging through gruesome winter on the way home.

Les Halos de Jupiter is a negociant operation (where grapes are sourced largely or entirely from vineyards not owned by the winery) overseen by French master consultant Philippe Cambie, who provides his expert touch to a number of famous Rhone labels and has taken this on as his own personal side project.  The obvious first question on my (and everyone’s) mind:  what’s with the name?  The label explains that Jupiter (in Roman mythology, the same as Zeus in Greek mythology) is the king of gods and humans, the head of the patriarchal family of deities.  It’s also the biggest planet in our solar system, and Halo is the closest of its rings.  Cambie believes that Grenache is the king of all grapes and the “natural leader of Rhone varietals”; it’s the Jupiter of viticulture, and its Halos are the various subregions of the Rhone Valley that best allow it to express itself.  If this were an SAT questionthe best SAT question ever, its answer would be Halos:Jupiter :: Rhone regions:Grenache.  Cambie’s Halos span the most prestigious areas of the Southern Rhone, from Chateauneuf-de-Pape to Gigondas and Vacqueyras, but they also extend to areas where hidden values can be found.  Cotes du Rhone is a catch-all appellation that basically covers all of the areas of the Rhone that aren’t scooped up by a sexier subregion, but this particular wine is a single vineyard offering grown at elevation just outside of the quality region of Rasteau, yielding top-end old vines Grenache without the CNDP price premium. 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 Wine Men of Gotham Shiraz Grenache

7 11 2012

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

Cartoon Aussie label looks can be deceiving.

Don’t worry — this won’t be the wine you think it is.  After living through over a decade of mass-produced, hugely ripe, straight-ahead, destined-for-export cheap wines coming out of Australia bearing tongue-in-cheek labels laden with any number of hand-drawn creatures, we can all be forgiven for looking at any sub-$15 Aussie red with a cartoon label with a touch of skepticism.  While I think the country as a whole often gets unfairly typecast by virtue of the overwhelming response that Yellow Tail and its brethren received when they burst onto the international market, it’s probably fair to say that most inexpensive Shiraz still tends to follow this formula…after all, why mess with success, especially the economic tidal wave of success that these wines continue to enjoy?  But this bottle does exactly that, delivering a wine that is light years from what your taste buds are expecting of a Shiraz Grenache from Down Under and trampling on some prejudices while it’s at it.

The first hint that Wine Men of Gotham’s Shiraz blend might be different from most is its alcohol level:  at 13%, it’s a good 1.5% to 2% lower than the standard modern Shiraz from Australia.  This is particularly unusual/impressive because (1) the regions where the wine’s grapes originate (Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Riverland, although the label bears the catch-all “South Eastern Australia” name due to this multi-zone viticultural collaboration — SE Australia is an area that spans most of the grape-growing land in the country outside of the West Coast) generally tend to have warmer-than-average climates, which encourages faster sugar ripening and thus higher-alcohol wines, and (2) Grenache grapes are known for producing wines with heightened alcohol levels, especially in hotter climates.  It’s near impossible to produce a big, goopy, jammy Shiraz Grenache at 13% alcohol, which suggests that the Wine Men had something else up their sleeves for this bottle. Read the rest of this entry »