Wine Review: Dirty Laundry, The Whites

2 11 2017

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

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One of these things is not like the other…

Now that snow has blanketed the land and any remaining warm thoughts in Calgary’s mind have been augured away by blistering Arctic winds, I can fully admit that I tasted these Dirty Laundry wines in the wrong order.  I cracked the rosé and red portions of my sample pack back when fall was still a thing (last week) and saved the sunny patio portion of the tasting until it seemed like a cruel joke; serves me right for breaking with orthodoxy and not going lightest to heaviest like the textbooks all say.  But we persevere. I’ve always found Dirty Laundry’s white lineup to be a bit more impressive and consistent than its reds, and they have a particular affinity for Gewürztraminer, the grape that everyone seems scared to focus on too heavily but which truly rewards any such special attention.  However, tonight I got to dive into two bottles that I hadn’t tried before today, starting off with my favourite grape of them all. Read the rest of this entry »

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Calgary Wine Life: Pierre Sparr Tasting @ Cassis Bistro

3 02 2017

Can there be any major French wine region more overlooked and underrated than Alsace?  It has all the frozen-in-time charm of Burgundy, with picturesque centuries-old villages dotting rolling hillsides of vineyards, and all the stately history of Bordeaux, but without the matching dose of self-importance.  Add in a dash of international conflict (the region has passed back and forth between France and Germany many times in the course of modern history) and a pinch of consumer friendliness (unlike almost anywhere else in France, Alsatian wines are all varietally labelled so everyone can easily see the grape that’s in the bottle) and you’d think you’d have a sensation.  But perhaps due to its location, tucked away in the northeastern corner of France, or to its primary focus on white grapes and prevailing Germanic influence, Alsace doesn’t get the hero’s welcome internationally that its fellow French stalwarts do, often left unexplored and misunderstood by New World consumers.  Thankfully, Bernard Sparr and others are out to set things right.

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Maison Pierre Sparr, 9th generation.

Bernard is part of the NINTH generation of the Sparr family that it carrying forward the legacy of Maison Pierre Sparr, the Alsatian house named after his grandfather but rooted in a winemaking family going back to 1680 (there’s that history I was talking about).  Pierre persevered through the ravaging of his domaine and vineyards in World War II, expanding the business and passing on a thriving enterprise to his two sons.  Bernard is the son of one of those scions, Rene Sparr, learning the rigours of blind tasting and the rhythms of the family winery from an early age.  Now he is helping expand the profile of the domaine overseas, settled in Quebec and taking on the role of North American ambassador for Pierre Sparr.  He is almost continually on the road, but despite the weariness of travel and an unfortunate cold that sapped his sense of smell, he was a warm and gracious host on Wednesday night, leading a cozy group through a lineup of French wines whose unifying trait was show-stopping value.

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In addition to directing international sales for the family domaine, Sparr also arranges for a small portfolio of like-minded tiny-production French producers to find their way into North America.  A few of these joined him for his visit to Calgary, so to accompany an absolutely marvellous five-course meal at Cassis Bistro, we were treated to a mixture of Pierre Sparr classics and intriguing finds from other regions, starting with a rosé with a distinct connection to a PnP favourite… Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Cloudline Pinot Duo

2 03 2016

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

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OK, yes, I totally had a glass of the PG before taking this picture.

The flourishing Pinot Noir vine of Oregon’s wine history is largely rooted in a man named David Lett, the founder of Eyrie Vineyards, the first person to plant Pinot Gris in the United States and the trailblazer who cemented Oregon’s place as a safe haven for Burgundian varietals.  Known as Papa Pinot, Lett entered his 1975 Eyrie Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir in a prestigious 1979 blind tasting competition in Paris called the Wine Olympics, which featured hundreds of entries from around the world.  Absolutely nobody outside of Oregon in 1979 thought of it as a wine region, let alone a globally competitive one, but that started to change when the Eyrie Pinot placed in the top ten, beating many top Burgundies along the way.

One person who noticed the result was Robert Drouhin, third-generation head of Burgundy’s renowned Maison Joseph Drouhin.  The following year, unbeknownst to Lett, Drouhin set up his own Burgundy/Oregon rematch, pitting Eyrie Vineyards blind against a field of some of his top wines.  The Eyrie Pinot came in second in the group, just a hair behind Drouhin’s legendary 1959 Chambolle-Musigny.  As if that wasn’t feather enough in Oregon’s cap, Drouhin then proceeded to buy the cap too.  He visited Oregon, noted that its cooler, more temperate climate was a more welcoming environment for Burgundy’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay than neighbouring California, had his daughter Veronique come work harvest with the Letts and others in 1986, then purchased land himself in the Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills to grow the Pinot that had impressed him so much. Read the rest of this entry »





FEL Wines: Pinot Showdown

11 01 2015

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

Happy New Year!  I took a bit of a holiday blogging break after 24 straight days of whisky-induced Advent madness in December, but I always had it in my mind to start up 2015 (and return to actually producing wine-related content on this wine blog) with these two bottles of California glory.  Although they come from what might technically be considered a new producer, their roots and history are inextricably linked to a California stalwart…and, as it turns out, to my home province of Alberta too.

Great wines, plus new wine glasses - to be the subject of a separate post.

Great wines, plus new wine glasses – to be the subject of a separate post.

FEL Wines came into being less than a year ago, in March 2014.  It is the brainchild of Cliff Lede, whose eponymous Napa Sauvignon Blanc helped renew my faith in the grape a month ago.  Lede is well known for creating those rarest of beasts, Napa Valley value wines, and he’s also a born-and-raised Albertan who is well known outside of the wine world as one of the owners and senior executives of the Ledcor Group, which was founded by his father (how the construction lawyer in me failed to mention that in the last review is beyond me).  FEL represents Lede’s foray outside of Napa’s welcoming confines and into the cooler climate areas of California, and it also seems to be underlaid by a personal passion:  FEL is so named for Cliff’s mother Francis Elsie Lede, who helped kindle his love of wine as a child. Read the rest of this entry »





The Mission Hill Pinot Olympics

17 07 2012

[The bottles below were provided as samples for review purposes.]

As tactfully mentioned by the disclaimer above, I recently received a mixed six-pack of sampler bottles from the good folks at Mission Hill Family Estate winery in the Okanagan Valley.  Two of these bottles, the 2011 Reserve Riesling and the 2011 Five Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, have received separate PnP review treatment over the past couple of weeks:  see here and here for the full write-ups.  But I couldn’t bring myself to split up the other four bottles and rate them separately, because it was clear that they belonged together, bound as they were by a common provenance:  the family name Pinot.  Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir all sat side by side in the MH sample box like a monochromatic grape rainbow, their shared forename a reminder of their common genetic ancestor (Pinots Grigio and Gris are the same grape, and both PG and Pinot Blanc are mutations of Pinot Noir, which is well-known for being genetically unstable).  Since the fortunes of these bottles were clearly tied together, and since it’s July 2012 and our athletes are preparing to head off to London for the Summer Games, I did the only thing I could do and hosted the inaugural Mission Hill Pinot Olympiad at my house over the weekend.

In order: Grigio, Gris, Blanc, Noir. Let the Games begin.

Here’s how our game was played:  I invited over a couple of fellow wine enthusiasts, opened all four bottles of MH Pinot, and we tasted through the lineup and separately ranked each of the wines as against its peers, individually coming up with our gold, silver, bronze, and, um, whatever’s below bronze (lead? aluminum? tungsten?) medal choices.  I then added all of the placements together to come up with a cumulative judges’ score (for example, a wine ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd by the three different judges would get a total score of 1 + 2 + 3 = 6); the lower the score, the better.  The lowest total score won the overall prize, which basically meant that the bottle was emptied the fastest.  We tasted the wines from whites to red, lightest to heaviest, and my notes below are in the same order.  Who emerged victorious?  Read on! Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2006 Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve

29 06 2011

Long time no PnP!  Sorry about that — I was away on the weekend and discovered both at the time and after coming back that trip-related schedule lulls are multiplied tenfold when babies are involved.  However, I am now back in the saddle and again devoted to reducing my cellar one bottle at a time.  Tonight’s wine seemed like a promising combination:  a region (Alsace, France), producer (Trimbach) and varietal (Pinot Gris) that I love, all at a bargain price (I think this bottle was $17).  Too good to be true?  Oh yes.

"Reserve" is the wine equivalent of "part of a nutritious breakfast".

For those of you wondering if Pinot Gris has any relation to Pinot Grigio, the Italian white that I reviewed a few wines ago, they’re actually the exact same grape, although they usually manifest themselves in the bottle in very different ways.  Pinot Grigio is grown and made to be light, crisp, refreshing and neutral-tasting, whereas Pinot Gris is much fuller, lusher, riper and more flavourful.  If you taste classic examples of the two back to back, you wouldn’t believe they were the same grape.  Pinot Grigio’s home is northeast Italy, while Pinot Gris is best known from Alsace, where it is one of four “noble grapes” allowed to be in the region’s top Grand Cru wines (the others, if you’re curious, are Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Muscat).  I personally prefer the Gris to the Grigio, as I find it more interesting and think it has much more personality in the glass.  Even better, like many Alsatian wines, it can be a value:  I’ve seen Grand Cru Pinot Gris on sale for less than $30 a bottle.  It’s also consumer-friendly, because all Alsatian wines actually list the grape on the bottle label, unlike the wines from almost every other spot in France. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2006 Kris Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie

2 06 2011

Every label needs a good dose of Surrealism. Look at the colour on that Pinot Grigio!

I got this wine as a gift from my awesome in-laws…thanks Alan and Margaret!  In my experience, there’s no wine that’s better than free wine.  I don’t often drink Pinot Grigio, but here’s what I know about it: (1) its most well-known renditions come from northeast Italy (as this one does); (2) it remains one of Italy’s best selling wine exports and has found a willing and thirsty audience in North America; and (3) it is the same grape as Pinot Gris, a varietal grown in Alsace (France), Oregon and Canada, among other places, although the wines from the two versions of the PG grape are almost nothing like each other.  Pinot Grigio tends to be dry, light-bodied, very pale, high in acid and neutral, crisp and refreshing, while Pinot Gris is fuller, richer, deeper in colour, more complex in flavour and used for both dry and sweeter wines.  I’ve had my fair share of Pinot Gris, but only a handful of Pinot Grigio, so tonight I broaden my horizons. Read the rest of this entry »








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