Wine Review: The Reds of Sunrock Vineyards

4 07 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

You cannot make truly good wine without ripe grapes. Simple, no? Insufficient sugar in the fruit is not going to leave much for yeast to consume, and such starved fungi are not going to produce something with sufficient body (and alcohol) to merit any sort of “greatness” mantle. Moreover, grapes need heat if they are to attain physiological ripeness. This refers to the changes in tannins and other chemical components that occur largely in grape skins, stems and seeds during the ripening cycle beyond the mere increase in sugar.  These changes are what produce the key varietal aroma signatures we know and love, preventing a wine from tasting green, weedy, and brittle.

Although sugar ripeness and physiological ripeness are clearly correlated, it would seem that grape hang times might be a stronger predictor of physiological readiness than just heat alone, although in my view (and botanically speaking) you aren’t going to get any degree of maturation, period, without heat. The key question for wine quality is: how much heat is too much? Overly ripe grapes mean clumsy, muddled wines that are boozy, lacking in precision or definition, and often almost devoid of any sense of place or regional character. Such wines are going to be tremendously fruity and powerful, but may not offer much in the way of nuance or balance. As I read up on Sunrock Vineyards, which could very well be the hottest single vineyard site in British Columbia, I wonder how they approach these ripeness issues.

Sunrock is owned by Arterra Wines Canada, formerly the Canadian subsidiary of the massive Constellation Brands, but recently acquired in 2016 by the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan (for some reason that tickles my funny bone…I’m sure we drove many a substitute teacher to drink). Arterra farms around 1300 acres of Okanagan vineyard, with the expected corresponding range of quality tiers. Jackson-Triggs might be the best known of Arterra’s brands, and the single-vineyard Sunrock labels formerly carried this name as the top tier of that portfolio. Sunrock is now a standalone winery, a fine example of a large corporate entity with the good sense to recognize and preserve the unique character of a single site. And what a site it is. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 19

19 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Well, well. We appear to have ourselves an Advent “Battle of Oregon” this year… of sorts. After the current favourite for “2018 wine of the calendar” made its presence felt a mere two days ago, another iconic Oregon Pinot Noir comes out swinging. The present bottle, the 2016 Cristom Vineyards Mt. Jefferson Cuvee, keeps taking the crown in an annual Wine & Spirits poll to identify the “#1 Pinot Noir in America’s Best Restaurants” (five wins in total). However, most fascinating to me is that this wine represents a very different vinification philosophy from the Ken Wright approach from Day 17. Wright bottles a single-vineyard Pinot Noir from 13 different sites in the northern Willamette Valley. His overriding goal is capture the unique character of each plot. At Cristom, however, blending reigns supreme. Although the winemaking approach is informed by a traditional Burgundian ethos, grower and owner Tom Gerrie and winemaker Steve Doerner believe that the Willamette shows best when grapes from different sites are woven together into a tapestry, as opposed to enjoyed as single strands.IMG_2469

Steve Doerner had previously spent 15 years crafting world class Pinot Noirs with Josh Jensen at Calera, on remote Mount Harlan in California. Although this collaboration was fruitful, Jensen, a staunch advocate of site specificity much like Ken Wright, retained ultimate control over the winemaking. Doerner began to tire of working in such an isolated, lonely locale and was unable to persuade Jensen that blending could afford possibilities that single vineyard wines could not. As he told wine historian Paul Lukacs, “I just liked the idea of making something better, something more complete, than any of its components”. Doerner found the freedom he was seeking when he moved to Oregon and began working with Tom’s father, Paul Gerrie. The Gerrie family considers Doerner to be a blending ninja, a man able to sculpt characterful wines using grapes from all five of Cristom’s estate vineyards as well as quality sites from nearby in the Willamette Valley. Doerner makes the entry level Mt. Jefferson Cuvee first, tasting wines from the different plots and then synthesizing the finished wine using a non-obsessive, intuitive approach based on his tasting instincts alone: “I don’t agonize over it at that point. I just try to make the best I can.” Cristom does make site-specific bottlings, as the market is of course enamoured with terroir, and the Gerries are understandably proud of their estate vineyards. However, each year’s blend is the first priority, with consistency from vintage to vintage the final goal. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 7

7 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Now THIS I was not expecting. Seeing tonight’s label takes me back to an industry tasting maybe a year ago. I finagled an invite as “media” (delusions of grandeur) and it was a standard event, really: big crowds and tiny pours. Even at such large events, however, I am consistently astonished by how generous and approachable wine folks are. (Sure, there were a few awkward moments. Me: “I think I like this Viognier the best…really nice floral stuff on the nose”. Guy pouring samples: *blank stare*.) I won’t ever forget meeting these two dudes at the Purcari table, representatives from the near-anonymous wine nation of Moldova. One was maybe in his 20s and the other was on the older side of middle-aged. I wish I could recall their names. The younger guy seemed quite business-savvy, and the older gentleman was more focused on vines and harvest dates and the like. My friend (none other than fellow Pop & Pour author and wine guy extraordinaire Dan Steeves) and I must have spent an hour there, tasting through the entire ensemble and hearing the stories behind each of their wines. The older guy reminded me of my maternal grandfather, a no-nonsense, bright member of the proletariat, very willing to share these unprepossessing but fascinating stories. What a marvellous hobby we have, and what a tremendous memory, revisited in full force by tonight’s Negru de Purcari red, from the winery of those very gentlemen.

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A brief primer of this lesser-known wine region is certainly in order. Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest nations but has the third greatest vineyard area of the former Soviet republics (only the Ukraine has more, if we are talking about states with significant wine production). Grapes have grown in Moldova for millennia, and wine production reached an apex in the 15th century. Turkish occupation struck a severe blow to wine production due to the Islamic prohibition of alcohol, but then recovered after the country was annexed by Russia in 1812 (phew!). Vine varieties from France became ascendant until phylloxera smacked them back down. Grafting was adopted in 1906 and the tzars provided incentives to grow higher quality varieties, only to have the Second World War once again devastate the vineyards. Undaunted, the resilient and industrious Moldovans set about planting more international varieties while simultaneously preserving at least some of the native vine diversity, weathered a few Soviet importation bans on Moldovan wine, and basically kept flipping the proverbial bird at retrograde political, religious, and other forces that sought to threaten their vineyards.

Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: A Special Evening with Cinzia Merli of Le Macchiole @ Centini

15 03 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

It was while reading my very first book on wine, the 6th edition of Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan’s “Wine for Dummies”, that I first encountered the term “Super Tuscan”.  I instantly became enamored with the concept.  Some Tuscan producers became wary of traditional wine-making laws that they perceived as stifling innovation. Part of the motivation here was that these producers wanted to experiment with “international varieties”, particularly those famous for yielding Bordeaux blends in France.  Such grapes could be grown.  The kicker was that wines made from them could initially be labelled only as “vino da tavola” (or table wine), as they clearly violated Italian DOC production guidelines which emphasized native varietals.  However, it became apparent that parts of Tuscany were in fact better suited to growing international varieties than native son Sangiovese.  It was absurd to equate quality wines from such areas with the multitude of serviceable but undistinguished table wines found across the country, and thus the marketing concept of the Super Tuscan was born – described on the Italian Wine Central website as “a maverick wine of great breeding but living outside the Establishment”.

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Cinzia Merli does not resemble any stereotype of a maverick.  My initial impression was one of a quiet, conservative, perhaps strict woman, full of resolve and perhaps possessing a keen wit underneath her stolid outward presentation.  She first apologized for her English, which by my reckoning is quite good.  She then provided a fantastic overview of the Bolgheri region and her own wine estate, Le Macchiole, during which her passion and unrelenting dedication to her craft became apparent.  I was already in awe coming into this event:  these wines are legendary.  Cinzia’s presentation only served to stoke the flames.  This evening shall live on in my memory as one of the most fun tastings that I have ever experienced with total strangers (strangers no more!).  I should add that Centini provided exceptional dinner service and perfect ambience.  Read on for my takes on five burly reds (including two vintages of the iconic Paleo), plus a sprinkling of relevant history.

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Calgary Wine Life: Tabarrini Montefalco Tasting Seminar @ Model Milk

12 03 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne and Dan Steeves

We have always been impressed by the selection of Austrian and German wines in Salivate Wines’ portfolio, so we were thrilled at the opportunity to sample wines from one of the importer’s Italian producers, Tabarrini.  Hailing from smack dab in the middle of Italy, in Montefalco within the Umbria region (the only wine region in Italy that does not have a coastline or border another country), Tabarrini is a well-respected winery known for its big, brooding single-vineyard reds based on the Sagrantino grape, as well as for an interesting white wine made from the little-known Trebbiano Spoletino. Although maybe not quite as famous as other Umbrians such as Saint Francis of Assisi, Monica Bellucci or black truffles (a full 60% of the world’s supply of the latter originates from the region), there is no doubt that Tabarrini is producing some serious wines that have rightfully been getting global attention.

Tabarrini’s director of sales and marketing, Daniele Sassi, led us through an informative (and entertaining – Daniele is a natural comedian, and the jokes are not always politically correct!) tasting of three of the winery’s offerings:  the Adarmando Bianco (a white Trebbiano Spoletino), the Boccatone Rosso (a Sangiovese and Sagrantino red blend), and the Colle Grimaldesco Sangrantino (one of the estate’s premium single-vineyard dry Sagrantinos).  Read on for our combined thoughts and notes on each bottle. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Winter Warmers, Part 2

27 02 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Red or white? Before wine became a serious subject of study for me, I gravitated towards whites, and not premium quality ones either, a preference that was likely the product of early learning (e.g., that box of German plonk that was a nigh-permanent fixture on the kitchen counter) coupled with an irrational phobia of such mythological creatures as “tannin-induced hangovers”. As it turns out, there is a general trend in humans towards a greater appreciation for bitter flavors and pucker-inducing sensations that comes with age and experience. Years later, I adore red wine while continuing to appreciate characterful whites. At this point the distinction between red versus white is but a minor factor in my choice of which wine to consume at a given point in time, one that can sometimes influence me at the very early stages of decision-making (“is it a red or a white night?”), but that ultimately carries less weight than varietal, region, style, or what’s for dinner. The Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada webpage indicates that at the national level, Canadians prefer red wine to white, with the exception of British Columbia, where whites are more popular. Heedless of the overall trend, many (myself included) continue to associate winter with hearty reds. Without further ado, let’s launch into part 2 of our robust red reviews, following Dan’s introduction from late last week.

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2011 Montecillo Rioja Reserva ($18)

Spain has more area under vines than any other country and is the third largest producer of wine in the world. Spanish wine on the whole was considered rather rustic and ragged until a major shift towards improved quality occurred in the mid-20th century, before which time it was not unheard of to dilute the wine with lemonade to increase palatability (!). Rioja remains the best-known area for red wine production in Spain, although recently a few upstart regions have made inroads. Tempranillo is Spain’s top indigenous variety, with plantings doubling across the country over the past decade, and is the dominant grape in almost all Rioja reds. I found a great quote from a top Rioja producer in Benjamin Lewin’s book “Wine: Myths and Reality”: “Everywhere in the world, people want to make wine like Burgundy. But it is not in our history, we have  always blended”. Historically, Rioja’s very warm vineyards resulted in full ripening of any given grape varietal, such that blending was necessary to achieve the desired complexity. In a traditional blend, fruitiness came from Tempranillo, while Garnacha (Grenache) provided more color, body, and alcohol, with relative rarity Graciano providing acid to offset the softness of the other two. This classic blend often yielded wines featuring what Lewin calls “savory, almost animal notes of mature red fruits”. Use of American oak for aging has also led some to conclude that Tempranillo is rather neutral flavor-wise, with vanilla and char notes from oak constituting Rioja’s “true” distinctive flavor profile. Regardless, much Rioja is now made in a soft, fruit-forward style. Some producers have decided to split the difference and offer both traditional and modern bottlings. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Winter Warmers, Part 1

23 02 2018

By Dan Steeves

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

The end of February is slowly approaching and we are less than a month away from the first day of spring. That means warmer weather is in our sights and we soon won’t have to deal with any more snow, right? That might be wishful thinking, but we can certainly hope it is the case! Until that warmer weather shows up and takes permanent residency in the prairies, we will need to keep staying warm and spending our evenings huddled around the fireplace with a nice glass of full-bodied red wine. Although I personally drink all types of wines all throughout the year (nobody should deprive themselves of rosé for months on end), there is no doubt that I enjoy more red wines over the cooler winter months, not only for the warming effects of a 15% ABV Cabernet Sauvignon, but also because we tend to eat more hearty full-flavoured comfort foods during this time and less light and refreshing fare.

To get you through the next month until you start seeing green on the ground, we have reviewed a few robust red wines that will be great at keeping you warm and satisfied until the spring flowers start blooming. We kick off this two-part series with reviews of great value reds from two regions known for their big red wines:  Bordeaux, France and the Colchagua Valley, Chile.

Read the rest of this entry »








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