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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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 »





Introducing: Roserock Drouhin Oregon

5 01 2017

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

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New vineyard, new venture, new heights.

Maison Joseph Drouhin has been a Burgundy mainstay for over a century, but third-generation proprietor Robert Drouhin discovered a kindred spirit location in Oregon close to 40 years ago when he arranged a Judgment of Paris-esque blind tasting competition between a group of classic red Burgundies and some upstart USA Pinot Noirs back in 1979.  At a time when almost nobody even knew that Oregon was producing quality wine and all American hopes were seemingly based on the performance of the California contingent, it was “Papa Pinot” David Lett’s Eyrie Vineyards Oregon Pinot Noir that lapped the New World field in the tasting, placing 2nd overall behind only Drouhin’s own 1959 Chambolle-Musigny, an exalted Burgundy from a top vineyard.  Within less than a decade from this revelatory event, Drouhin had bought land in Oregon’s Dundee Hills (a subregion within the large Willamette Valley located almost equidistant from Portland and the Pacific Ocean) to plant to Pinot and had assigned his own children to carry the family legacy across the ocean, naming his daughter Veronique as winemaker and his son Philippe as viticulturist, positions both still hold at Domaine Drouhin Oregon today.

Fast forward a quarter century.  Drouhin Oregon has established itself as one of the premium producers of the Willamette Valley had has become firmly entrenched in the Oregon community.  On the lookout for additional top vineyard lands outside of Dundee Hills, it never quite comes across what it is seeking…until the Roserock vineyard comes up for sale.  Roserock is located due south of Dundee, right in the centre of Willamette in the well-regarded Eola-Amity Hills subregion, about a half hour south of Portland and just west of the state capital, Salem.  It is replete with features that would make any winery’s ears perk up:  complex, well-draining volcanic soils; high (for Oregon) temperature-controlling elevation, perched between 550-750 feet above sea level; sited in the middle of a wind corridor channelling cool Pacific air right through the vines, maintaining acidity and prolonging ripening.

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Roserock was planted to 111 acres of Pinot Noir and 11 acres of Chardonnay, Oregon’s (and Burgundy’s) signature grapes and had previously supplied fruit not only to Drouhin but to a laundry list of Willamette’s bright lights, including Soter, Argyle and King.  Drouhin pounced on it, acquiring the entire vineyard in December 2013 in its most significant transaction since starting up business on this continent.  This was not just a blip on the radar of a global wine power:  it single-handedly almost doubled Drouhin Oregon’s vineyard land holdings in the state, and it led to the creation of a new standalone Drouhin brand dedicated to the preservation and celebration of Roserock’s unique identity.  2014 was the inaugural vintage of this new label, and the first Roserock Drouhin Oregon Chardonnay and Pinot Noir make it eminently clear why this vineyard deserves to stand on its own. Read the rest of this entry »





Sacred Hill Marlborough Trio

29 11 2016

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

fullsizerender-488If you follow this blog (thank you!) and enjoy wine reviews (I do too!) but aren’t as into other forms of alcoholic beverages, I would suggest that you cherish this write-up.  Mull over it.  Take your time reading it.  Stop halfway through and come back tomorrow to finish it.  It will have to last you a long time.  This is officially Pop & Pour’s last wine review until after Christmas, as on Thursday I dive headlong into Year 3 of Whisky Advent, with 25 straight days of write-ups about the little bottles sequentially coming out of Kensington Wine Market’s tremendously awesome Whisky Advent Calendar. Pray for me.  Incidentally, Advent in 2017 may look a little bit different for PnP, as my years-long quest to get somebody to make a proper Wine Advent Calendar just might be coming to fruition:

Make it happen, Bricks Wine Company.  I’ll be ready, and I’ll make sure everybody who reads this site is ready too.

Anyway, since this is my last wine write-up for a calendar month I figured I’d make it a multi-bottle one, from an area that is a bit at risk of becoming a victim of its own success:  Marlborough, New Zealand.  Since catapulting onto the scene 30-odd years ago with a distinctive lean, blisteringly aromatic and herbaceous style of Sauvignon Blanc initially popularized by now-mega-label Cloudy Bay, this region on the northern edge of the South Island has become synonymous with this piercing, vegetal, unabashedly flavourful take on the grape.  Producers have rushed to respond to global demand for Marlborough’s established house style for NZSB, to the point where it is now one of the most readily available bottles around, no matter where you are.  This is good in the sense that you know that a solid, consistent bottle of white that will not disappoint is always around the corner.  It’s bad in the sense that a lot of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has become almost mechanical, put together as if by rote to satisfy an expected flavour trope.  The old challenge for NZSB was to become relevant; the new challenge is to regain its individuality and joie de vivre.  Easier said than done at a competitive price point, but certain producers are proving up to the task, like Sacred Hill, to whom I was introduced by the three bottles below.

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Sacred Hill was founded 30 years ago, in 1986, at the start of New Zealand’s wine explosion; however, unlike many similarly timed winery ventures, it was not started at the epicentre of the Sauvignon Blanc earthquake, hailing from Hawkes Bay on the eastern side of NZ’s North Island as opposed to Marlborough.  Hawkes Bay is a warmer region known mainly for red wines, and the two brothers behind the Sacred Hill label grew up there and came by their wine aspirations naturally:  their father was one of the first farmers in the region to take the plunge and start planting grapes as opposed to more common (at the time) agricultural crops.  The business has since expanded and Sacred Hill now has vineyards in both Hawkes Bay and Marlborough, which the brothers (correctly) call the “engine room” of New Zealand’s wine industry.  They have access to half a dozen different vineyards in Marlborough, one of which, the eerily named Hell’s Gate, is their own.  Their Orange Label line of wines, including the three below, are multi-vineyard blends offering up a true sense of the region without any sticker shock. Read the rest of this entry »





Burrowing Owl Fall Release Set

12 11 2016

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

Burrowing Owl Fall Release Week is quickly becoming one of the highlights of the Pop & Pour blogging calendar.  The winery is highly engaged with consumers and media alike and  is ahead of the game in terms of finding new ways to get its wines into the collective consciousness, and its renown is expanding well beyond its home province of BC as a result.  When the season’s current releases arrive in Calgary around harvest time, I’m ready to do my small part to spread the word.  Bring on the new vintages!

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A glorious Pop & Pour fall tradition.

Burrowing Owl is an Okanagan Valley stalwart, and it’s become such a ubiquitous part of the region that it’s easy to forget the winery is less than 20 years old.  The story started in 1993, when founder Jim Wyse replanted a series of vineyards between Oliver and Osoyoos in the extreme southern Okanagan.  There were no immediate plans to build a winery, but Wyse’s vision expanded once he saw the quality of the new grapes.  Burrowing Owl’s first vintage was 1997, and construction on the gravity-flow winery and massive underground cellar on the property was completed in 1998.

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 Initially focused on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris planted on a single 130-acre site, Burrowing Owl is now up to 14 different planted varietals on 170 acres of estate vineyards in three different sites. It is no accident that the winery is named after the rare underground-nesting owl that was declared extinct in British Columbia in 1980 but is now back on the upswing due to the dedicated conservation efforts of a small group of individuals:  Wyse is one of those individuals, having contributed significant amounts of both time and money to the burrowing owl’s preservation.

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Stelvin Rating: 8/10 (Love the colour, love the side pattern and smoothness; not a huge fan of the top embossing.)

 This year I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to try a sextet of different bottles from the Burrowing Owl 2013 and 2014 vintages, including return engagements with a couple of wines I had in last year’s releases, the Cabernet Sauvignon and the particularly eye-opening Syrah.  Let’s see how the fall 2016 lineup compared, starting with my introduction to one of Burrowing Owl’s founding whites:  Chardonnay.

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Value Burgundy Battle: The NEW Cellar Direct

20 10 2016

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

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Cellar Direct Does Burgundy.

Conscientious readers may remember this post from over a year ago where I introduced Cellar Direct, an Alberta-based online national wine club featuring subscription-based access to a specially-curated selection of non-interventionist natural wines.  Thirteen and a half months later, Cellar Direct is still doing its thing, but under a revamped and significantly more flexible business model.  Now, instead of paying a fixed amount per month for semi-recurring shipments of pre-selected wines, you simply keep an eye out for regular wine offers (generally to be unveiled weekly on Saturdays) and then place an online order for as few or as many bottles as you want, which are shipped to you shortly afterward in temperature-controlled trucks to keep your wines in cellar-like comfort during transport.  This simpler, less demanding offer-based approach is a boon to buyers in the tighter economic times in which we currently find ourselves in this province, and Cellar Direct’s streamlined e-commerce interface allows them to keep prices reasonable even while offering highly researched, quality-focused wines from traditional producers that truly pop and that you won’t see at your neighbourhood wine store.  If any of that piques your interest, you can sign up for the club’s offer newsletters and find out more info at cellardirect.ca.

Cellar Direct’s first online offering under its new and improved structure was the excellent  Senorio de P. Pecina Rioja Crianza that I have already gleefully tried.  The next offer is due out this Saturday and tackles what is often considered (including by me) to be the biggest oxymoron in the world of wine:  value Burgundy.  Wines from Burgundy can make the toughest weep and turn the deepest skeptics into lifelong followers of the vine; unfortunately, they can also empty your wallet with shocking efficiency and leave you feeling underwhelmed and disappointed.  It can be exceedingly difficult, especially at lower price points (which for Burgundy can mean anything under $50ish), to know what you’re going to get in any given bottle, and finding anything $30 or less that properly showcases the region can be a massive challenge, especially when you’re not sure where to look.  Cellar Direct’s upcoming offer this week, as well as a further offer coming in mid-November, try to be your map and compass to this frustrating yet enchanting region of legend.  Let’s see how they do, starting with a bottle due to hit your inbox in a few days… 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 »