Co-op Wines: The Social Collection, Bin 101

12 02 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

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Get Social.

Negociant-style wines have long been a staple of the Old World wine economy:  instead of a winery planting, tending and harvesting a vineyard then using those estate-grown grapes to make wine, an enterprising producer or brand instead either buys grapes from a grower for use in their own winemaking or, more simply, buys already-made wine from a winery that is maturing in barrel or bottle and then sticks their own label on it. This may not accord with the most romantic notions of pastoral family-farmhouse wineries that automatically spring to mind when we think about the industry in the abstract, but it has a ton of advantages as a full-estate alternative, mostly tied to the division of labour.  To create and sell your own wine, you no longer need to own any land, purchase expensive wine-making equipment (or wine-aging vessels – do you have any idea how much oak barrels cost??) or have any winemaking education or expertise; you just need to get contact with the right subject-matter experts and have a vision for how to make it all come together cohesively.  The negociant approach drastically reduces barriers to entry in the wine production industry and also provides an additional market for those who grow grapes or operate winery facilities, and while it has always been a part of the industry in the New World, it now seems to be taking on an increased presence, particularly in the realm of branded grocery store wines.

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Ultra-transparent for a Cab!

This is actually not a new topic to this blog — a few years ago, I had the pleasure and challenge of trying to dig behind what was behind the cover label of the PC brand of wines, which resulted in some truly entertaining (if somewhat strange) juice.  Now Co-op Wine and Spirits has released its own lineup of sommelier-curated negociant wines called The Social Collection, sourced from around the world and targeted towards “the socialite and modern wine drinker”.  Translation, I think:  these are mainstream wines intended for easy enjoyment while still striving to properly represent their varietal and region at a wallet-friendly price.  I was sent a trio of examples from this new branding effort to taste and decided to make a group event out of it.  Dan and Ray will taste and report on a couple of subsequent Co-op releases later in the week, but I’m kicking things off tonight from where it all started for The Social Collection:  Bin 101. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 21

21 12 2017

This is my second last wine post of Advent 2017:  the coming two days will see Dan and Ray post their Bricks calendar wrap-ups, and the next time you hear from me will be on Christmas Eve, for the grand half-bottle Advent finale.  It’s almost hard to believe our countdown to Christmas is almost done; it’s almost harder to believe that I actually survived it (though perhaps I shouldn’t say that yet).  And Bricks appears determined to send me off in style, because Day 21’s wrapping comes off to reveal an absolute firecracker of a Chardonnay:  the 2015 Stuhlmuller Vineyards from Sonoma’s Alexander Valley.  I think this grape is still in a down phase when it comes to much of the consumer world, but we seem to be entering a period where many of the regions previously responsible for Chard’s worst oaky boozy excesses have started to dial it in just right, at least on the quality wine side of the spectrum.  And there is no better representative of this evolution than California.

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Stuhlmuller Vineyards was founded by a husband and wife team who got their start in 1982 growing and supplying grapes to neighbouring wineries.  They didn’t become a full-fledged estate winery until 2000 but have already developed a reputation in the crowded California wine scene, particularly for Chardonnay, which makes up over half of its acreage.  The Alexander Valley is in the northeast corner of Sonoma, inland from the coast and due north of the better-known Russian River Ralley; its eponymous Russian River runs up and along the eastern edge of Stuhlmuller’s vineyards in Alexander’s southwest corner, where it and the Russian River Valley come together with Dry Creek Valley.  Much like Napa, the grape-growing conditions in the Alexander Valley are helped by two separate ocean-induced effects:  morning fog coursing in daily through the Chalk Hill gap, and cool nights spurred by ocean breezes, both of which provide the grapes relief from the scorching California heat, help preserve precious acidity and lead to more balanced ripening.  This bottle shows the results of all that climatic effort, clocking in at 13.9% abv.

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Cork Rating:  3/10 (Friendly advice – no phone numbers or websites on corks. This has both.)

This is Stuhlmuller’s “entry-level” Chardonnay, but it’s clear from the start that no shortage of care went into its creation.  It was fermented sur lie (on its spent yeast cells) over 8 months and matured in French oak, mostly small-barrel barriques but only 5% new.  It is a rich golden colour in the glass and finds that perfect harmony between Chardonnay’s careful fruit and oak’s at-times exuberant influence, mixing fresh pear, peach and Granny Smith apple pie with ginger chews, almond shortbread, oatmeal cookies and rubber boots.  Simultaneously full and cutting on the palate, the Stuhlmuller’s oak-aided roundness is run through with a table saw of slicing acidity.  It is beautifully poised on the tongue without losing the weight and body that is a defining feature of Chardonnay, a honeyed swirl of caramel apple, white flowers and a bracing quality on the finish like a cool sea breeze.  Refined and restrained but still California in essence — exactly what New World Chardonnay should be.

92 points





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 »





FEL Wines: Pinot Showdown

11 01 2015

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

Happy New Year!  I took a bit of a holiday blogging break after 24 straight days of whisky-induced Advent madness in December, but I always had it in my mind to start up 2015 (and return to actually producing wine-related content on this wine blog) with these two bottles of California glory.  Although they come from what might technically be considered a new producer, their roots and history are inextricably linked to a California stalwart…and, as it turns out, to my home province of Alberta too.

Great wines, plus new wine glasses - to be the subject of a separate post.

Great wines, plus new wine glasses – to be the subject of a separate post.

FEL Wines came into being less than a year ago, in March 2014.  It is the brainchild of Cliff Lede, whose eponymous Napa Sauvignon Blanc helped renew my faith in the grape a month ago.  Lede is well known for creating those rarest of beasts, Napa Valley value wines, and he’s also a born-and-raised Albertan who is well known outside of the wine world as one of the owners and senior executives of the Ledcor Group, which was founded by his father (how the construction lawyer in me failed to mention that in the last review is beyond me).  FEL represents Lede’s foray outside of Napa’s welcoming confines and into the cooler climate areas of California, and it also seems to be underlaid by a personal passion:  FEL is so named for Cliff’s mother Francis Elsie Lede, who helped kindle his love of wine as a child. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2008 Fog Crest Vineyard “Laguna West” Chardonnay

15 02 2012

I had to use the promo pic from the website instead of my actual pic, for obvious reasons. Sure is foggy.

I just finished reading the book Judgment of Paris by George Taber, which is primarily a recounting of the now-legendary 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting where California Cabernets and Chardonnays shockingly upset top French Bordeaux and Burgundies in a blind tasting evaluated by renowned French judges, but which also tangentially describes the birth and rapid growth of the California wine industry.  The truly amazing thing about the J of P tasting wasn’t that the California wines upset the French; it was that the California wineries represented in the competition didn’t even exist a decade earlier.  Many of them entered their first, second or third vintages EVER in a tasting contest against historic French bottlings that dated back centuries, which in the world of wine should have been a recipe for embarrassment.  I now think about this every time I open a Cali Cab or Chard because, as a recent disciple of wine, I’ve only ever known California as a world vinous powerhouse; it’s remarkable to think that 40 years ago it would have been laughable to describe it that way.

To coincide with my finishing the book, I felt it only appropriate to open a California wine in commemoration, and the Fog Crest has been a bottle I’ve been very interested in trying, largely because the producer brings in ultra-famous Cali winemaker David Ramey as a consultant to help craft its Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.  Fog Crest is based out of the Russian River Valley sub-region of Sonoma County, an area known for having a notably cooler climate than the surrounding area, helped in part by cold morning fogs (hence the winery name).  These climatic conditions make RRV an ideal spot for growing grapes like Chardonnay that show their best in cooler sites.  My favourite thing about this wine has to be its thematically-accurate, dry-ice-induced foggy promo pic from its website (see above left), the set up for which almost inevitably involved some marketing guru saying:  “See, FOG Crest?  Get it?”  (I get it.)   Read the rest of this entry »








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