Global Champagne Day Taittinger Technical Tasting @ Alloy Restaurant

21 10 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Happy (belated) Global Champagne Day! There is probably no better way than a champagne tasting to shake off what has become a considerable amount of wine writing rust. Tasting bubbles, bantering with a few friends, listening to a knowledgeable and engaging speaker — good for the soul. As usual I arrive at the restaurant too early, a neurosis that rarely extends to other important engagements in my life but one that seems omnipresent where wine events are concerned. I simply do not want to miss anything. Right away there is a glass of Cuvee Brut Reserve NV (non-vintage) in my hand, Taittinger’s entry level offering, and at this point I do not mind waiting. IMG_2148Taittinger’s Mikael Falkman comes highly recommended, although on this occasion he seems more inclined to let these majestic wines speak for themselves. He does come to life near the end of the tasting with an exuberant blend of knowledge and humour.  Mikael makes sure to provide a concise history of this famed house, but I particularly appreciate his expositions of the Taittinger family’s winemaking philosophy. I will provide these gems and nuggets along with my tasting notes for each wine. Read the rest of this entry »

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Calgary Wine Life: Nautilus Technical Tasting with Winemaker Clive Jones

25 07 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

The more New Zealand wine I drink, the higher it climbs in my esteem.  Renowned for its superb array of cool climate vineyards and their purity of fruit expression, New Zealand provides a fine showcase for my favourite black grape, Pinot Noir; I have also met few who cannot appreciate the unique and ultra-distinctive style that is New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. We were all exceptionally pleased to welcome to Calgary Nautilus Estate’s winemaker Clive Jones, who travelled all the way from the globally renowned Marlborough region to put an array of his wines through their paces before us. Limits on word count and reader attention span mean that I must immediately plunge into telling six different stories about six different Marlborough wines…OK, five stories. You’ll see below.

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2017 Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc (~$23)

Clive’s knack for explaining technical winemaking details in highly entertaining fashion becomes immediately apparent as the tasting begins. He feels fortunate that a vintage as challenging as 2017 in Marlborough, one marred by not one but two cyclones, could yield a wine of this caliber: “It did get 92 points…if we care about points.” I don’t, but much of the world at large does.

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Nautilus winemaker Clive Jones

Only about half of 2017’s grapes were picked before the weather turned foul, but miracles were wrought and enough of the remainder were able to be used in the final blend. This crisis averted speaks to the classic advantage for those making a varietal wine from a blend of different sites year in and year out, a characteristic that Marlborough (with its myriad soil types and small-scale regional differences in elevation and climate) shares to some extent with Champagne. With an array of lots from different parcels to choose from, careful adjustments can be made by the savvy winemaker to land on a house style every time. The intent in Nautilus’ case is to dial down the aromatics (but not too far down) and dial up the palate weight, yielding something with a pleasing texture that maintains the drinker’s interest. Interestingly enough, part of Clive’s strategy involves adding around 1% of barrel-fermented wine to the Sauvignon Blanc blend, the remainder hailing from trusty temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. This calculated attempt to tame what is usually a fiercely aromatic, high-acid variety while still exalting the grape’s fundamental identity executes its mission with precision. 

Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2014 Schlossgut Ebringen Spätburgunder Trocken

4 07 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

Ever since I first got into wine about a decade ago, I have come across the eternal, nigh-unsolvable question many times:  where can you look for consistent, top-quality, good-value Burgundy?  Well, I have finally solved the riddle — turns out it’s been in Germany all along.

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Mesmerizing.  Germany, wow.

It might not be in France, and it might have just broken my heart in the World Cup, but Germany has been quietly elevating its Pinot Noir bona fides.  This fickle and finicky red grape is known here as Spätburgunder (literally, “late Pinot”, or “late Burgundy”, due to its relatively late-ripening tendencies) and is in the process of taking the next step in Germany’s warmer climes, aided imperceptibly by climate change and to a larger degree by greater clonal awareness and vineyard attention.  But it is not every country that can suddenly become a Pinot success story; Germany’s natural advantages (including patches of Burgundian-style limestone soil) are finally being properly cultivated, and almost as importantly, shared with the world.

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I don’t think I had ever seen a wine from Germany’s Baden region on an Alberta retail shelf until 2018, and after a taste of what Schlossgut Ebringen can do with possibly the hardest grape of all to do well (and don’t even get me started on their utterly mind-bending Chasselas “S”, which belongs in another dimension), it makes me wonder what has taken us so long to get on board.  A quick primer for the uninitiated:  Baden is in the extreme southwest corner of Germany, just a stone’s throw and a border crossing away from Alsace, due west from Munich until you almost hit France.  It is closer to Zurich, Switzerland than any major German city.  Baden is built like Chile, in a long narrow north-south stripe, within which lies 9 surprisingly different subregions.  Pinot Noir/Spätburgunder is the most commonly planted grape (at around 35% of all plantings), though on the whole white grapes outnumber reds 60/40.  In the south of Baden, just south of the famous Baden-Baden spas, lies the top subregion of Markgräflerland, known largely for Chasselas (locally known as “Gutadel” just to add more proper nouns to your life) but also a burgeoning Pinot power.  Baden’s other top attraction, the Black Forest (Schwarzwald), lies to the east, and in its foothills lies the village of Ebringen and the hero of tonight’s story. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 20

20 12 2017

When the days hit double digits starting in 2s, I know our calendar work is almost done.  I’m not going to lie:  I’m ready not to be writing tasting notes and blogging on a daily basis, at least for a little bit.  But then I unwrap a bit of an Advent mystery and find myself sucked in all over again, pulled once more into the insatiable curiosity that goes with loving wine.  This time it came from revealing a bottle bolding displaying “Sancerre”, likely THE Old World heartland of Sauvignon Blanc and a renowned white region in France’s eastern Loire Valley…but then noticing things that seemed off.  Did it seem kind of dark inside?  Is that a maroon neck foil?  Wait – does that say Sancerre ROUGE?  (Granted, I have already had a white wine in this calendar say that it was a red wine by mistake, but this bottle actually IS one.)

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It turns out that red wine makes up close to 20% of Sancerre’s yearly production, all of which is required by appellation rules to be 100% Pinot Noir.  And there is perhaps no estate in Sancerre that takes its reds more seriously than Domaine Vacheron, which plants 11 hectares of Pinot alongside 34 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc and doesn’t treat it like an afterthought in the cellar.  The Domaine is now in its fourth generation of family ownership and has revamped all of its vineyard practices in the hands of the two young cousins who now direct its operations, Jean-Laurent and Jean-Dominique Vacheron.  They converted the estate to biodynamics in the early 2000s and now only fertilize the chalk and silex soils with composts made on the property, harvest by hand, ferment using only native yeasts and bottle according to the lunar cycle.  Their Pinot Noirs are partly matured in stainless steel tanks to preserve their fruit and partly in large neutral barrels for oxidative effect without oak flavours.

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Cork Rating:  2.5/10 (Not only is it boring as sin, it doesn’t do that great a job at its primary function of holding in liquid.)

This is my first ever bottle of Vacheron, the 2014 Sancerre Rouge, from a property that is almost at the literal centre of France.  I was a little leery from the outset as the cork came out of the bottle completely sodden and squeaky, but the wine inside seemed to bear no ill effects.  It was a fully transparent ruby in the glass and emitted a distinctive and attention-grabbing set of aromas:  beyond the more expected Pinot smells of cranberry, underripe raspberry and violets, there is a pronounced vegetal greenness (dill/pickles; Ray says nettles), a tangy citric bite (tangerine, gooseberry) and a base industrial rockiness (flint, car tire skid marks) that differs markedly from your run-of-the-mill Old World Pinot earthiness.  The palate adds salted watermelon, pomegranate, lava dust and crushed roses on a light, deft body structured mainly by prominent papery tannins.  This is a compelling mirror of its rocky soil and a suggestion that Pinot has the potential to ascend from its eternal Sancerre understudy status.

88- points





Wine Review: Stag’s Hollow Fall Reds

18 10 2017

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

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If this is where we are in the Okanagan, we’re in good hands.

What’s this?  Two reviews in the span of three days??  Is this inspiration or panic?  Turns out it’s a little of both.  For reasons that will shortly become clear, the next couple of months are going to be content-intense here at Pop & Pour HQ (aka my kitchen table), which has me geared up and focused on my current inventory of samples to make sure everything gets its full and proper due.  But I’ve also had a lingering eye on these particular wines ever since they landed on my doorstep, as they represent the latest missive in a wonderful conversation I’ve been having over the past months and years with one of the most intrepid, curiosity-filled, quality-focused wineries in the Okanagan Valley, Stag’s Hollow.  Over the summer I looked in on the white and pink side of their portfolio, but now that my trees no longer have leaves, the time has come to fully commit to autumn, and tonight’s trio of reds has me in the mood to cast off thoughts of T-shirts and shorts and embrace my favourite season.  This lineup features an Okanagan stalwart, only rarely done justice; an utter Okanagan rarity, borne of winemaker Dwight Sick’s unabashed intention to push viticultural limits in the region; and a burgeoning Okanagan star that will hopefully soon get the attention and acreage it deserves.  Pinot Noir, Grenache (!), Syrah. 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.

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Weingut Thörle Tasting @ Vine Arts

2 06 2017
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Christoph Thörle

It’s been a bit of a banner wine week, seven days tailored to the precise preferences of my palate.  My personal favourite types of red and white wine are Washington Syrah and German Riesling respectively, and late May has seen visionary producers specializing in each of these areas visit our fair city.  My Washington wine prayers were answered last week when Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars put on a remarkable Master Class in Calgary; this week it was Germany’s turn, thanks to an eye-opening portfolio tasting put on by the dynamic Christoph Thörle of the eponymous Weingut Thörle, from the global home of Riesling’s Rheinhessen region.  Through four different earth-shattering Rieslings and seven total wines, Thörle took us through what must be some of the world’s best expressions of my first vinous love.

If you say the word “Rheinhessen” to a wine person, the tenor of their reaction might be a generational one.  The region, located in west-central Germany, due south of Rheingau and southwest of Frankfurt, is the largest in the country in terms of planted acres and is tailor-made for grape-growing:  it’s dry, sunny and relatively warm, with limestone-based soils overlaid by a variety of alluvial deposits, as long ago it was largely part of an underwater seabed.  Rheinhessen once had a reputation to match its physical advantages, and was long considered one of the pinnacle areas of German viniculture.  But a mid-20th-century flirtation with new lab-crossing grape varieties and mass-market, quantity-focused bottlings turned into a 1970s and 80s Liebfraumilch obsession that saw lesser varietals dominate much of the vineyard area and Blue Nun and Black Tower nearly obliterate the world’s prior impressions of German wine.  If you stopped paying attention to Rheinhessen then (as many did), you will have missed out on what’s going there now:  a quiet quality renaissance, and a return to the right grapes properly planted and tended on the right sites, perhaps not better personified than by Christoph Thörle and his brother Johannes.

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They took over the operation of the Thörle family winery in 2006, when Christoph was just 22 and Johannes 24.  Together they have overseen an expansion of the estate’s vineyard holdings and a corresponding increase in annual production, paired with a return to simple, hands-off viticulture and winemaking practices:  no pesticides or herbicides in the vineyards, multiple-pass harvests, all natural yeasts and no additives in the cellar, minimal sulphur at bottling.  Weingut Thörle now has 80 acres of vine holdings, remarkably spread over 100+ different vineyard parcels but largely centered around the town of Saulheim in north-central Rheinhessen.  The area features a wide array of different slopes, soils and sun exposures, allowing for the production of multiple different varietals, and Saulheim itself is surrounded by Thörle’s three crown-jewel vineyards:  Probstey, Schlossberg and Hölle.

Thörle has been generating increasing acclaim for both its white (Riesling, Silvaner, Chardonnay and more) and red (Pinot Noir, known Germanically as Spätburgunder) wines and made its glorious entrance into the Alberta market last year.  Now some new offerings are on their way to the province, and we were fortunate enough to have Christoph talk us through most of them, including a few bottles that might change your perspective on, well, everything. Read the rest of this entry »








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