Obscure Italian Varieties I: Grignolino, the Polarizer

4 03 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

It is high time that I turned my wine blogging pen (errr, keyboard) to a project that has been bouncing around the dusty caverns of my mind for some time now. For several years, I have been enamoured by the viticultural diversity that is Italy. This country contains more unique native grape varieties than any other, and this sort of cornucopia deeply appeals to the part of me that relishes new experiences. My mind never stops collecting: a new plant in my (limited) deck garden, a new bird or mushroom found in the woods, a new wine grape that I’ve perhaps (likely!) read about but never experienced in person. My brain is just wired to quest. And why Italy? Well, Italy is part of my heritage, I love the food (who doesn’t?), and honestly, I can appreciate that so many of these wines are truly the products of a distinct culture. Although international grape varieties are entrenched in the Italian viticultural landscape and won’t be going anywhere, the natives are currently ascendent.

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Grignolino

So my plan is to provide a series of blogs that introduce our intrepid readers to an Italian wine grape that they many not have heard of or tasted. Each will describe the grape in detail and then provide a tasting note for a single bottle that is hopefully emblematic of the grape in question. This project feels like a poor man’s homage to one of my wine writing heroes, Ian D’Agata, who spent more than a decade tasting nearly all of Italy’s native wine grapes. The resulting book shall be my primary companion as I share my own musings. Some (including probably Ian himself) would take umbrage with my use of the word “obscure” to describe these grapes. I am going to use the word because my view is that none of these grapes that I will cover are obviously well-known in wine markets outside of Italy, nor are they commonly available in this wine market, although fortunately Calgary wine shops feature a unique bounty that likely does not exist elsewhere in this country. Of course these grapes are not obscure in the Italian wine regions from which they hail, and perhaps some of them will become better known outside these confines. So there you have it. Let’s begin with one grape, Grignolino, that I find particularly compelling. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Clos du Joncuas Seguret

29 02 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

Welcome to Leap Day!  On this spot in the calendar that only exists every four years, what better time to crack a particularly intriguing bottle and enjoy this temporal bonus.  This may be the first ever February 29th post in Pop & Pour history, so let’s make the most of it, with the latest biweekly Saturday release from online curator extraordinaire Cellar Direct.  If you have been keeping up with the PnP Cellar Direct 2020 scorecard so far, you will note a steady array of successes, starting with the legendary dry Spätlese from Karthäuserhof, moving to a Crozes-Hermitage from Stephane Rousset that continues to joyously haunt me to this day, and then bouncing to a stellar expression of Cab Franc from Bourgeuil’s Yannick Amirault.  The hits, and the French classics, keep on coming this week, albeit in slightly more esoteric fashion.  Time to visit the famous Southern Rhone, for a contemplative study of…Clairette?

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That’s right.  One of the thirteen permitted grapes allowed to be included in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the white Clairette grape doesn’t get much time in the spotlight, in this region or any other.  Less than 3,000 hectares of plantings exist in its homeland of France, and although it is the second-most planted white grape in CNDP (behind Grenache Blanc), it still only sees 2.5% of plantings and almost never takes the lead varietal role in any bottling.  It first came into existence in the aftermath of the Middle Ages, in the early 1500s, an early-ripening white prone to oxidation and thus generally enjoyed best young, especially if it hangs too long on the vine and loses its precious acidity.  But earlier pickings of Clairette can give rise to leaner adaptations with more of a shelf life and exciting possibilities.  The grape is currently undergoing a bit of a renaissance in South Africa, and has always been highly valued by the Chastan family in Seguret. Read the rest of this entry »





Gerard Bertrand: Estates Series Preview

20 02 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

Gerard Bertrand is seemingly everywhere these days, with a firmly established presence in North America (including rosé joint ventures with the Bon Jovi family) and an ever-increasing number of offerings in the Alberta market.  I had foolishly assumed that we had previously been privy to a decent chunk of Bertrand’s overall portfolio, only to discover that the current winery website offers up 135 DIFFERENT BOTTLINGS to consumers, divided up by brand, appellation, price point and production method (there are two different sans soufre lines, Prima Nature and Naturae, as well as at least two entirely separate organic lines, Naturalys and Autrement).  The bulk of my prior Bertrand experience is with his Terroir line of wines, which explore the defining soils and environments of a number of key subregions of the Languedoc, at the southern edge of France.  Tonight, however, we visit Gerard Bertrand’s Estates lineup, featuring distinctive single-vineyard wines from sites Bertrand owns, giving him complete control over the land and the growing decisions made on it.

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There are thirteen Estates vineyards in all (the interactive map on the winery site showing where they are and what they’re about is something to behold), each of which is given both a name and a descriptive mantra explaining what they’re all about.  Tonight’s first bottle, Domaine de Villemajou, is referred to as “The Genesis”, for reasons which will become quite clear below — it is where it all began for this burgeoning winery empire.  Chateau de Sauvageonne, our comparator Estates wine, is called “Sublime Nature”; while Bertrand’s history with the vineyard does not extend back as far, his connection with the land was immediate, as is its visual impression.  Each bottling does not immediately showcase itself as a Bertrand bottle; you have to look carefully on the disparate labels for the iconic name in small font along the bottom.  He may be letting the sites speak for themselves, but Bertrand’s involvement helps assure buyers of the quality within. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Virgen del Galir

24 01 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

Mencia and Godello.  While perhaps not yet fully household names (in North American households, at least), these high-quality, high-potential vinifera grapes based in northwestern Spain are starting to slide into the popular consciousness on this side of the Atlantic.  Mencia may already be there, after a recent swath of global exposure has seen it grace local wine lists and liquor stores alike; Godello is trailing its white neighbour Albarino in trendiness and recognition factor and has not yet caught on as a viable bottle option in most places outside of Galicia, but its time is coming.  I have wrongly predicted its meteoric rise on a couple of previous occasions, but I am a patient sort when it comes to worldwide taste revolutions.

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One recent hint that these northern Spanish grapes have been pegged for future expansion is the 2017 acquisition of small Valdeorras producer Virgen del Galir by Rioja legends CVNE, which has indirectly led to the introduction of the winery’s offerings into our market.  Virgen del Galir (“Virgin of Galir”, named for the nearby Galir river and potentially for a bit of religious double entendre, as the winery founder’s mother’s name was Mary) was founded in 2002 in a small village along the famed Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail and focuses exclusively on making wines from its 20 hectares of estate Mencia and Godello vineyards scattered across a multitude of plots.  The vineyards are all steep and terraced, planted on soils of slate and decomposed schist, and all hand-harvested.  CVNE immediately invested in significant improvements to the winery facility to allow these local grapes to better tell their story to a world audience.  Here they are, half a world away; let’s see what they have to say. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Stephane Rousset Crozes-Hermitages

18 01 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

The Cellar Direct offer train rolls on this weekend, and obviously they have my personal wine preferences bugged:  after offering my favourite kind of white wine (Mosel Riesling) last offer, they have moved on to my favourite red grape (Syrah) this week, straight from its spiritual homeland in France’s Northern Rhone.  This relatively compact, narrow winegrowing area runs north-south and is split in half by the Rhone river, with the regions of Cote-Rotie, Condrieu, St. Joseph and Cornas tracking the river’s west bank and Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage hugging the east.  There is a part of the Rhone that curves gradually out to the east before almost immediately swerving back to the west; right at that cut-back bend lies the mighty hill of Hermitage, the most esteemed appellation in the Northern Rhone, with its understudy Crozes-Hermitage spreading out in concentric circles to the north, south and east behind it.

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Crozes-Hermitage is both literally and figuratively in the shadow of its namesake, both considerably larger (1,700 hectares of grapes under vine as compared to Hermitage’s 136 hectares) and more varied, a hodgepodge of sites and soils, its wines varying widely in ambition and quality.  Given this level of variety, it’s hard to know what you’re going to get in any given bottle of Crozes; the region itself lacks the automatic pedigree and heightened standards of its neighbours.  So how to approach this appellation, the Northern Rhone’s biggest, which is often promoted as a budget-friendly alternative to its neighbouring luminaries?  Hook your wagon to specific producers or sites as opposed to the region as a whole.  Find those in the most compelling areas with the best soils and sites, those with a relentless focus on quality vineyard and winemaking practices.  I’m aware that this can be easier said than done.  Don’t know where to start?  Start right here. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Karthäuserhof Riesling

4 01 2020

By Peter Vetsch

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

Happy New Year!  I hope you all had a restful and joyous holiday season.  My post-Advent blog-free recovery time has been punctuated by catching the pernicious chest cold that my kids have had the entire month of December, which seems to be the natural consequence of getting out of fight-or-flight mode for any period of time.  Thankfully, I can still smell and taste just fine, and so even though this write-up had to be assisted by a spit cup (don’t get me started on how agonizing it is to taste and then have to spit amazing Riesling), the show must go on, especially for a bottle and a producer like this.

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If you know anything about me from a wine perspective, you likely know that Riesling is my first and most enduring vinous love, particularly the electric, agile, sweet-meets-sour ballet that is Riesling from Germany’s Mosel Valley.  My first “I didn’t know wine could taste like that” moment was born from a Kabinett-level (low to moderate sugar ripeness) sub-10% ABV single-vineyard Mosel Riesling that made time stop and effortlessly balanced my entire mind and heart on the head of a pin — so pure, so chiselled, yet so light and free.  The Mosel is most known for these low-alcohol, off-dry, dainty Rieslings at varying degrees of ripeness, from Kabinett to later-harvested Spätlese and Auslese to dessert-focused and often nobly rotten Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese (better known as TBA, for obvious reasons).  This specialty in sweetness has in recent years been something of a detriment to the region, at least for PR purposes; while the energetic back-and-forth between acid and sugar is one of my favourite parts of the Riesling experience, many casual drinkers still reeling from a decade or two of flaccid Liebfraumilch continue to view the combination of German wine and residual sugar with disdain.  While other production areas of Germany have increasingly turned their attention to drier pursuits to counteract this lasting stereotype, the Mosel has remained steadfast.  Yet even here there are some quality producers that have always focused on the drier side of the country’s star grape. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 19

19 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Some New World sites are unlike anything that came before them, with no obvious comparator from the Old World to help tell their story; Australia’s Barossa Valley and Washington’s Rocks District of Milton-Freewater are good examples of places that, to me at least, don’t taste like anything except themselves.  Other non-European regions have a clear cross-reference to a classic vinifera haunt, a reasonable facsimile in the Old World that allows for an easy introduction.  Think the Willamette Valley and Burgundy.  Australia’s Margaret River falls in the latter camp, and has the benefit of two different European doppelgängers:  its Cabernet-based reds are routinely compared to those of Bordeaux, but its other specialty, Chardonnay, is very Burgundian in essence, combining acid and texture and a regal sort of presence in a way that makes you understand why this recently maligned grape remains at or near the pinnacle of white wine expressions.  I have a massive soft spot for the wines of Margaret River, so it was with great delight that Day 19 was revealed to have come all the way from Down Under.

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Voyager Estate was one of the first wineries to be established in Margaret River, located south of Perth in the southwest corner of Australia.  Its first vineyards were planted in 1978, a decade or so after the inaugural winery in the region saw its start.  Voyager now has five different estate vineyards spanning roughly 110 hectares, all located in a privileged position:  in the Stevens Valley, a spit of land that protrudes directly out into the Indian Ocean, to the point where its vineyards are surrounded by water on three sides, in the so-called “Golden Triangle” of Chardonnay, according to James Halliday.  Voyager is one point of the triangle; its neighbours Leeuwin Estate (along with Vasse Felix’s Heytesbury, the makers of the finest Margaret River Chard I’ve had to date, courtesy of its Artist Series) and Cape Mentelle form the other two.  The vineyards in this area have the benefit of taking root in the oldest soils in the country, gravel-based lands dating back thousands of millions of years (!!), and being kept cool by continuous swirling breezes that help prevent rot and allow for longer hang time.

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The team at Voyager is meticulous to near-OCD levels in the vineyard, striving for absolute uniformity in each block of vines:  careful pruning aims for the exact same number of buds, shoots and bunches per vine to ensure even and contemporaneous ripeness.  The winery is serious about its non-interventionist approach and its goal to express the purity of its soils, which plays out across all steps of the planting, picking and winemaking process:  the vineyards are organic (or in the process of converting thereto), all fruit is from estate plantings, all grapes are hand-harvested, all fermentation is with natural yeasts, and the winery has recently become carbon neutral.  Tonight’s offering, the 2016 Voyager Estate Chardonnay, spent just under a year in tight-grained French oak barrels with only partial malolactic fermentation in an effort to hit that intoxicating combination of texture and acid that only this grape can do justice.

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Stelvin Rating:  6/10 (This screwcap is weirdly difficult to photograph in focus, but it’s a Stelvin + in my book.  I should really fix that dent in the table.)

Everything starts out in highly promising fashion:  the wine is a brilliant gleaming lemon-gold colour as it hits the glass and starts beaming aromas before my nose is even halfway there.  It is a Burgundian dream aromatically, toasty chestnuts (open fire included), coconut crisps, pecan pie and popcorn kernels joyously interweaving with lemon curd, fresh pear and apple crisp fruit.  There was some consensus amongst our Advent blogging group that this might be pretty close to the nose of the calendar so far.  Then a few seams start showing.  The acid is vicious but almost hyperactive, like a tiny lapdog constantly nipping at your ankles.  The broad, full texture seems like a disparate entity, hitting just a touch out of rhythm, almost like you’re drinking two wines at once.  It’s a vertigo-inducing feeling, like a bassist that’s half a beat behind the rest of the band.  Smoke, custard, bananas Foster, lemon meringue and toffee notes play an enticing song, but I’m too stuck wondering why the tempo isn’t in sync to be able to fully sink into it.  I know this is a winery of impeccable credentials, and I can tell this Chardonnay has all of the elements of a winner, but despite being delicious it currently comes across a little bit scattered.  By this point in the calendar, I feel the same way.

88- points








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