Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 20

20 12 2019

By Tyler Derksen

After a long year, I am now officially on vacation until 2020.  As I look ahead with anticipation to days spent with family and friends, I also look back on Christmases past.  I was never bold enough to try to unwrap, and then re-wrap, presents under the tree to ascertain their contents in advance; however, I did pick them up and analyse the packages with an almost scientific determination.  This childhood habit has persisted into adulthood and I find myself doing the same with this Wine Advent Calendar.  Some are easier than others to determine with some level of certainty (for example, the bottle of Dr. L Riesling on Day 15 was taller than most full-sized bottles and unmistakably a bottle of German Riesling).  As I picked up today’s wine, still wrapped, from the ever-emptier crate in which the Advent Calendar wines were bundled, the packaging was unmistakable.  While canned wine is becoming a more common site in YYC wine stores (see also Day 3 of this year’s calendar), the producers and varietals are still limited and I found myself almost disappointed that I thought I knew what the wine was going to be.  That disappointment quickly vanished as the wrapping came off – Gruner Veltliner!

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It’s a puppy, isn’t it Mom?

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Gruner as it was the white wine I served at my wedding.  Gruner Veltliner, Austria’s national grape, is a dry white varietal grown primarily in Austria, Germany and surrounding countries, although in recent years it has certainly spread beyond its homeland (as evidenced by today’s bottle…I mean can).

This evening’s wine is the 2018 Companion Wine Co. Gruner from California.  Companion Wine Co. brings together experienced wine makers with the stated, and laudable, idea “that delicious, terroir-driven, natural wine from California could be sold at cost and in packaging that is accessible to all.”  This Gruner is made by winemaker Graham Tatomer of Tatomer Wines, well-known for its Rieslings and Gruner Veltliners.  Trained in Austria and making his home in Santa Barbara, California, Tatomer uses Old World winemaking traditions to produce a New World wine with the aim of showcasing its varietal characteristics and terroir.

The grapes used to make the 2018 Gruner come from Kick-On Ranch, a windy, cool-climate vineyard located to the northwest of the Santa Rita Hills in California.  The soil is primarily Eolian, which means soil comprised of particles that have been carried to their current location by wind (as opposed to alluvium soil, which is soil deposited by flowing water) and is typically made up of sand or silt.  More particularly, the soil of Kick-On Ranch is called Loess, which is predominantly silty soil containing very little clay or other binding agent. This site is considered by Graham Tatomer and others as being ideal for growing Gruner and Riesling (for example, Stirm Wine Company, which also makes wine for distribution through Companion Wine Co., sources grapes from this vineyard).

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I wasn’t able to locate much information on the production methods for the 2018 Gruner other than that malolactic fermentation (a process in which tart-tasting malic acid is converted into softer lactic acid, imparting, for example, the buttery popcorn taste found in some Chardonnay) was blocked and the fermented wine was then filtered before canning.  With this information in hand, the nose and palate are certainly not surprising.  The nose is citrusy, with notes of lemon, lime, apricot, mandarin orange peel, Himalayan pink salt, green bean (Gruner Veltliner translates to “Green Wine of Veltlin”) and a slight floral note.  The palate is tart with punchy acidity, matching the nose well, if a bit shy on complexity, with tastes of lemon, Granny Smith apple, tangerine, river rock, a hint of honey and a nutty, toasted almond finish.

Apparently the fruit making up this wine was quite expensive, and although a particularly great growing season for the Kick-On Ranch Vineyard prompted Graham Tatomer to make this wine, it may not happen again as a result.  This is too bad, as although it’s perhaps a bit lean for my tastes, I fully support any effort to bring Gruner Veltliner to a wider wine-drinking audience.

88- points





PnP Panel Tasting: Culmina Spring Releases, Part 2 – Funky Whites Edition

12 06 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

The last set of Culmina releases featured on PnP was so fun to taste that I felt compelled to bring in the band to share the joy of this next group, a trio of weird, wild, semi-experimental whites that are seeking to test boundaries both within and outside of the winery.  Fellow PnPers Ray Lamontagne and Tyler Derksen gathered with me to taste through a lineup that included my own personal Culmina obsession, the incredible Unicus Gruner Veltliner, as well as two even more envelope-pushing whites from Culmina’s recently unveiled small-production Number Series.  Things got fun fast.

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The Number Series was introduced in late 2016 as a way for Culmina’s talented winemaking team to spread its wings a bit.  Part Reserve-level offering and part experimental test drive, each Number Series wine is a limited-production rarity that may only see a single run, never to be repeated again in subsequent vintages.  It represents the best of Culmina’s developmental efforts from that year, either showcasing a standard-rotation Culmina grape in a whole new way (like the inaugural Number Series Wine No. 001, a rich, ripe Riesling styled like an Alsatian Grand Cru) or braving the unknown with a varietal that isn’t part of Culmina’s normal lineup.  The two most recent Number Series bottles below both fall into the latter camp, and show off some intriguing winemaking approaches to boot.

As with all our Panel Tastings, while we discussed the wines as we were tasting them, we came up with our own impressions and our own scores for each bottle and did not share them until everyone’s assessment was complete.  We started, as every meal and tasting and day on this Earth should, with Unicus. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 3

3 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I get a strong sense of deja vu. A distinct feeling of coming full circle, of the universe working in mysterious ways, a feeling that perhaps the space-time continuum is not linear but rather cyclic. You see, my very first post on this blog (indeed, my first wine blog, period) detailed a Gruner Veltliner, also on Day 3, in last year’s Bricks Advent calendar. Never mind just that, I also became Pop and Pour’s de facto Austria correspondent for that entire 24-wine run, drawing every bottle from this country in the calendar and becoming an even more ardent fan of Austria’s wines in the process. This just feels right. It is great to be home.

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Gruner Veltliner remains my favourite white wine grape one year later, despite some clear inroads by Riesling: many of these have involved sneaky guerilla actions with accurate laser beam weapons of acid and floral aromatics, while a few have involved full on armoured assaults bearing the insignias of Rheinhessen and the Pfalz. Nevertheless, Gruner remains ascendant (for now). It is safe to say that my view of what constitutes a good Gruner has evolved. Where once I sought sheer weirdness, now I yearn for clarity, distinctiveness, balance, and complexity. I want a sense of place coupled with unambiguous varietal character, although these can sometimes be at loggerheads. Gruner can be high-yielding, leading to blurry tepid wines, or it can deliver a rude slash of acid without enough aromatics to entice or tantalize. It is no longer enough merely to smell like a compost bin or root cellar, although I shall never stop craving the peppery “funk” that is this grape’s signature, the one that initially captivated me. Fortunately, the present wine region has rarely let me down. 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 »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 3

3 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

I should begin by emphasizing just what an honour it is to join Peter and Dan on this Bricks Wine Co. Advent journey. I remain a relative newcomer to the Calgary wine community yet have had the pleasure to meet so many knowledgeable, friendly, and dynamic people over the past year or so. It has been immensely moving and powerful to be welcomed into this community with open arms …  I wish to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart, and beg your continued tolerance as I haunt your shops, standing around the tasting bar, making random comments about terpenes or field blends and almost certainly distracting you from more important business.

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The evidence …

I am ecstatic that my inaugural foray into the world of wine blogging is a Gruner Veltliner. Gruner is likely my favorite white grape. I say likely because Riesling sometimes bumps it from that lofty perch, as a function of day, my mood, producer or region in question, etc. This is a great microcosm for the reality in Austria, where Riesling continues to carry more status and prestige while Gruner toils away, sometimes in the doldrums of plonk for “wine pubs” but also at the pinnacle of age-worthy sips capable of winning prestigious tastings against world-class Chardonnays. I like well-crafted Gruner so much that one of my cats was nearly christened “Veltliner”. My partner swiftly vetoed this notion (but was ultimately OK with “Spatburgunder”). Why the obsession? Simply put, Gruner can get weird. A good tasting wheel will depict all manner of curious aroma attributes rarely experienced elsewhere, including green beans, lentils, root cellar, compost bin, lovage (a savory “old country” herb that vaguely recalls soy sauce or Maggi seasoning), old socks, the less polarizing apples and limes, and above all, white pepper. Peppery aromas in wine are due to a compound called rotundone, also found in a few other varieties (most famously Syrah). Although rotundone levels are notoriously susceptible to various wine-making decisions, Gruner can deliver a zesty, earthy vortex that garners an occasional comparison to Sauvignon Blanc but which in my view is wholly unique.

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Rotundone … One of the aforementioned terpenes and a much better molecule than TCA.

So what of this 2016 single vineyard Huber Obere Steigen? Markus Huber has expanded a 250 year-old family operation into a big success story with international reach, seemingly without compromising his focus on precise, elegant wines that express their origins. Huber gives Gruner its just due, with the latter comprising 75% of varieties handled at the winery. The Traisental DAC is a small wine region south of the Danube river, below the famed Wachau, and here terrior reigns supreme. Full of chalk and conglomerate rocks, the soils yield full-bodied wines with firm mineral structure. Gruner from this region is known to be particularly fruity as well, yet not at the sacrifice of that all-important peppery spice. The Obere Steigen site enjoys its own unique microclimate due to its terraced nature. This emphasis on terrior or place is relatively new in Austria. Historically, more emphasis was placed on variety alone. Controversy around this difference in emphasis remains, but Markus Huber appears more than happy to let his DAC flag fly.

IMG_0489This is a pleasing yellow hue with a slight green tint. Nose hints at the crystalline mineral power within. I’m getting yellow apple, fresh parsley, snap peas, mango, and a potent undercurrent of musty white peppercorn. The herbs are more vibrantly green than umami in character. On the palate this is precise and linear, with acids brisk but not punishing … Although hang on, there’s some tangy lemon juice bite after a few sips. A compost bin funk, like old apple cores and lawn clippings, starts to creep in around a fundamentally solid core of green pears and apples, white peach, and lemon-lime zest resting on a chalk and wet slate base. This gentleman is dressed in a dapper suit but there’s something off, perhaps some mud on his dress shoes. Fruit? Check. Minerals? Check. Rotundone? Check. I’ve had Gruners that bounce around a lot more than this one, flopping around like a fish in a boat and always changing their look. This one is less dynamic and more cohesive and laser sharp, with just a slight halo of corruption … Not a bad thing in this case.

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90 points





Calgary Wine Life: Weingut Hiedler Tasting @ Bricks Wine Co.

26 06 2017

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Ludwig Hiedler Jr.

When Ludwig Hiedler Jr. speaks, generations of knowledge echo in his words.  His career has spanned many years of education and experience, multiple shifts in approach, and innumerable hours spent questioning how to create and reveal the truest form of a wine.  He at first chafed against the layers of tradition quietly imposed on him like sediment by his ancestors, and pushed back against them by experimenting in all facets of his self-described “artisanal, emotional” winemaking style, only to eventually discover his own truth where it always was, embedded within his family’s values and legacy.  He is 24 years old.

Ludwig Jr., his father Ludwig Sr. and his brother Dietmar now collectively guide the course of Weingut Hiedler, which has been producing wine in northern Austria’s Kamptal region since 1856, longer than Canada has existed as a country.  Ludwig Jr. represents the fifth generation of Hiedlers to take on winemaking duties at the estate, steering the winery into the future with a nod back into the past, through sustainable chemical-free practices in the vineyard, next to no use of oak for maturation, and wines made as a pure reflection of site and vintage, with no stylistic or flavour preconceptions guiding the journey to the finished product and limited intervention during fermentation.  Hiedler uses native yeasts to ferment all of his wines, but in an interesting way:  he allows the ambient yeasts around the winery to do some of the work during fermentation, but has also harnessed certain selections of these native strains with which he also inoculates the fermenting must, propelling the ferment forward without introducing any element external to the winery.

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Weingut Hiedler is a small piece of a 1,000+ year tradition of winemaking in Austria, and is part of a group of quality-focused producers working on taking the generational knowledge built up and passed down about vineyard sites, soils, aspects and qualities and creating a (long-overdue) formal comprehensive set of vineyard classifications for the country.  The Österreichische Traditionsweinguter (or the ÖTW for short, which translates to “Traditional Austrian Winemakers” and is roughly equivalent to Germany’s VDP) has identified a number of top “Erste Lage” (first growth) vineyards which they hope to see formalized at law in the future, bringing Burgundian rigour to Austrian soils.  Hiedler’s philosophy strives for longevity, tranquility, wisdom, harmony and elegance in its wines, a vision symbolized by the owl that graces its labels and has quickly become the most recognizable visual reference to the estate.

This was Ludwig Hiedler Jr.’s first ever trip to Canada, and his last stop in a hectic North American travel schedule before he returned to winemaking duties in Austria.  Before embarking on a transoceanic flight home, he graciously led us through a remarkable Gruner Veltliner and Riesling Masterclass at one of Calgary’s most impressive boutiques, Inglewood’s Bricks Wine Company.  Through four Gruners and three Rieslings, we got a clear sense of what Ludwig and Weingut Hiedler were all about, yet I still left thinking that there are many more undiscovered layers to both the man and the winery, to be unveiled in the coming decades of Hiedler releases. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Culmina Tasting with Don Triggs

5 06 2015
Don Triggs, visionary owner of Culmina.

Don Triggs, visionary owner of Culmina.

Okanagan wines are coming of age, and Don Triggs is helping to get them there.  More and more, producers from British Columbia’s top wine region are ceasing to be satisfied with being locally successful and a tourist charm; they are after quality, seeking distinction, looking to carve out an international identity.  Triggs’ current wine venture, Culmina Family Estate Winery, is a manifestation of this quest to be better.  In the past few years, Triggs has meticulously engaged in soil mapping and analysis of the 43(!) micro-blocks of terroir in his estate vineyards; he has relentlessly, and successfully, helped lobby for the creation of a new delimited sub-appellation (the first sub-geographical indicator in BC) for the Golden Mile Bench, an east-facing angled strip of land stretching southward from Oliver; and he has made Culmina’s winery facilities the most technologically advanced in the area.  This dedication to elevating the level of the Okanagan’s wine game is starting to show in the bottle.

Read the rest of this entry »








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