Calgary Wine Life: Maison Sichel Masterclass with James Sichel

3 11 2018
IMG_2336

James Sichel of Maison Sichel

James Sichel is on a mission.  One of five brothers who comprise the sixth generation running the family-operated Maison Sichel, born in Margaux to English parents, James grew up among the history and legacy of Bordeaux and is now charged with connecting a whole new generation of wine drinkers with the fruits of his family’s labour, and rekindling the passion of those who think Bordeaux has passed them by.  There is a view among some modern drinkers that the region has ossified, become beholden to ancient classifications and over-reliant on score-chasing, stratospherically priced speculative investment bottles that are detached from the land and the soil and everything human and natural that goes into making great wine.  There are parts of such a criticism that may stick, but there is so much more to Bordeaux than four-figure futures bottlings and producer tiers; it is a massively prolific producing region and has somehow become an under-the-radar source of superb Tuesday night offerings (particularly, in my opinion, on the white side of the ledger) and sub-$100 luxury splurges.  James’ quest is to bring value Bordeaux back to the rest of the world, to steer the focus away from the elitism that can accompany 1st growth price tags and to allow a fresh audience to rediscover the true beating heart of Bordeaux.  The audience seems to be responding:  Bordeaux sales in Alberta are up 24% this year as compared to last.

IMG_9305

Maison Sichel is a complex entity.  Based in Bordeaux since 1883, they are part estate producer (they own over 350 hectares of vineyards in various different appellations), part winemaking negociant (they work with and source grapes from a series of smaller growers in southern Bordeaux then make wine, including their value flagship Sirius, from the fruit) and part discerning merchant (they sell other hand-selected partner estates’ wines other those estates’ own labels).  On the whole, if you search for the whole Sichel range on its website, you end up with 189 producer results, from straightforward cheap and cheerful offerings all the way up to Chateau Palmer, one of the premier wine estates in the world.  The Sichel family’s pride and joy, however, and James’ current home, is Chateau Angludet, a Margaux estate that is now highly regarded but was on the verge of ruin when the family purchased it in 1961.  It is now their hub and the pinnacle family pursuit.  Aside from Angludet (and a highly savvy prior investment in Palmer in the 1930s), the Sichels own Chateau Argadens in Bordeaux Superieur and Chateau Trillol down in Corbieres.  James’ brother Benjamin Sichel is the winemaker for all three family-owned estates.

IMG_2601

Foreshadowing.

James was on day 10 of a Canadian tour when he took the time (ahead of a sold-out black tie dinner) to lead his Alberta import agent through a portfolio tasting of many of the Maison Sichel offerings available in the province.  I was fortunate enough to sit in on the session and experience my own reacquaintance with a region that too often bypasses my attention.  There were ELEVEN wines poured, so from here on out I will try to be brief.  [Editor’s Note:  I did not succeed.] Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements




Wine Review: Famille Sichel Bordeaux Tiers

15 04 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

IMG_7943

What a Bordeaux progression looks like.

Bordeaux is one of those regions that any aspiring wine geek finds out about roughly 15 seconds after beginning their vinous adventure.  It leads off many textbooks, is (rightly) touted as the spiritual homeland of red grape overlord Cabernet Sauvignon and its consigliere Merlot and is held up as a must-try area both so that new oenophiles can get a sense of the classics and because top-flight Bordeaux can be so memorable that its first-chapter place in all future textbooks is likely assured.  Of course, all of that comes at a price, one that seems to be increasing by the year, as wines from the top chateaux become more luxury commodity and less agricultural product and as international demand in new markets shoots through the roof.  So what are the non-obscenely wealthy wine-curious to do?  Here’s one way to start:  find a reputable producer and taste your way up their lineup, through the quality tiers and nesting-doll classifications layered throughout the Bordeaux appellation.  Even if you don’t make it all the way up to the grand vin flagship of the chateau, you will end up with a really good sense of what makes this rarefied region tick and also start to understand why those tiers exist in the first place.

IMG_7947

I was fortunate enough to test this tasting theory with the wines of Famille Sichel, a producer with whom I didn’t initially think I was familiar until discovering that they are the owners of one of Bordeaux’s hidden gem producers, Margaux’s Chateau d’Angludet.  While the winery is centuries old and the Sichel family’s history in Bordeaux is almost equally entrenched (they have been established in the region as a negociant since 1883 and are on their sixth generation of family ownership), their two paths didn’t cross until the 1960s, when d’Angludet was in a state of extreme disrepair and was bought and revived by Peter Sichel thanks to an extensive replanting and restoration program.  Current proprietor Benjamin Sichel continues both the negociant business (under the Maison Sichel banner) and the Chateau’s estate bottlings with a heavier focus in the vineyard and a defter touch in the cellar.  I have previously enjoyed Chateau d’Angludet on numerous occasions and now got to experience the trail of bottles that leads up to it. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Taylor Fladgate 325th Anniversary Limited Edition Port

9 01 2018

Happy New Year!  Pop & Pour returns after a lengthy and dearly needed post-Wine-and-Whisky-Advent break with a bottle that would have graced this page last year but for the 49 other calendar-based things that had to do so in December instead.  Rest assured that the delay is no commentary on what’s in the bottle.  2017 would have been a preferable year to write up Taylor Fladgate’s 325th Anniversary special-release Tawny Port, if for no other reason than that it was the actual year of the 325th anniversary in question, thanks to Taylor’s founding way back in 1692.  Thankfully, the juice is just as delicious in 2018, and there are still a number of stores in town that have stock remaining (though this Limited Edition is sold out at the import agent level, so act fast if you want some!).

IMG_7381

Happy (belated) anniversary, Taylor Fladgate!  We’re back!!

Unlike most fancy commemorative releases from leading lights in the world of wine, Taylor Fladgate has done something daring and remarkable and borderline audacious with this celebratory flask:  it has made it accessible to the drinking audience at large.  Rather than building this one-off Tawny from ultra-rarified sources and then pricing it into the stratosphere (which it could easily have done, and quite successfully), it instead opted to take the top component lots of wines otherwise destined for its 10 through 40 Year Tawny lineup, blend them to about a 15 Year average, then age them together for 18 months so that it could release this (utterly spectacular looking) bottle at a shade below $50 retail.  Taylor intended this to be celebratory and drinkable at large, a monument for the masses, a conversation piece rather than a museum piece.  If this does not instantly become the next birthday gift you want to buy for the wine lover in your life, I worry for you. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Modern Italian Traditionalists

11 10 2017

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

IMG_6926

Reunited with Italy.

I don’t know why, but before yesterday I hadn’t had a bottle of Italian wine for a long, long time.  I’m not a hater or a New World purist; I have a bunch of Italy in my cellar and rank certain Italian bottles and regions among my favourites in the world.  I’ve just been through a phase where nothing has drawn me to that corner of my wine racks in a number of months…there has always been something more enticing to my senses that has kept the country in the press box.  Well, no more:  in order to restore equilibrium to my wine world and reacquaint myself with one of the two traditional cornerstone nations of viniculture, I cracked a pair of Italian bottles last night and reminded myself of why Italy is viewed so loftily by grape lovers everywhere.

On the surface, the two bottles seemed to have very little in common:  one was playful pink bubbles, while the other was a legacy Chianti crafted to centuries-old founder’s standards.  But both in their own way were asserting their place in the often-calcified lore of Italian wine history.  The pink bubbles hailed from the province of Treviso in northeastern Italy, just north of Venice, the world home of Prosecco; but it couldn’t be called Prosecco by virtue of its hue and its choice to forego the region’s Glera grape (which was previously also called “Prosecco” in an attempt to be as confusing as possible), which took the wine out of the threshold criteria of the Prosecco classification. Even though it was produced by a generations-old Prosecco house, it wasn’t Prosecco, and it was OK with that, ambling on its merry mission to bring joy to those who opened it.  The Chianti was a modern take on a wine made to the recipe of a 19th century legendary figure, the one who first set down what it legally meant for a wine to be a Chianti.  While the first bottle gleefully acknowledged its place on the parallel track from history, the second not only embraced its history but walked in its footsteps.  In their own way, I admire each for their paths taken. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Buena Vista Social Club

16 08 2017

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

If there was a Most Interesting Man In The World designation for the history of wine, Agoston Haraszthy would be a strong contender for the crown.  I had previously come across his name in a book about the pioneering contributors of the California wine industry and had assumed that he was one of many 19th-century immigrants from Europe to the United States who brought Old World wine knowledge and tradition with him to his new home and helped it propagate.  And he was.  But his tale was anything but rote.

FullSizeRender-700

Haraszthy was born in Hungary to a noble family in 1812, later becoming known by the honorifics “Count” and “Colonel” even though he was technically neither.  He carved his own path throughout his life, stringing together a series of firsts that would be near-impossible to top in this day and age.  He was the first Hungarian to move and settle in the United States; the founder of the oldest village in Wisconsin (and the planter of some of the first grapevines there); the first town marshal and elected sheriff of San Diego; and the founder of the first commercial winery in California (more on that in a bit).  From the time he first arrived in the United States in 1840 to the time he left in 1868, he was at various times a mill owner, an author, a steamboat operator, a butcher, a member of the California State Assembly, and a gold refiner and assayer at the US Mint.

Read the rest of this entry »





Joseph Drouhin Hospices de Belleville Beaujolais Duet

23 11 2016

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

fullsizerender-479

Great region, great wines, great story.

A few posts ago I was discussing the intractable dilemma of trying to locate value Burgundy, that nearly mythical beast of the wine world, and I’ve since realized that I neglected to mention the obvious solution to the problem:  just look for Cru Beaujolais.  The Beaujolais region is technically part of Burgundy, located just south of Macon and north of Lyon, and while it can produce its share of forgettable wines, the main difference between Beaujolais and the other zones of Burgundy is that its top wines are shockingly wallet-accessible.  In fact, Cru Beaujolais, wines from one of the ten top quality Cru subregions in the area, might be some of the greatest wine bargains on Earth, pinnacle expressions of a classic grape at absurdly reasonable prices.  Case in point:  the two bottles to be discussed below, which each clock in at $27-$30 retail and which combine old-vine vineyards in top locales, one of Burgundy’s best producers and a hell of a good back story, all for the price of a basic forgettable Bourgogne Rouge.

Unlike the rest of red Burgundy (which is crafted from Pinot Noir), red Beaujolais is made from Gamay, the thin-skinned and light-bodied red grape well known to Canadian wineries whose spiritual heartland lies in this region’s ten Crus.  True story:  Gamay used to be grown all across Burgundy until 1395, when the (likely self-titled) Duke Philip the Bold ordered the “very bad and disloyal plant” uprooted in favour of the more aristocratic and noble-approved Pinot Noir.  His decree was not all that impressively enforced way down in the south of Burgundy, so pockets of Gamay remained in Beaujolais, quietly, until the danger of extermination had passed and the region was officially recognized as a Protected Denomination of Origin.  While it’s true that Gamay may never quite reach the lofty heights of nuance and complexity that Pinot can, it can offer a pretty reasonable facsimile at an absolute fraction of the price. Read the rest of this entry »





Champagne Day: Taittinger Portfolio Tasting

21 10 2016

Happy International Champagne Day, all!  If you follow wine media long enough you realize there’s a designated day for basically every country, region and varietal imaginable, but if someone wants to concoct an additional reason for me to drink Champagne, I will take them up on it.  To celebrate this illustrious occasion, I was fortunate enough to take part in a comprehensive tasting of a selection of Taittinger’s impressive lineup of Champagnes, which was particularly special for two reasons:  Taittinger’s International Business Developer Mikael Falkman had flown in from Sweden to lead us through it, and it was the inaugural Alberta release of the astonishingly rare and collectible 2008 Taittinger Collection Series, a bottle unlike any other I have seen to date.  Adding to the auspiciousness of the event was that it was held in the Skybridge of the spectacular new National Music Centre in Calgary, an event space suspended over a road and constructed as a piece of living art, complete with a ceiling fixture made from old instruments that emitted a continual buzzy tune aligned with the vibrations of the building.  Suffice to say it was not your usual Friday.

fullsizerender-445

Mikael Falkman, Taittinger; impeccable brand ambassador.

Taittinger has been around for nearly a century but is particularly catching fire in my neck of the woods right now as the fastest growing Champagne brand in western Canada.  Founder Pierre-Charles Taittinger was a soldier who was wounded in battle in World War I and who recuperated in a town in Champagne, in a memorable old castle that was being used as a command post.  He grew to love the area so much that he vowed he’d return someday and buy the castle, and he did, taking over the chateau and its vineyards in 1932 from Champagne house Forest-Fourneaux and rechristening it in his family name.  Taittinger stayed in the family until 2005, when it was sold (over the objections of one family member, Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger) to Starwood Capital Group, which owns the Starwood chain of hotels.  The purchasers’ interest was largely in other portions of the Taittinger empire, which included hotels and a parfumerie, and the Champagne business was shortly on the market again.  Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger managed to get a financing group together and bring the house back to the family that gave it its name, a move that may have saved both the family’s legacy and the quality and reputation of the brand.

fullsizerender-440

Mikael Falkman has been with Taittinger for many years and has lived through its various recent changes of ownership, and he radiated a sense of ease and confidence about where the house is now and where it is going.  Falkman led us through a lineup of five wines, starting with the clean, linear Taittinger Brut Reserve NV and progressing into a quartet of the house’s finest offerings, each reviewed in detail below.  He spoke at length about Taittinger’s house style, which has remained consistent since the house got its current name, focused on freshness, elegance and minerality, eschewing heavy oak and focusing primarily on the Chardonnay grape.  “Notice that there are no spittoons on the table,” he intoned to start, his meaning evident:  this was exquisite, expensive, premium Champagne, and we would be drinking all of it.  Didn’t have to tell me twice. Read the rest of this entry »








%d bloggers like this: