Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 1

1 12 2017

I am a realist when it comes to the reach and impact of this blog.  Calgary has a remarkable, informed, ambitious, impressive local wine scene, and my only goal in starting up this site years ago was to be a tiny voice in that massive chorus and find an outlet for my passion, whether anything came of it or not.  For the most part, I am simply an observer, experiencer and occasional reporter on the goings-on of Calgary wine life.  However, in this case, it’s at least possible that I was the catalyst for a great idea that Bricks Wine Company has now expertly executed.  About 12 and a half months ago, after seeing another set of annual Advent releases go by absent a particular format that I thought would be perfect for the occasion, I vented into the black void of Twitter…and was shocked to see somebody almost immediately respond and take up the task:

It’s one thing to send a two-word response on social media, and quite another to spend the time and effort to specially source two dozen half bottles of wine to assemble an Advent calendar for the NEXT year, so I didn’t allow my hopes to leap too high at the time, but now here we are, on December 1st, 2017, and I’m looking at a wooden crate filled with 24 beautifully wrapped and meticulously selected 375 mL splits, my Advent dream realized and in the flesh.  I am filled with awe and gratitude, and I haven’t even opened anything yet.  Way to go, Bricks — you really did it.

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And if I was excited BEFORE peeling back the wrapping on Day #1, my anticipation only intensified after seeing what was on tap for Calgary’s inaugural Half-Bottle Wine Advent Calendar:  wine geek paradise.  Bella Wines is a producer about whom I have heard a ton over the past year, without yet having had the chance to try their wines for myself.  Bella is British Columbia’s only winery that is exclusively devoted to the production of sparkling wine — all bubbles, all the time.  And their approach is brutally uncompromising:  all natural farming, traditional method Champagne-style fermentation (where the secondary fermentation creating the fizz takes place in each individual bottle in which the wine is ultimately sold), all single-vineyard single-varietal expressions, wild yeast fermentation, no additives, no dosage; nowhere to hide, no messing around.  Bella makes multiple different bottlings of both pink and white bubbles, with their pigmented production focused entirely on the Gamay grape, which they believe has unheralded potential in the sparkling world.

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Crown Cap Rating:  8/10 (Stylized and retro, great font, CROWN CAP – I’m all in.)

So if you’re keeping track at home, Day 1 of Wine Advent features an Okanagan traditional-method single-vintage sparkling Gamay natural wine:  the 2016 Bella Sparkling Rosé Brut Natural “Westbank”.  Hot damn.  Bella releases annual sparkling Gamays from vineyards both west and east of Lake Okanagan, and the Westbank hails from the Beaumont Estate Vineyard in West Kelowna, on the slopes of Mount Boucherie. It is a beautifully confident deep watermelon colour in the glass (yay, non-deathly pale rosé!) and makes an emphatically lean, tart and frothy impression, launching aromatic bullets of cranberry, sour cherry and pomegranate fruit laced with grape skins and handfuls of gravel.  The flavours are pure and unforgiving, the lack of any added sugar after secondary fermentation clearly evident, the wine sharp as a razor’s edge on the finish thanks to Ginsu acidity and circular saw bubbles.  This Gamay practically vibrates with energy and electricity from the moment it hits the tongue, and that coiled tension doesn’t ever release:  not when the bubbles burst, not when you hold it in your mouth, not when you swallow.  It’s like watching a thriller movie that never ends.  If this is Day 1, we are in for a SERIOUSLY impressive Advent.  I did not know Okanagan bubbles could be like this.

90+ points

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Wine Review: Dirty Laundry, Pink & Red

26 10 2017

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

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Okanagan label mastery.

Dirty Laundry is a winery best experienced in person, as it features a combination of location, history and brand awareness that is next to impossible to top.  It is perched up above the ideally named Summerland, BC, elevated over the Okanagan’s main highway, with vineyard views for miles and a patio strategically located to be drenched in scenery.  This spot was once, back in the era of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s initial construction, the home of a renowned and well-attended laundry service run by an AWOL railroad construction worker who had found a more lucrative calling; his fortune, and the popularity of his laundry business, was due in no small measure to the brothel being run discreetly on the upper floor while the clothes were cleaned below.  A couple of centuries later, the business currently occupying the land knows a good story when it sees one and has turned the tale of the dirty laundry into a branding behemoth that seeps into everything from wine names to labels to tasting room decor to the guest homes for rent on the property, the Bordello House and the Parlour House.  They commit to the identity, keep their humour on high alert and leave their prudishness at the door, and people keep coming back.

The wines themselves may be in a state of flux, caught between wanting to appeal to the widest possible audience and the crowds in for a good time and a novelty bottle-stopper and aiming for a higher level of quality, a product that captures attention in a different way.  I am rooting for them to succeed, as personality and creativity and branding effort are more than welcome in my own world of wine.  The below releases, recent rose and red offerings from Dirty Laundry and the first of a two-part review series, were an excellent chance for me to check in on the winery for the first time in a while and see where they were on their cheeky, quirky voyage. Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





Cellar Direct: Summer Vibes, Part 3

7 09 2017

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

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So different, yet so marvellous.

Well, the leaves in my backyard are starting to turn yellow and fall, and my kids just started a new year of school, so it’s probably a good time to wrap up my multi-part summer saga featuring the always-impressive old school wines of Cellar Direct, an online purveyor of European treasures that it offers up to a list of eager email subscribers and then ships nationwide when weather permits.  I recently had the chance to meet Ron van Schilt, one of the founders and owners of the business and the man in charge of sourcing all of the wines offered up across Canada, and his love and passion for his producers and their creations is physically palpable in every word he speaks.  Serious Wines all, and wondrous finds.

Cellar Direct sent me a six-pack sampler of their prior 2017 offerings at the start of the summer that I have been devouring in twos over the past couple months; to see how Wines #1, 2, 3 and 4 showed, click here then here for the recap (hint:  well, well, well and well).  Time to see if the last duo of bottles follow suit.  Like everything else in this offer set, they hailed from France and were the product of hand-worked soils and low-intervention winemaking, but they had basically nothing else in common.  I started off with a familiar face, and a blast from the past. Read the rest of this entry »





Happy Canada Day: Stag’s Hollow Summer Set

1 07 2017

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

Happy Canada Day all!  Our majestic and humble home turns 150 today, which makes me both celebratory and reflective, emotions which both inevitably lead to wine.  (OK, many things inevitably lead to wine, but these do too.)  As a nation, even at its sesquicentennial, Canada is still young and developing, growing increasingly confident in its global identity but not yet possessed of that inner calm of countries who have already seen and lived through it all.  As a wine nation, we are younger still:  while grapevines have been planted in Canada since the 19th century, our movement towards becoming a commercial producer of quality wines probably only dates back 40 to 50 years; the oldest producing vinifera vines in British Columbia are likely of a similar age.  In many ways, we are still finding ourselves and only starting to chart our path.

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British Columbia wasn’t blessed in centuries past with Burgundy’s army of soil-testing, site-delineating monks, who segregated cohesive parcels of land and determined which grapes did best in which spots.  As such, and without a suite of indigenous varietals to choose from, BC is playing global catch-up, still trying to sort out what might succeed in its soils and what is destined to fail.  In this New World landscape, it would be useful for the province to have a sort of advance wine scout, someone who is unafraid to push the envelope in terms of planting options and help set the boundaries for the area’s future course.

I nominate Stag’s Hollow Winery in the Okanagan Falls, which, led by winemaker Dwight Sick, has done nothing but innovate since I first found out about them.  Make reserve-level small-production Tempranillo?  Check.  Create the Okanagan Valley’s first-ever bottling of Grenache?  Check.  Solera-style fortified wines?  Orange wines?  If you can envision it, Sick and Stag’s Hollow have probably made it, and have expanded the range of possibilities for Canadian wine in the process.  A recent further jump:  Albarino, the crispy, crunchy white grape that is the pride of Galicia in northwest Spain, features heavily in Portugal’s Vinho Verde and has been gaining an increasing worldwide audience.  I had never yet seen a Canadian version of this hot and trendy grape – but if I had had to place a bet on who would be among the first to come up with one, it turns out that I wouldn’t have been wrong.  I got to check out this trail-blazing New World version of Albarino along with a couple other patio-friendly new releases from the winery just in time for summer. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Moet & Chandon Winemaker Tasting @ Ruth’s Chris

24 03 2017

As it turns out, there is no inopportune time for Champagne.  Although the bubbly beverage has built its brand on being the drink of choice for special occasions and other times of celebration, it turns out that it’s equally nice to kick back with a glass of fine bubbles on an otherwise-normal Thursday afternoon.  It’s even better to kick back with six of them, which is what I was fortunate enough to do when Moet & Chandon winemaker Amine Ghanem came to town to lead an attentive and appreciative group through a good portion of the Champagne powerhouse’s portfolio.

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Amine Ghanem, Moet & Chandon.

Ghanem is one of 10 winemakers employed by Moet & Chandon in addition to their cellarmaster, or chef de cave, who directs and decides on the ultimate blend for each of the house’s Champagnes.  Moet has been doing its thing for centuries (since 1743, to be exact – Ghanem informed us that the very first bottle of Moet & Chandon Champagne arrived in Canada in 1839, before we were even a country!), and as such has honed its house style to a fine point, with very clear goals as to the characteristics it seeks to draw out in its Champagnes and specific strategies in place to reach them.  The three pillars of the Moet & Chandon style are, in Ghanem’s words:  (1) “bright fruitiness”, which is attained in part by careful non-oxidative winemaking techniques, even to the point where the house has developed a technique for “jetting” oxygen out of the neck of the bottle after disgorgment to avoid degradation during the maturation process; (2) “seductive palate”, with a welcoming, easy-to-drink texture aided by full malolactic fermentation; and (3) “elegant maturity”, achieved largely through extended lees contact pre-disgorgment, for much longer periods than required by law.  These foundational principles must be working, as we were told that there is currently a bottle of Moet being popped somewhere around the world every second.

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In case the ten full-time winemakers on staff wasn’t a tip-off, Moet & Chandon is a massive undertaking.  It is the biggest house in Champagne and the owner of its largest vineyard holdings, amounting to almost 10% of the entire area under vine in the region.  Since 1962, it has even had its own brand of proprietary yeast, which helps accentuate the characteristics that reflect the house style.  Moet’s primary brand is Imperial, so named in recognition of founder Claude Moet’s 18th century friendship with a certain French emperor, none other than Napoleon Bonaparte.  Napoleon visited the winery many times and was a steadfast consumer of Moet Champagnes, and in 1869 the Imperial brand was christened in recognition of the 100th anniversary of his birth.  The Imperial NV blend starts out as 800 different base wines, which are gradually combined into 3 proposed blends (each featuring solid proportions of all three of Champagne’s grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay) before one is selected.  The blending is as much of the artistry as the winemaking itself, and the efforts show in the bottle, which led off our tour-of-Moet tasting. 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 »








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