Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 6

6 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Expectations met can be a wonderful thing. Chianti is one of the world’s truly great wine styles, so such a bottle basically HAS to appear in a calendar like this, no? We had a good showing last year, and I rarely feel disappointed when confronted with vibrant red fruit and pungent savoury herbs coupled with some degree of tannic power. The best of these wines walk a tightrope between force and elegance, erring on the side of varietal fruit character and earth as opposed to sporting a pancake makeup overdose of oak. I prefer those primal Chiantis that speak directly of their native land, even if they are a tad gnarly, like old elementals draped in garrigue and clods of mud. Those that skew more towards the diktats of flying winemakers and a ceaseless push for more concentration rapidly lose my interest. Bigger ain’t always better, particularly with this delicate, rather temperamental grape. This is not a moral pronouncement or a rigidly clasped axiom. You know, it’s just like, my opinion, man. Nature is not perfect… nor is good wine. When everything tastes the same, we lose our ability to be wowed, however hedonistic the benchmark may be.

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Chianti Classico was officially delimited in 1716, although what is now one sub-region among eight initially WAS Chianti, full stop. As the wine became an international star, demand soared and grape-growing expanded into nearby towns and countryside to meet said demand. The moniker “Classico” was eventually added to wines made within the original Chianti area, with the sub-region established as its own DOCG in 1984. This came about largely because producers in Chianti Classico felt that their wines were more historical, distinctive, and ultimately superior to those produced in surrounding areas, perhaps a classic(o) case of “we were here first”. It turns out that the self-styled old guard might have a point, as the DOCG does enjoy more strict rules of production, including longer minimum age requirements compared to the Chianti DOCG (alas, home to many subpar vineyards) and a minimal Sangiovese composition of 80% with no white grapes in the blend. My mind knows that there are other interesting terroirs across the sub-regions, but my heart guides me toward a more conservative approach such that I usually look for the tell-tale black rooster when browsing the Italian section.

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Villa Cafaggio is technically situated in the hamlet of Greve, typically known for full bodied renditions of Sangiovese with concentrated fruit flavours. However, the broader region of Greve itself includes Panzano, a separate village with its own distinctive and long-standing history of wine-making. Yes, even the sub-regions here have sub-regions. I try not to let my head explode. A consortium of Panzano winegrowers are in fact lobbying to have the region separate from Greve entirely. This push has met with no official success to date, yet that has not stopped these intrepid folk, the  Unione Viticoltori Panzano (UVP), from going ahead and forming the first consolidated district for organic wine production in Italy, in which 90 per cent of its vineyards are organically farmed. The government won’t listen? That’s hardly new. We shall simply do our own thing regardless. Some of this sounds strangely familiar. Villa Cafaggio is a proud member of the UVP. Interestingly enough not all Panzano producers are, and defining specific geographical boundaries in a fashion that makes wine-growing sense remains a going concern across the greater Chianti region. Suffice to say, Panzano has staked a claim to its own historical and modern identities. Villa Cafaggio seeks to deliver savoury, perfumed wines that capture this culture. Read the rest of this entry »

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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 »





Calgary Wine Life: Barone Ricasoli Luncheon @ Alloy Fine Dining

10 02 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ growing up. Amongst the many fond memories (including my grandmother’s never-ending tolerance of my boundless energy and predilection for getting into various forms of trouble), I can recall that there were always a few fiascos kicking around the house, those round-bottomed bottles covered with a close-fitting straw basket that shall be forever associated with one of the world’s great wines: Chianti. Although the wine contained in most of these vessels was far from remarkable, over time a serious quality revolution occurred, one that led to the creation of the Chianti Classico DOCG designation. This important development was associated with a renewed commitment to meticulous winemaking as well as the elimination of winemaking techniques that were eventually appreciated to hinder quality (e.g., blending white grapes into a must that was largely red). At the same time, there was a dedication to preserving a unique identity; Chianti was and is a Sangiovese-dominant blend, not a varietal wine (at least usually…it turns out that Chianti Classico can be 100% Sangiovese!). As a newly christened regular contributor to Pop & Pour, I could not have been more keen to draw this tasting assignment, hosted by none other than Francesco Ricasoli. You see, Francesco’s ancestor Bettino actually invented the style.

IMG_0808When Francesco, a professional photographer, finally entered the world of winemaking, Bettino Ricasoli’s beloved Castello di Brolio estate had spent some time being passed from one multinational to the next. Enter a “contractual loophole” that gave Francesco a chance to purchase his family’s legacy from Hardy’s, based in Australia. Although he was initially unsure about whether this was a good idea, some helpful advice and prodding from a friend at Castello di Fonterutoli sealed the deal. Alas, there was much work to do. Francesco wanted to restore his wines to glory. He commissioned a three-year study to clarify the agronomic potential of his property and conducted trial plantings of fifty different Sangiovese clones, eventually determining which would perform best in his vineyard soils. The latter are largely calcareous clay with additional stony components and occur at a wide range of altitudes. Francesco was careful to explain his philosophy of “precision viticulture”. Under this approach, every vineyard parcel is a distinct entity yielding a unique vinous product. Parcels are each farmed according to their individual characters. The wines are all vinified separately to preserve their distinct attributes and are then thoughtfully blended. It became clear that Francesco does not like leaving winemaking to chance. “Why make mistakes that can be avoided?”, he asked, in response to a question about whether he uses selected yeasts for fermentation. However, he is passionate about preserving grape character. This is a highly intelligent man who thinks deeply about his wines, one who has the utmost respect for nature’s raw materials but who is not shy about steering vinification exactly where he wants it to go, according to his vision. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct: On To Italy!

24 01 2018

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

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Italy is not kidding around.

Over the past couple of years, I have come to know the wares of virtual Canadian wine merchant and weekly offer club Cellar Direct pretty well.  Over the course of half a dozen reviews and nearly twice as many bottles, I’ve grown accustomed to the Old World bona fides and seemingly effortless consistency of the wines sourced by CD founder Ron Van Schilt from family estates strewn across Europe:  France all day, Germany for sure, with a bit of Spain thrown in for good measure.  But I had never yet tasted anything from the fourth pillar of Cellar Direct’s traditional sourcing ground, the most glaring omission from the vinous Euro-stars above:  Italy, the focus of multiple prior online offerings but no corks popped at my kitchen table.  That changed tonight, and my perception of what this virtual venture is bringing into the country climbed ever higher.  The focus tonight is two dynamic, bombastic Italian reds, with a wild Cellar Direct white (Arneis!!) from the same country to come a bit later.  Let’s start where my Italian heart lies. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 2

2 12 2017

This Wine Advent is not only historic for PnP as the realization of a longstanding calendar-format dream, but it will also mark the very first time in 400+ reviews that somebody other than me will take up the virtual pen for Pop & Pour.  I am honoured to be joined in this Advent blogging journey by two fellow Calgary students of wine who pair impressive technical knowledge with precise palates and a knack for communicating what they see and taste and feel:  Raymond Lamontagne (follow him on Twitter and Instagram here) and Dan Steeves (follow him on Twitter and Instagram too).  Their authorship journey officially starts tomorrow, as Ray will take the helm of the blog for Day 3 of Bricks’ wonderful (based on early returns) Advent Calendar.  But it turns out they came in handier than I expected earlier than I expected, and their palates and tasting notes were called on sooner…

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Not like I needed any more evidence that Bricks was taking this whole half-bottle Advent thing seriously after last night, but I got it the second I peeled back the wrapping paper on Day 2 and “Brunello di Montalcino” stared me back in the face.  Yowza.  More specifically, tonight’s bottle was the 2012 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino, a traditional-style bottling from an old-school producer recently given new life.  Many know Brunello as Italian wine royalty, and likely the apex of what the Sangiovese grape can do (more specifically, Brunello was once thought to be its own grape varietal but later shown to be a particular clone of Sangiovese called Sangiovese Grosso), but its life as a classified wine region is surprisingly short — it only received formal DOC status in 1968.  Caparzo was founded at almost exactly that time, when there were only a baker’s dozen official Brunello producers in the world.  It was later sold in 1998 to Elisabetti Gnudi Angelini, who had married at age 20 into a pharmaceutical empire, was widowed young, and then took a left turn with her life into the world of Tuscan oenology, where she has become a standout.

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Cork Rating:  1/10 (Real Talk – This is one of the worst corks I have ever seen.  “Italia”??  Really? You’re a Brunello, for god’s sake!)

I LOVE Brunello.  I was not expecting to see a half-bottle of it, well, anywhere, let alone in Day TWO of this calendar, but I dove in with great anticipation, especially since 2012 was a highly esteemed vintage.  The wine was a gorgeous silky ruby in the glass and smelled like…mildew?  Old dirty showers?  Wet newspapers?  Oh come on.  I have been on a solid streak of luck when it comes to avoiding wine faults recently, but this bottle was horridly, outrageously corked, infected with the fungal-induced TCA compound from the cork (incidentally, they always say that smelling the cork is a plebeian’s approach to checking for taint, but this cork smelled like a dead giveaway, so maybe check your premises).  Ordinarily, throughout the entire prior history of my blogging career, my review would have been sunk — the wine was ruined.  But ordinarily I did not have TWO other people drinking the exact same wine with pens at the ready!  Raymond and Dan, called in on an emergency basis, sent me the following notes and (agreed) score for this bottle.  You guys are lifesavers.

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Damn you 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA).  Worst molecule ever.

“Nose of dried red and blue flowers (iris, rose, potpourri), anise, white pepper, a whiff of roasted almond.  Palate is loaded with tart cherry pie, cranberry, tomato, and unripe raspberry smeared on a leather-bound book.  Some orange peel also emerges, along with oily tobacco, walnut, tar, coffee bean, and a handful of iron filings and road dust.”  [Ray]  “I get most of those descriptors as well.  I would say in general it’s not a big Brunello and seems meant for more early drinking but does have solid structure.  Definitely tart cherry and cranberry on the palate and then the leather, thyme, black tea and stone/rock dust flavours take over.  Originally I thought the finish was a bit short but as the wine opens more it lengthens — still not overly long but enough to make you contemplate why Brunello is so good.” [Dan]  I’m sad I missed the experience (mine tasted like mouldy laundry) but remarkably relieved that any readers of this post do not have to.  Fingers crossed for better luck tomorrow!

89 points





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 »





Wine Review: 2009 Il Palagio Casino delle Vie

14 11 2012

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

This is a pic of a real acrobat doing a real balance pose, albeit probably not on a bottle of wine.

Many celebrities have wine ventures.  For the most part, they are side hobbies at best and branding exercises at worst, usually making it hard to see what the famous name on the label has added to the wine inside.  Not so with Sting and the lineup of wines coming out of his old-made-new estate in Tuscany.  When he and his wife Trudie Styler first came across the historic Tuscan Il Palagio property in the late 1990s, it was dilapidated and poorly tended, in a vast state of disrepair.  After they purchased the estate and the 350 acres of land forming part of it, they spent an entire decade restoring the buildings and revitalizing the land, bringing on viticultural experts to convert the property to biodynamic growing methods (a pesticide- and herbicide-free holistic philosophy that focuses on ensuring the vine thrives in harmony with its surrounding environment and ties patterns of vine development to lunar phases, among other things) and giving vineyards that had been producing wine grapes since the 16th century a new lease on life.  Instead of rushing the fruits of the estate to market to capitalize on a well-known name and get cash flowing, Sting and Trudie waited until they and their team believed the land was sufficiently rehabilitated and the products of a high enough quality; 13 years after they first came across the property, they are releasing only their second vintage of wines.  In addition to a trio of vinous bottlings, Il Palagio is also the source of many other biodynamically-grown agricultural products, including fresh-made honey and cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil (I’ve been lucky enough to try the oil, and though I’m far from an EVOO expert, my layman’s opinion is that it was unbelievable).  The amount of time, effort and money that has gone into building Il Palagio back up is clear proof that this is a serious pursuit for Sting, one intended to create a lasting legacy.  I will refrain from making a “Message In A Bottle” joke here, but this is no mere vanity project. Read the rest of this entry »








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