Calgary Wine Life: Catena Virtual Tasting with Laura Catena

26 08 2017

Laura Catena is my wine hero.  Her list of credentials reads as if it must have been accomplished by at least two people over the course of long, full lives:  fourth-generation winery owner, global Argentinian wine ambassador, Harvard magna cum laude, Stanford medical school grad, San Francisco emergency room and pediatric emergency doctor, multilingual published author, viticultural researcher and innovator.  And these parallel tracks of success are not a story of a mid-life career switch; she has been excelling in one of the most challenging careers in medicine and continuing her family’s proud wine legacy simultaneously, on two different continents, since she was in her early 20s.  As I have a hard time juggling more normal professional work demands and writing a weekly wine blog in the same city, I hold Dr. Catena in some degree of awe, as an example of what purpose and passion truly can accomplish in a single lifespan.

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Argentina has long been highly ranked on global lists of national wine consumption, made up as it is of a high percentage of European immigrants and their descendants, who brought with them an imbued wine culture and the know-how to introduce vines and winemaking practices to their new home.  One such voyager was Nicola Catena, Laura’s great-grandfather, who came to Argentina from Italy in 1902, at age 18, and planted his first vineyard, which became the origin of Bodega Catena Zapata.  However, it was Laura’s father Nicolas, two generations later, who brought the winery to the world’s attention and ended up bringing the whole country along with him.

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Nicolas travelled to California in the 1980s, shortly after the Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976, where Napa Valley Cabernet and Chardonnay were first thrust into the global spotlight after besting top Bordeaux and Burgundies in a surprising blind tasting that went viral.  He met up with Robert Mondavi, perhaps the man most insatiably driven to keep California’s star burning ever more brightly, and was inspired by the quality and ambition in this burgeoning rogue wine nation.  Convinced that Argentina could follow the same path to prominence and be the equal of California (not to mention France) in quality, Nicolas Catena returned home, sold the domestic-consumption table wine portion of the family winery, and zeroed in his focus on quality wines for export, aiming to “put Argentina on the map as a grand cru” for world wine.  He spent years studying climate patterns and geology and gradually came to realize that the most popular vineyard areas in Argentina at the time were mostly too warm for quality wine production.  He had two choices for cooler planting zones:  south, away from the Equator, or up, into the Andes.  He went up, and Argentina’s wine fates rose with him. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cellar Direct: Summer Vibes, Part 1

2 08 2017

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

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Cellar Direct:  always delivers, figuratively and literally.

And we’re back.  If you’ve seen little activity on this blog for the past few weeks, it’s for good reason:  I was not on mainland North America.  Some family fun in the sun in Maui was an excellent and much-needed recharge, but too much time away from the cellar is a dicey proposition, so I’m revving up the tasting notes and Pop & Pour is ready to rumble again.  And we’re not easing back into blogging life either:  we’re kicking it retro-style tonight with a powerhouse sub-13% abv traditional red duet that’s as Old World as Old World gets, both of which were recent feature offerings at what ever-increasingly appears to be Canada’s can’t-miss online wine club, Cellar Direct.

If you read this blog and that name is familiar to you, there’s good reason, as this will be the fifth time I’ve been lucky enough to experience and describe their wares, dating back to the venture’s launch almost two years ago (see here and here and here for more).  I have yet to taste a Cellar Direct bottle that disappoints.  Sourcing directly from the cellars of producers themselves and focused on classically made, low-intervention, farm-to-bottle offerings from European producers steeped in history, CD gets them to consumers in a 21st-century manner, via regular inbox offers and an online storefront where you can go back and grab more of past winners.  They ship using AST Healthcare’s temperature-controlled delivery services when external temperatures permit (3-4 times per year) and safely store your ordered wines until they’re ready to be delivered to your door.  Cellar Direct’s reach is nationwide, and their inventory is stocked with European treasures that often don’t otherwise see our shores.  Past, meet future.

This is the first of a three-part series of posts offering a snapshot of what Cellar Direct has been offering its members (which can include you, as it’s free to sign up) in spring and summer 2017.  Some of the wines are still around in CD’s online shop; others have sadly sold out with haste; but all are representative of what this venture is all about.  The first two bottles I tried tell you all you need to know. Read the rest of this entry »





World Malbec Day Review: 2014 Bodega Norton Barrel Select Malbec

17 04 2017

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

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Happy World Malbec Day!

Happy belated Easter to all – I hope your long weekend was filled with family and food and chocolate and wine in some order.  If you headed back to work on Easter Monday and were feeling the post-holiday blues, fear not, because there is another event on today that’s worth celebrating:  April 17th has been designated World Malbec Day, a designation I would bet many people choose to live out far more often.  In a blink sometime in the last decade, Malbec went from being an overlooked Bordeaux blending grape and an esoteric dark and chewy hidden treasure from Cahors to Australian Shiraz’s heir as the friendly, fruity, powerful gateway drug into the wonderful world of wine.  Whereas I stumbled onto Yellow Tail sometime in the early 2000s and worked my way up from there, nascent wine lovers today are heading to the previously non-existent Argentina section of their local liquor store and starting their odyssey with the grape, one that will hopefully last a lifetime. Read the rest of this entry »





Luigi Bosca: 2013 Malbec Value Tiers

1 09 2016

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

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Now THAT’S a label rebrand. Thing of beauty.

Once you dive deep into the world of wine and start devoting more time and money than most people deem sane into bottles and glasses and books and storage systems, it can be a challenge sometimes to maintain a sense of discovery about larger-production brands, the workhorse wines you see on the liquor store shelves.  In part that can be valid:  some of them aren’t very good, a fact thrown into stark relief after you’ve learned about production differences and downed a quality bottle or three.  But others have found a way to keep that quality and that sense of vinous wonder despite stepping up in scale and availability, and the best of these manage to do this at an easily accessible price.  It may be as hard to create a well-made, interesting, varietally accurate bottle of 100,000-case $20 wine as it is to create a small-production luxury showpiece bottle at $100.  I’ve been able to try a few different Luigi Bosca wines over the past couple years, and they are making the former happen on a consistent basis.

I say this a lot and apologize for repeating myself, but if you want to learn about a grape or a producer or a region, buy a representative bottle and pay careful attention as you drink it.  If you REALLY want to learn a lot MORE about that grape, producer or region, buy TWO different representative bottles, drink them side by side, and note the similarities and differences.  Comparative tasting is probably the biggest educational gift you can give yourself…plus you also get to open two bottles at once, which can never be bad.  Tonight’s comparative tasting should be particularly illustrative because so much about the two Luigi Bosca Malbecs sitting in front of me are alike:  same producer, same grape, same vintage (2013), same general region (Mendoza, Malbec capital of the New World in Argentina).  What’s different?  Price points ($18 vs. $35), site specificity (general regional wine vs. single-vineyard wine from quality subregion) and grape-growing/winemaking techniques.  What shines through – the similarities or the differences? Read the rest of this entry »





Multi-Wine Review: Calliope/Burrowing Owl Octet

24 11 2015

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

No time to spare for a huge intro tonight, as we have a whole whack of impressive Canadian wines to assess in what is sure to be a super-sized review.  I was fortunate enough to get the chance to taste through a series of recent releases from Okanagan stalwart Burrowing Owl, which is based in the scorching deep south of the Valley, near the US border in Oliver, British Columbia.  The tasting pack included a quartet of bottles from the parent winery and a quartet from its new offspring, Burrowing Owl’s second label Calliope Wines.  In keeping with the main estate’s unusual-bird-based theme, Calliope is named after a tiny hummingbird (Canada’s smallest bird) found in southern BC (not to be confused with the Greek muse or the steam organ of the same name).  According to its website, Calliope “is a full line of easy sipping, fruit-forward wines, designed to pair with casual lunches on the patio, or with contemporary cuisine”.  According to the pictures on the website, the wines also appear to pair with unnaturally beautiful Photoshopped women and neck beards.  Polite suggestion to Calliope:  Your wines are solid.  Your website is trying too hard.  It needs to relax.

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I had often heard strong praise about the Burrowing Owl lineup from Wine People Who Know Things but hadn’t previously gotten around to experiencing it for myself, so getting to dive into a sizeable chunk of the portfolio all at once was an amazing way to get caught up on one of the brightest lights in Canadian wine.  Without further ado, here are eight mini wine reviews, starting with the second label and finishing with the main house (all prices based on Alberta retail).

Read the rest of this entry »





Border Crossing: Kaiken Ultra Wines

28 10 2015

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

From Chile to Argentina with love.

From Chile to Argentina with love.

It’s not uncommon to see producers from other countries head to Argentina to create a second label or side project.  There’s lots to like about the South American nation as a startup hub, from truly unique altitude-induced terroir to surprising access to old-vine plantings to ultra-low input costs. What is unusual is for the immigrating winery to come from right next door:  Argentina’s skinny western neighbour Chile offers many of the same producer advantages and is often similarly sought after by wineries off the continent for new ventures, but you rarely see a producer from one of these countries set foot in the other to make wine.  That’s what makes these bottles interesting.

The Montes family is one of Chile’s pioneering wine clans, and its Vina Montes may be the country’s best known winery, churning out everything from weeknight wine champions to top-end stunners like Montes Folly, an unprecedented Syrah from Apalta that’s one of my favourite wines of all time.  Patriarch Aurelio Montes Sr. visited Argentina in 2001 and was immediately intrigued by the Andes-hugging Mendoza region; he wasted no time in deciding to expand operations there, starting up the Kaiken label in 2002.  The word “Kaiken” is an anglicized version of “Caiquen”, a type of wild goose that regularly travels over the Andes Mountains from Chile to Argentina, just like Montes himself.  Once the winery was up and running, he made the call to keep the winemaking in the family, recently naming his son Aurelio Montes Jr. as winemaker.  Kaiken owns three vineyards in Mendoza, two in and around the Lujan de Cuyo region near the town of Mendoza itself and one in the Uco Valley further south; one of the vineyards is fully biodynamic, a set of principles Kaiken is working to embrace. Read the rest of this entry »





Side By Side: 2012 Tinto Negro Malbec x2

7 10 2015

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

Malbec vs. Malbec.  Mendoza Civil War.

Malbec vs. Malbec. Mendoza Civil War.

Forgive me if you’ve heard me say this before, but:  comparative tastings are the best.  You can learn a lot about wine by taking your time over a single bottle, properly assessing what’s inside and picking out colour and smell and flavour notes common to a country, region or grape.  You can learn way more about wine by doing this to two similar bottles at the same time, with almost the same characteristics, but for a single isolated variable:  same wine, different vintage; same producer, different grape; same grape, different country.  You pick up a whole bunch of what makes them the same, but you can also focus on the impact that primary thing that makes them different and see firsthand the tremendous effect that every single input going into a wine has on the finished product.  You learn from both the commonalities and the distinctions.  Plus you end up with two open bottles of wine, which generally always leads to a good night.

In this case, the similarities are massive and the differences apparently slight, but the impact remains noteworthy.  These two bottles are from the same producer (Tinto Negro, founded by the ex-vineyard manager and wine education director of renowned Argentinian winery Bodega Catena Zapata), the same country (Argentina), the same grape (Malbec), the same vintage (2012) and even the same region (Mendoza, Malbec’s New World spiritual home nestled in the foothills of the Andes).  However, the first bottle, the 2012 Tinto Negro Mendoza Malbec, is an entry-level regional bottling, and the second bottle, the 2012 Tinto Negro Uco Valley Malbec, is from the next quality tier up, a sub-regional bottling from the Uco Valley sub-zone in southwestern Mendoza.  Apart from their divergent price points, you might have a hard time differentiating them in the store, but does this little sourcing difference make a difference?  When you taste them side by side, oh yes. Read the rest of this entry »








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