Wine Review: Henry of Pelham Triple Baco Battle

27 05 2020

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

By Peter Vetsch

The hardest part about writing a review like this is resisting the urge to pun the headline.  Baby’s Got Baco.  Backstreet’s Baco.  Baco to the Future.  Baco Tuesday.  Where Baco Noir goes, a world of pun glory follows.  But in the end, I decided the title had to focus on the mission.  Three different Baco Noirs from one of the world’s best-known producers of this star-crossed grape, Niagara’s Henry of Pelham, at three tiers of the winery’s portfolio.  One survivor.  Take what you need, give nothing Baco.  OK, I’ll stop.

IMG_1815

Opening a bottle of Baco Noir feels a little like drinking Canadian wine history.  One forgets in our nation’s current golden era of properly ripe bigger vinifera reds and advanced farming techniques allowing warm-climate grapes (even Grenache!!) to flourish in northern climes that it was not that easy in the beginning.  Micro-soil-mapping to ascertain the perfectly right spot to plant the right varietal didn’t exist. Climate change hadn’t yet made the task of Canadian viticulture slightly easier.  It was not always clear what would grow, and when it did, there was always the chance it might just freeze and die the next winter.  The grapes that did the best in the conditions were not necessary the ones that made good wine, but at least they lived long enough to make wine.  You can understand the allure of Baco Noir, a grape that attempted to do both.

IMG_1822

Baco Noir is a hybrid variety, meaning that it is a human-bred cross between two grape parents, one of which hails from the vinifera species of vitis (grape) native to the Old World (from which all of the world’s top wine grapes are found), and the other of which is from a North American vitis riparia species, which makes a poor choice for winemaking but has a constitution much better suited to marginal climates.  Baco’s vinifera mother was Folle Blanche, one of the traditional (white) French grapes of Cognac and Armagnac; its riparia father was previously not known but has now been shown to be Grande Glebre, which carries on a sort of half-life in the wine world currently as a producer of phylloxera-resistant rootstocks onto which many susceptible vinifera vines are grafted.  These parents were crossed and bred by Frenchman Francois Baco in 1902, who obviously decided to name the result after himself.  It was initially called Baco 24-23 (giving you a sense of just how many Baco varietals there likely were out there) before being more convincingly changed to Baco Noir in the 1960s.  After a brief flirtation in Burgundy and the Loire Valley, the hybrid was planted in North America in the mid-20th century, where it gained a foothold in the northeast part of the continent.

IMG_1821

BACO.

Baco’s allure in a nascent Canadian wine industry is not difficult to understand.  Not only was it resistant to phylloxera, but it grew vigorously and ripened early (critical in a short growing season) and yet still retained plenty of acid.  It was cold-resistant through the difficult winters.  It is a teinturier grape, so unlike most red grapes, its flesh and juice were dark-coloured as well as its skins, allowing for guaranteed depth of colour in the finished wine.  Back when the idea of ripening and keeping alive most of the big red grapes of the world was sheer fantasy in Canada, here was this hearty and disease-averse grape that could reliably produce a dark, deep, rich, meaty red without losing its acidic backbone and without dying before the next spring.  Nowadays local alternative options have improved significantly, but the love affair with Baco Noir, particularly in Ontario, has never fully gone away, particularly at Henry of Pelham, where the Bacos are often some of the first wines to sell out every year, despite healthy production levels thanks to 60+ acres of plantings.  Bring on the Baco ladder. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Rosewood Estates Tasting @ Bricks

5 02 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne & Peter Vetsch

It has been a while since we’ve covered a tasting on this blog, thanks to a spate of Advent wines, Cellar Direct releases, and a number of other supplied bottles posted over the holidays and up through January. No rest for the wicked. This tasting is a particularly special way for us to get back into Calgary Wine Life. As evidenced by our unwavering coverage of the last three Bricks Wine Company Advent Calendars, we are staunch supporters of this local boutique shop, and although our attention tends to be drawn mostly to the wine shelves, Bricks also has a more-than-serviceable craft beer section.  This is where the present tasting ties in (and no, it is not a beer tasting. Ray’s original blogging foray, “Dr. Beer”, shall remain deservedly consigned to the dust bin of history). Mike Maxwell, Bricks’ resident cicerone extraordinaire, is alas leaving the shop and moving on to the ambitious undertaking of running his own distribution agency, Nectar Imports, with a primary focus on beer but a robust toehold in wine as well. Mike is an exceptional human being, and we are excited to participate in his Bricks send-off by covering one of his agency’s first winery clients, Rosewood Estates.

IMG_4643

Mike Maxwell, Nectar Imports.

The Rosewood story is a classic new Canadian origin tale.  R.W. Roman was a passionate beekeeper and mead-maker from the Ukraine when he arrived in Ontario decades ago, where he continued to bee-keep in his adopted homeland alongside his son Eugene. Eugene wound up promising his wife Renata that one day they would start a winery together, after they both fell in love with Ontario’s beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake region. The dream came true in 2003, when Eugene purchased the Renaceau Vineyard located in the Beamsville Bench VQA. This site features deep clay soils with some additional dolomite and limestone mixed in, the latter helping to provide some laser-beam focus to complement the sweet fruit aromas that clay typically yields. Breezes coming off of Lake Ontario provide a cooling influence to preserve fresh acidity in the grapes. Bordeaux varieties appreciate the long ripening season at Renaceau. In 2008 a second vineyard was added, the Blackjack or 21st St. Vineyard (sounds like a Springsteen song), a cooler site with better drainage in the 20 Mile Bench VQA . This one is ideally suited to Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

IMG_7164

As the Rosewood team continues to be passionate about beekeeping, there is a strict emphasis on minimizing use of chemicals in the vineyards. Natural enemies of insect pests are encouraged to prosper, while the vines are managed by hand to foster the light exposure and airflow that discourage destructive fungi. There is an overarching emphasis on yield control, so that all batches of grapes are flavoursome and concentrated despite the winery’s overall cool-climate emphasis. Although not afraid of technology, the endgame for each Rosewood wine vision is “earth to bottle”, with minimal intervention. Natural wine? Sure, if these wines must be categorized.

IMG_7523

We are greeted at the door with a glass of 2018 Rosewood Estates Nebulous Pet Nat (~$35), along with a well-intentioned warning that we might find this one a touch “weird”. It turns out that this 80% Gamay, 20% Pinot Noir ancestral-method sparking wine, which is bright and clear before the crown cap is removed and the built-in carbonation roils up the lees and clouds the mélange, is more accessible to our palates than expected, with punchy blood orange, strawberry liquorice, pink grapefruit and apricot notes leading the way, followed by (admittedly odder) green banana and smoky Hickory Sticks. Yeah, OK, somewhat weird. But pleasantly weird, and even intriguing in a relaxed, bucolic way. Let’s take a seat. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 1

1 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

And we’re off.  This marks the SIXTH straight year that this site has run a daily play-by-play blog of a boozy Advent calendar (sometimes more than one at once, which inevitably leads to massive regret on my part).  For the last couple years, this has included following along with the wonderfully diverse Bricks Wine Company Half-Bottle Advent Calendar, a concept long considered and now gloriously fulfilled, finding new range with each passing year.  This marks the third annual edition of the Bricks calendar, and if the shapes and tops of the various gift-wrapped 375 mL entrants into this year’s Advent derby are any indication, we may be in for our most intriguing field yet.

DFF6609D-E2CF-4B8F-8CB2-40E947C6DC21

Case in point:  Day 1.  That is NOT a standard screwcap or neck foil that I feel under the wrapping paper.  The prior Bricks calendars have always ended off with bubbles on Day 24, but the wire cage and jumbo pressure-withstanding cork protruding from the gift wrap of this inaugural 2019 offering suggests that this year’s calendar may well be starting off with them too.  And so it is, as the tissue paper falls away to reveal…a hell of a good start.

IMG_1038

The 2016 Tawse Spark Brut hails from my personal favourite winery in Ontario, one that has won the prestigious award for Canada’s Winery of the Year four times (including an impressive three-peat from 2010 through 2012) despite only being 18 years old.  Tawse is a family-owned organic and biodynamic estate that is heavily focused on Burgundian grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (to such an extent that founder and owner Moray Tawse also has a project in Burgundy itself, a collaboration with the renowned Pascal Marchand called, unoriginally, Marchand-Tawse), although it first came to my notice for remarkable Riesling and Cabernet Franc.  Tawse’s focus in the vineyard is to make each swath of vines a complete self-sustaining ecosystem, one that is constantly in balance without the need for any chemicals or external artificial additives to do the balancing.  Animals play a major role in this effort, including chickens (who eat vineyard bugs), sheep (who eat away the lower vine leaves, exposing the grapes to more sunlight) and horses (who are used in lieu of tractors so as to avoid excessive soil compaction).

IMG_1041

The Spark Brut is a traditional-method Champagne-style sparkling wine, made by inducing a secondary fermentation of a previously made still wine within a sealed bottle, which traps escaping CO2 within the resulting wine that is created and allows it extensive contact with the dead yeast cells that remain after the bubble-inducing effort is successful, creating a myriad of textures and flavours not otherwise found in the world of wine.  This offering is made from a surprising 44% Pinot Gris in addition to Champagne stalwarts Pinot Noir (31%) and Chardonnay (25%).  Pinot Gris does not often get the Champagne treatment anywhere outside of Alsace, but Tawse sees fit to elevate it alongside its more renowned Pinot cousin; each of the varietals here are yield-thinned and hand-harvested, then left on lees for 12 months after secondary fermentation before a slight touch of sweetness is added back ahead of bottling.  Each grape used in this wine hails from a different Tawse vineyard, including the Chardonnay, harvested from the mighty Quarry Road (anyone who has had the Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Chardonnay will understand my singling it out).

IMG_1042

Cork Rating:  1/10 (Shiner cork AND shiner wire cage?  I thought this was Advent!!)

Day 1 emerges an extremely pale lemon colour amidst a steady stream of tiny bubbles, their size and energy a clear indicator of the traditional method at work.  The aromas are pleasantly vibrant for a Champagne-style wine, perhaps a sign of what Pinot Gris can add to a bubble party:  banana leaf, lime curd and honeydew, swirling across southern biscuits and struck match.  Instantly drying on the tongue, the Spark’s lees-induced flavours stand firm and take precedence over the fruit, reasserting the dominance of its winemaking method and erasing any perceptible trace of residual sugar; elastic bands and sourdough bread stretch over tangy melon, tangerine and Granny Smith apple, lending heft and gravitas to an otherwise-playful wine.  This is not ragingly complex, but it’s crispy and approachable and delicious, the kind of thing you would use to kick off a party that sees you crush 24 bottles in 24 days.  Here’s to another wine Advent.

88+ points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 18

18 12 2017

For those few brave stragglers who have stuck with us through this dual Advent adventure, we are three-quarters of the way there.  This is the last wine of the third of four columns of the Bricks Wine Advent crate:  we are a week from Christmas and six wines from having to pick our own bottles again for dinner.  Tonight’s bottle is a bit of a double-take wine, a Canadian split that is five years back-vintage for an offering that currently retails for around $20 for a full bottle (out east, at least).  It’s not often that I get a chance to see how value-priced local wines stand up to a bit of time, though I would love to hear the story of how Bricks came across this as a calendar opportunity.

IMG_7282

“This” is the 2012 Cave Spring Chardonnay from the Niagara Escarpment region.  The winery was the first to plant vinifera grapes in Niagara and among the first to recognize the vinous potential of the region.  It was also the first in Niagara to tack on its own spa as a tourist attraction, making it an early leader at recognizing the area’s business potential as well.  The Niagara Escarpment line of wines represents the second of four tiers of Cave Spring wines, where grapes are sourced from multiple different vineyards within the subregion; the most interesting part of this wine is that it appears to be a blend of standard Chardonnay grapes with Chardonnay Musqué, an aromatic, floral, spicy mutation of the varietal that adds some olfactory punch to what can otherwise be a fairly neutral grape.

IMG_7280

RED wine???

One thing about half-bottles is that they accelerate a wine’s aging curve, because (1) oxygen is the primary thing that matures (and ultimately degrades) a wine and (2) there is a greater ratio of oxygen to wine in a 375 mL split because the ullage (the space between the wine and the cork at the top of the bottle) is the same for all sizes of wine.  This 2012 is therefore further advanced in its life than a standard bottle would likely be, and it’s starting to show.  The wine is a shimmering lemon-gold colour in the glass and showcases its multi-clone blend in a musky, tutti-frutti nose of honeydew, Meyer lemon and cantaloupe, accented by remnants of once-toasty oak and sulphur-y struck matches.  Medium-bodied, with still-present scruffy barrel tannin and fading acidity, this Chardonnay is not quite sure where it is on the palate:  the fruit has kind of gone to a murky place, the oak has resolved to a pastry crust/vanillin glaze, and the wine overall seems to have one foot each in two different stages of development, clinging to the remains of its youth while also giving in to the inevitability of age.  I think it likely would have stood out more a couple of years ago, but it remains a solid expression of what Niagara Chardonnay can do at a wallet-friendly price.

87+ points

IMG_7281

Steven Rating:  6/10 (Dig the colour, but there’s only so high I can go with two underlined letters.)





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 4

4 12 2017

Man, this 2017 calendar just continues its emphatic strides towards difference and individuality and I just keep loving its uniqueness.  We get two new Whisky Advent firsts today (at least in my four years of following along):  (1) first ever CANADIAN whisky, and (2) first ever plastic bottle embedded in the calendar.  I almost dropped it pulling it out of slot #4 it was so light.  This is the very first ever spirit offering from Niagara’s Wayne Gretzky Estate Winery, the Red Cask Premium Crafted Whisky, which is distilled from locally grown grains and then, in a nod to its roots, matured in the winery’s own red wine barrels.  Very cool.  It has to be one of the least expensive whiskies ever to grace the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar as well, tipping the scales at a svelte $44 for a full bottle.

IMG_7141

This inaugural Advent offering from our home and native land is great to look at, a pleasantly burnished amber colour impressively obtained given what I wouldn’t expect to have been an extraordinarily long maturation period.  It smells equal parts spicy and toasty, cinnamon and charcoal, layered with elastic bands, Old Fashioned-style citrus and melon fruit.  The double-take portion of the whisky comes in the form of its ultra-satiny, almost gelatinous texture, like a Jello shot or an alcoholic Jujube.  It billows out on the tongue like a roasting marshmallow and then sits there, inflated and cooked on the edges, hanging out.  I wrote “is this rye-based?” when pepper and sandpaper started biting my tastebuds, and I was at least partially right:  it’s part aged rye, part malted rye and part corn-based whisky, each distilled separately.  The corn comes through in the Bourbon-esque caramel, burnt orange and Creamsicle flavours, lending easy approachability to the whole affair.  On the whole, while the mouthfeel seems slightly exaggerated, this stands up quite well as a solid weeknight sipper.  O Canada.





2014 Henry of Pelham Old Vines Baco Noir

5 10 2016

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

fullsizerender-429

Welcome Baco.

I admit to approaching this bottle with a slight sense of foreboding.  One benefit of learning about wine is that it helps you pinpoint rare or obscure high-quality grapes or regions that are under-appreciated, and thus underpriced, by the market.  However, one drawback is that it can stratify your thinking about what quality looks like and give rise to unwitting prejudice about varietals or areas that aren’t always known for it.  Baco Noir, like all hybrid grapes, falls within the latter category.  But this bottle is proof that wine prejudice can be overcome.

Almost all of the quality wine grapes in the world, including all of the varieties you can list within 5 seconds of reading this sentence (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, etc.), belong to a grape species called Vitis vinifera, widely (and accurately) known to be the best of the many families of grapes in the world for wine production.  A hybrid grape is a cross between different species of grapes; in wine-speak that usually means a cross between a vinifera grape and a non-vinifera grape.  These crossings almost always arise out of intentional experiments by people looking to combine the flavour, quality and structure of vinifera with non-aesthetic desirable characteristics of the other species, usually ability to withstand weather or disease, ease of ripening or size of yield.  Spoiler:  they usually don’t accomplish all of these goals. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2010 Tawse Riesling

28 03 2012

Tawse Riesling: Niagara's great white hope?

Long time no speak!  Although it’s been awhile since you’ve seen any activity on this blog, rest assured that it’s not because I’ve been lazy; I’ve been writing, just nothing that was immediately publishable.  Make sure to check back on this site Friday evening, when my third monthly PnP/Calgary Is Awesome joint article will be posted, featuring a one-of-a-kind personality from a wine store that’s near and dear to my heart.  I’ve spent the past few days getting that piece polished up and also writing a feature for a local project that will be unveiled shortly, but at some point recently I realized that I hadn’t actually put anything up on Pop & Pour for over a week.  Let’s remedy that now.

Since last Monday’s post was about Old World Riesling (from arguably the top vineyard in Germany, Bernkasteler Doctor), I decided to pick a New World Riesling for tonight as a counterpoint, the entry-level Riesling from Tawse Winery in the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario.  Tawse is an excellent candidate to represent Canada’s burgeoning ability to produce high-level Riesling:  it was named Canadian winery of the year for both 2010 and 2011 by Wine Access magazine and is one of Ontario’s most respected producers.  I like to see Ontarian and British Columbian wineries showcase their Riesling skills because (1) I love Riesling and (2) it is a grape that matches our climate, growing well in slightly cooler areas and reaching its apex in a country, Germany, that’s on an almost identical latitude to ours.  I’d never had the chance to sit down with a full bottle of Tawse Riesling until tonight, so I was psyched to twist off the cap and get going. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2010 13th Street June’s Vineyard Riesling

14 12 2011

Try to ignore the obvious Chap Stick stains on the glass...who proofs these photos anyway??

Since my last Canadian Riesling experience was an earth-shattering one, I figured I would go back to the well tonight and see if I could keep the streak going.  While the previous Riesling I had from my home and native land (the 2010 Tantalus) came from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, this one comes from over 4,000 km eastward, from the Creek Shores sub-region of Niagara, Ontario.  My friend Corey recently toured the vineyards of Niagara and scooped this bottle for me during a visit to 13th Street Winery (social tip:  good friends remember your favourite grape), which is based in St. Catharines, Ontario and has been around for almost 15 years.  The fruit for this single-vineyard Riesling comes from Lincoln, Ontario, which is halfway between St. Catharines and Hamilton and seems like a really strange wine centre until you realize that it’s bordered on the North AND South by heat-reflecting, temperature-moderating Great Lakes.  Since I see way less Niagara wine around in Calgary than Okanagan wine, I was quite eager to see what the other half of the country had to offer in terms of quality Riesling.  Firmly suppressing my Western Alienation, I de-Stelvined the bottle and got to work.

Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2006 Inniskillin Cabernet Sauvignon

5 08 2011

$15 Canadian Cab...don't get me started.

Oh, Canada…I had been starting to feel a glimmer of optimism about red wines from my home and native land after positive recent experiences with producers like Laughing Stock (Okanagan) and Tawse (Niagara), but just as I began to forget why Canadian reds have until recently been an endless source of frustration for me, tonight happened.  My consternation isn’t that these wines are terrible (though some are); it’s that too much of the wine industry here seems locked in to grapes and wines that we are hard pressed to make better than many other regions around the world.  Cabernet Sauvignon is a case in point.  Why take one of the most heat-loving, slow-ripening, warm-weather grapes out there and try to specialize in making single-varietal wines out of it north of the 49th parallel?  Why especially would you try to target the sub-$20 price range with your Cabs when better-situated producers with hotter weather and cheaper land from Chile, Argentina, Australia and California basically have that market covered?  Where is the global competitive advantage in that approach?  We need a new business plan. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2007 Tawse Wismer Vineyard Cabernet Franc

14 04 2011

Tonight’s wine review is (very mildly) historic:  the first Canadian wine featured in this Canadian wine blog.  I have probably picked a good inaugural selection, since the Tawse Winery in Ontario’s Niagara region won the  2010 Canadian Winery of the Year Award from Wine Access Magazine.  I picked up this particular wine from Highlander in Marda Loop after being advised that it would “blow my mind”…them’s drinking words!

O Canada!

Despite living in Canada my entire life, I don’t drink a lot of Canadian wine, particularly Canadian red wine, so I approached this one with some degree of trepidation.  But I was excited to open any bottle of Cabernet Franc, which is an underused and underappreciated grape, especially in marginal wine climates like Canada.  Some interesting facts about Cab Franc:  (1) it is believed to be the genetic parent of the much-more-renowned-and-ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon (with the white grape Sauvignon Blanc strangely the other parent, as strange a love match as that seems); and (2) it ripens earlier and grows better in cooler areas than Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes Cab Franc an intelligent choice for Canadian winemakers faced with a short growing season (did I mention it snowed in Calgary yesterday?), colder temperatures and a latitude right at the tip of where grapevines can actually grow (they don’t grow much above 50 degrees Latitude, and the northern tip of the Great Lakes in Ontario is at 49 degrees).  Cabernet Franc is commonly found to have some greener herbaceous or vegetal flavours mixed in with its fruit, anything from grass or leaves to olives, asparagus or green peppers, which notes set its flavour profile apart from the riper, lusher Cab Sauvignon.

…But not so much in this case:  this was a plush, silky take on the varietal that almost came across like its warmer-weather cousin. Read the rest of this entry »








%d bloggers like this: