PnP Panel Tasting: Quench! Wines BC Portfolio

1 02 2018

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

First, some exciting news:  I’m happy to announce that Pop & Pour Wine Advent 2017 authors Raymond Lamontagne and Dan Steeves are officially going to be sticking around as regular contributors on the blog, bringing their expertise and exuberance to a screen near you and formally making PnP a joint venture from this point forward.  I’m hoping that this will allow the site to be less tied to my schedule and to have a greater presence around events and bottles that interest you (or that interest us, at least – hopefully they will interest you too).  And what better way to go from a solo gig to a group gig than having a panel tasting?

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A highly worthy BC lineup for our first PnP Panel Tasting.

Here’s how we play our game.  Dan, Ray and I got together to jointly taste a (remarkable) set of wines; we discussed while we tried each wine, but we evaluated and scored each bottle separately and independently, without sharing our final assessment until all scores were locked in.  We divvied up the writing duties, but rather than average out the scores or try to come to a numerical consensus, we preserved each person’s score for each bottle to give you a sense as to the level of divergence in the room through the course of the tasting.  Hopefully this will be the first of many such panel reviews, but if you have any thoughts as to the format or results, leave a comment or send me a message and let me know!

The focus of this inaugural Pop & Pour panel tasting was a sextet of offerings from Quench! Wines, a Vancouver Island-based agency exclusively focused on the burgeoning British Columbia production scene.  We got to taste a pair of wines each from three critically acclaimed Okanagan producers:  Terravista, Bella and Fairview Cellars.  You could not have put together three more divergent groups of wines if you tried, a testament to the diversity that is possible in the Okanagan Valley, particularly since each distinct grouping aptly highlighted a different element of the potential of the region.  I got to lead things off. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 12

12 12 2017

We are here, my friends:  at the midpoint of Advent, 24 posts in (including this one) and 25 to go, about to hit Advent Hump Day tomorrow (on a Wednesday, natch), with two columns of the Bricks Wine Advent crate vaporized and another two left to go.  I’m late posting this tonight not because I got started late, but because tonight’s bottle is so damn fascinating that I’ve just spent the better part of the last hour reading about it instead of getting down to business.  It’s a Cava, but not really.  It has a history dating back either millions (for the land) or hundreds (for the family) of years, but it’s also so new that it has yet to obtain an official designation.  I looked at the label for a good long time trying to figure out what was going on before resolving to dive deeper on this one.

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The label says “2011 Raventos i Blanc Conca Del Riu Anoia De La Finca”.  I recognize it to be a sparkling wine from eastern Spain, but it doesn’t say “Cava” (the only widely known bubbles appellation in the area) anywhere on the bottle.  It’s also vintage-dated, which a lot of Cava is not.  Um.  Starting with the only one of those label words that I knew, and the only one with its own website, I pulled on that thread and started unravelling the mystery.  Raventos i Blanc is one of the top quality sparkling producers in Spain, an estate that has been family-owned and -run for TWENTY-ONE GENERATIONS, since 1497.  The Raventos family is intimately connected with the creation and rise of Cava:  it was Raventos ancestors who first established the indigenous grapes that would form part of the Cava blend (Macabeu, Xarel-lo and Parellada) and who actually made the very first bottles of Cava in 1872.  The Cava DO has since stretched, however, now encompassing a half-dozen areas that aren’t at all geographically connected and now permitting Champagne grapes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to also be used in the bubbly blend.  The current generation of the Raventos family were not a fan of these changes.  So in December 2012, they left the Cava appellation and started their own.

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The estate and vineyards are still based in the very heart of classical Cava, of course, in the core of Penedes near Barcelona.  But Raventos pulled the name of the region off its bottles and instead added the name of a proposed new location-focused appellation:  Conca Del Riu Anoia, named for the nearby Anoia River.  Their proposed requirements for this new region are strict, ranging from a commitment to organic viticulture to minimum purchase prices for fruit bought from growers to longer minimum aging periods.  I keep saying “proposed” because the Conca Del Riu Anoia “region” has no legal or formal existence but is still just a vision; but it has some kind of existence, because I see it on the label of this leading light. Read the rest of this entry »





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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Happy NYE 2016: Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV

30 12 2016

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

Quick – what’s the most festive thing you can think of to drink right now, right in the middle of this holiday season?  Champagne?  Close.  Champagne wrapped up like a present, complete with bright red bow, in its own custom bottle cozy?  Bingo.  I have long been a proponent of seasonally packaged wines (as long as they’re done right – when done wrong, they’re not pretty), and the holiday edition of the Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV Champagne nails the Christmas/New Year’s vibe about as well as anything I’ve ever seen in a bottle.  Seriously, just look at this thing, first wrapped up:

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Wait for it…

Then unwrapped:

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Oh yeah.  So sweet.

YES.  That is so, so clever.  And it’s reusable!  How can you go to a New Year’s party tomorrow and NOT bring this?  And it’s on sale online at the moment at Willow Park in Calgary, and maybe elsewhere, at a price that’s shockingly friendly for true Champagne from a historic house.  Oh, and most importantly, the juice lives up to the packaging.

Read the rest of this entry »





Beautiful Bubbles: Benjamin Bridge Trio

3 02 2016

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

If you have a passing familiarity with the Canadian wine scene, you’re probably pretty comfortable about what’s where.  You know that the two big players are the Okanagan and Niagara.  You know where to look for dynamite Riesling, Gewurz, Gamay and Cab Franc.  You may know about the potential rise of Syrah out west, about new possibilities in the Similkameen and a focus on subregional quality in Prince Edward County and the Golden Mile Bench.

But did you know that the best sparkling wine in Canada may well be made in…Nova Scotia?

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A Nova Scotia awakening.

Despite only being in existence for just over a decade, Benjamin Bridge definitely deserves a place at Canada’s bubbly head table, and to my mind they are already the cream of the crop.  Located in the Gaspereau Valley northwest of Halifax, in north-central Nova Scotia (bordering the Bay of Fundy as opposed to the Atlantic), Benjamin Bridge is without question the most acclaimed and well-known winery east of Niagara, producing a wide range of bottlings but focusing heavily on traditional method sparkling wines.  The Gaspereau, with its (unsurprising) cool climate and maritime breezes, delivers a colder, shorter growing season promoting leaner ripening and lower yields, one remarkably similar to bubbly’s Mecca, Champagne in France.  The marginal conditions and harsh winters mandate partial reliance on hardier and earlier-ripening hybrid grapes, which are not usually known for their complexity and delicacy in the bottle, but somehow the winery makes them sing, embracing rather than hiding them and adding a unique sense of intrigue to the wines as a result. Read the rest of this entry »





Canada’s Natural Wine Club: Cellar Direct

1 09 2015

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

FullSizeRender-118It was not like any other sample box I have received.  This two-bottle sample pack showed up in a container that could have easily fit a full case of wine with room to spare.  Puzzled, I broke into the box to discover the wine inside was surrounded on all sides by multiple inches of insulated styrofoam, like I was being shipped radioactive isotopes instead of a European red and white.  The bottles in the centre of the box were encased in even more styrofoam, and sitting in between them was a liqui-gel cryopack, like the kind you would use to keep your camping cooler cold.  After a multi-day, interprovincial Canada Post voyage, the icepack was still completely frozen.  And the wine?  Precisely at cellar temperature fresh off the delivery truck, a constant, perfect 13 degrees Celsius.  As it turns out, Cellar Direct doesn’t just ship their wines out in a way that ensures temperature stability; it also imports them in from producers in a rigidly temperature-controlled manner too.  They officially had my attention. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Menti & Marabino, Natural Italy

20 08 2015

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

If you are a massively wine-obsessed civilian, you have probably had at least a passing thought about it.  I can think of a half dozen wine friends off the top of my head with whom I’ve had the conversation.  You know something about wine, you have a particular love for a particular region, you’ve found a lesser-known producer or two there whose wines aren’t currently brought in to your jurisdiction…what if I just imported them myself?  I could be a wine agent on the side…who WOULDN’T want to buy these wines?

Small importer, statement wines.

Small importer, statement wines.

Of course, it takes much more than a passion for wine and an idle dream to make a go of it in the wine import world, an extremely competitive sphere full of others who have been at it a long time and know what they’re doing.  This is why I am behind a keyboard right now instead of combing Washington State and Oregon for hidden gems.  But I have the utmost respect for the people who do take the plunge, who put their money where their mouth is and find a way to step a little bit further into the world of wine.  Maxim Atanassov is one of those people, populating the white collar world by day and crusading for all-natural biodynamic Italian wines on evenings and weekends through his agency Vino Al Vino.  He has assembled a tight-knit group of producers from the southern and eastern edges of Italy who share a steadfast mission to let the land do the talking and a hands-off approach to winemaking.  I got the chance to try two bottles from the white side of his wine portfolio, and they proved to be some of the most interesting wines I’ve ever been asked to review. Read the rest of this entry »








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