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.

IMG_1110 Read the rest of this entry »

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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





PC Wine Fall Collection Faceoff

22 10 2015

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

Grocery store wines are making strides.  Supermarket labels are no longer (or at least not all) resigned to Two Buck Chuck ignominy, and a select few are starting to pair their expected wallet-friendly price tags with actual quality inside the bottle, making them legitimate value plays in a competitive buying environment.  The Kirkland label from Costco comes immediately to mind, a negociant-style operation that sources wines from prestigious regions across the globe (even Champagne!  And it’s not bad!) and makes them accessible at a fraction of the cost of other bottles from the area.  Now Loblaws is making its own foray into the value wine world with a curated lineup of stylishly branded PC Wines, currently only available at an Alberta Superstore liquor store near you.  Take that, rest of Canada.

A step up from the No Name wine labels.

A step up from the No Name wine labels.

 

The PC Wines approach differs from similar supermarket offerings in a couple of ways.  First, the wine collections will be seasonally rotated, so the five bottles in the fall collection will be replaced with a whole new set of wines in a few months.  Second, the pricing is uniform:  all of the bottles cost exactly $20, but that price drops to $15 in each case if you buy 3 or more.  The fall collection was hand-selected by Aaron Bick, founder of local vino e-commerce site wineonline.ca, and features offerings from four different producers in California, Italy and Spain.  Although each bottle bears a PC Wines label, it still recognizes its original producer on the front, which is a nice touch.  There’s even some back-vintage stuff in the mix!

Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva

30 09 2015

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

Modern Traditional Chianti.

Modern Traditional Chianti.

Barone Ricasoli holds itself out as the oldest winery in Italy.  Its history certainly marches in lockstep with that of its region, Chianti:  the winery’s eponymous founder was the man who first suggested the modern “recipe” for the standard Chianti blend — largely Sangiovese, blended with indigenous varieties Canaiolo, Trebbiano and Colorino — in a letter in 1872.  That mix has expanded and adapted since then, but Ricasoli has remained a constant in the area, producing Chianti at all price and quality points, from the entry level to the sublime.

This particular bottle is from the sub-zone of Chianti Classico, the traditional Chianti heartland at the centre of the region encompassing the original lands upon which that name was bestowed.  Chianti has now expanded significantly beyond that area, some might say for largely economic reasons and to the detriment of its reputation, as the lands surrounding Classico often do not quite live up to its hallmarks of quality.  The symbol of Chianti Classico, emblazoned proudly on this bottle in multiple places, is the black rooster, the gallo nero.  Why?  Legend has it that, back when the provinces of Florence (in the north) and Siena (in the south) were fighting over the territory of Chianti (right in the middle), they settled on a contest to determine their mutual border:  they would each pick their best knight, who would ride from his city towards his opponent as fast as his horse could take him once the rooster crowed, and wherever they met would mark the new edge of each province’s lands.  The Florentines had a black rooster, and before the date of the contest they kept it locked up in a box with no food, so that when it was finally released on the day of the race, it crowed much, much earlier than dawn, giving Florence’s knight a massive head start.  The Florentine met the Sienese knight just outside of Siena’s walls and thus scooped all of Chianti for Florence, giving the black rooster mythical status in the process.  This is the best part about wine:  everything has a story.  You just have to find it. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2008 Rocca Delle Macie Confini Chianti DOCG

20 06 2011

Before I get into tonight’s wine, if you read my review of the 2007 Amavi Cellars Syrah from Friday, you’ll know that I was musing about why the 2005 Amavi Syrah tasted so different from the 2007 when so many of the variables going into it were the same, and I vowed to take to Twitter to get some answers right from the source.  Lo and behold, the Information Age is a wonderful place to be, and the good people at Amavi have posted a tremendous and thorough response to my Syrah-related queries in the comments section of the review.  So to recap, I had a bottle of wine in Calgary and then posted a blog article and a Twitter question, and then someone in Washington State who I’ve never met went and personally asked the head winemaker at Amavi Cellars what the difference was between his 2005 and 2007 Syrahs!!  There is very little cooler than that.  Thanks Amavi!

Warning: drink with food or face the consequences.

I wish I could say that tonight’s bottle has spawned Amavi levels of inquisitiveness and interest, but not quite.  I’ll get to that in a moment.  Chianti is a well-known wine region located in Tuscany, in west-central Italy, that has seen its share of ups and downs in recent decades.  Once regarded as one of the cream of the crop of Italian vinicultural areas, it then became the victim of shoddy production and overplanting and lost its reputation for quality, which it is only now starting to regain.  The problem with Chianti is that a lot of it is still pretty bland, although some of the higher-end renditions from the Chianti Classico region (the historic heartland of Chianti, which forms a smaller sub-zone within the larger area of Chianti) definitely can make you stop and take notice.  The main thing you need to know about wines labelled as Chianti is that they will be predominantly made using the Sangiovese grape, a varietal that shows best in Tuscany and isn’t usually seen that much elsewhere (though it WAS in the 2009 Abbot’s Table from Washington State, if you’ll recall…I doubt you’ll recall). Read the rest of this entry »








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