Wine Review: Modern Italian Traditionalists

11 10 2017

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

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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 »

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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.

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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.

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Joseph Drouhin Hospices de Belleville Beaujolais Duet

23 11 2016

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

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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.

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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.

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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 »





Wine Review: Taittinger Nocturne Champagne (N.V.)

23 12 2014

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

You just can't look away.

You just can’t look away.

First things first:  this is a bit of a milestone occasion for this blog, as it marks the very first sparkling wine review in the near-250 published posts on Pop & Pour.  Actually, no — first things first:  would you take a look at this bottle!!  This thing is bling squared.  With New Year’s Eve on the horizon, Taittinger has released special “Disco” packaging of its normally slightly more sedate-looking Nocturne Champagne, and it’s about as celebratory as you can get…mine actually came with little disco ball ornaments attached.  Awesome, and totally fitting for this blog’s inaugural sparkler write-up festivities.

The Nocturne, as you may have guessed by its appearance, is a party Champagne.  It is built to be easily (and happily) consumed and shared in groups to round out an evening in style.  This is not at all to say that it’s lacking in substance, however, as the classic craftsmanship of the Taittinger name is still readily apparent.  Part of the Nocturne’s universal appeal is rooted in the fact that it receives a fairly hefty dosage (added liquid cane sugar after disgorgement), leaving some residual sweetness to lend heft and approachability to the wine’s complex flavours.  This may be the part of the review where you look at the bottle and say:  “Residual sugar?  Sweetness?  But doesn’t it say ‘Sec’ on the label?”  Um, yes…about that. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: 1863 Taylor Fladgate Port

6 06 2014

What happened in 1863?  Henry Ford was born.  The Battle of Gettysburg helped shape the course of the US Civil War.  Canada was 4 years away from becoming its own country.  And the grapes that went into the Port that I got to try this week were harvested.  There are times when I am reminded just how transportive wine is, how it can be a liquid chronicler of history.  This was one of those times.

Eighteen. Sixty. Three.

Eighteen. Sixty. Three.

It probably goes without saying that it’s exceedingly rare for a producer to release a wine after it has turned 150.  The centuries-old Port houses in Portugal would only have extremely limited quantities of reserves even half that old, which would in most cases be used in minute quantities to add flavour and complexity to the producers’ 40-year old tawny Port release (the 40 years on the label represents the average age of the multi-vintage wines in the bottled blend).  Taylor Fladgate has added to its own reserves over the years with select lots of high-end wood-aged Port from the 19th century, and when the quality of an ancient elixir is exceptional, it will occasionally decide to bottle and release it as a stand-alone offering.  That was the case with this single-harvest Port from one of the best vintages of the 19th century, 1863, which after a century and a half is just being taken out of barrel and readied for sale this fall.  When I say “barrel”, I’m referring to one of only two in existence:  Fladgate has but a lonely pair of barrels of the 1863, which will ultimately make less than 1,500 bottles of the Port for the entire world market.

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