Yalumba: Coonawarra Cabernet Classes

28 02 2019

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

Tonight’s bottle duet replicates one of the most common questions that plagues burgeoning wine consumers:  when it is worth it to jump a tier?  If you’ve tasted and enjoyed the entry-level offering from a given producer, should you invest the extra few bucks to try their next level up?  Will you get more in return, enough more to justify the additional expense?  Value judgments and personal preference are always at least somewhat subjective, but objectively, when you move from a winery’s starter bottle to the next level up, and when you pay more for that privilege, it’s often because you’re getting one or more of:  (1) better, more consistent, more carefully sorted grapes, (2) better vineyard sources, or older vines from within the same vineyard, (3) more estate fruit grown by the producer itself, (4) better (or at least more expensive) winemaking and maturation practices, including more time aging in oak barrels (my legal career confirms that, in some ways at least, time is in fact money), and/or (5) better lots, blends or barrels from the results of the winemaking process.  You can see the similarities in style, region and approach common to the producer between the entry-level or next-level bottles, but in theory at least, due in part to the factors above, you should see some elevation in quality and product as you climb the hierarchy.

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That isn’t to say that pricier is always better; diminishing returns are real in the world of wine, particularly when you enter the realm of luxury wines that cannot hope to deliver the value per dollar of their earthbound affiliates.  But in my experience, the price jump from the cheapest offering of a given brand to its next level up almost always pays off in quality; the patience and precision and commitment required to make truly good wine can be strained when you’re also trying to keep below a $20 price tag, and even the slightest bit of economic leeway can make a massive difference.  Neither of tonight’s offerings fall fully into the entry-level category, but they represent the first and second rungs of Yalumba’s Coonawarra Cab quality tiers, so they will serve nicely to illustrate the considerations that go into whether to make the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

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Spain, Old and New, Part II: The Wines of Imperial

14 02 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

This is a belated sequel to my introductory post from last November about the marvellous wines and history of Cune, the Riojan benchmark producer melding the traditional and the modern into perfect balance.  Since that post predated Wine Advent and then Vinebox, it’s about 40 posts back on the PnP timeline, and even though it’s only 3 months old it feels like 30.  Perhaps it has aged enough then to allow to slip in a slight correction.  I mentioned way back in 2018 that the Cune brand was made up of 3 different physical wineries and brands, each with their own winemaker:  Cune itself, Vina Real and Contino.  I also mentioned that the Cune brand “also encompasses the higher-level Imperial bottlings, made only in very good years”.  This is ALMOST entirely true:  the wines of Imperial have been made since 1920, only in great vintages, using Cune’s oldest vineyards in Rioja Alta and selected nearby old-vine sites.  Imperial is also still made by Cune’s winemaker, although the label only releases a Reserva and a Gran Reserva red wine, leaving the Crianzas and the whites to the others.  However, further research reveals that, as of 2005, Imperial has its own separate winemaking premises on the Cune property, as outlined in this highly confusing official graphic; it is now a winery-within-a-winery, its own bricks-and-mortar space.  The 3 Cune wineries are actually 4.

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Imperial is a focused and quality-driven enterprise, producing around 200,000 bottles in the vintages good enough to merit its creation, in contrast to Cune’s 5 million.  As of 2004, all fermentations now take place in new oak barrels, as a back-to-the-future nod to history — the Imperials of the pre-1940s were all produced in this fashion, and after decades of dalliances with first concrete, then steel, Cune made the very Riojan determination that sometimes the old ways really are best and went back to its roots.  The winery name comes from a unique historical bottling release for the UK market, the “Imperial pint” size (which is roughly 500mL, a highly underrated and remarkably useful size for a bottle of wine that we should see more of nowadays).  The Imperial brand made more recent history when its 2004 Gran Reserva, an utterly spectacular wine that it pains me to say I have no more of, was named the Wine Spectator Wine Of The Year in 2013, the first such global pinnacle designation for a Spanish wine.  If you ever have the chance to acquaint yourself with the Imperial lineup, do not hesitate.  The current releases continue to showcase the magnificent pedigree of the estate. Read the rest of this entry »





Pop & Repour: Preservation Experimentation

7 02 2019

By Peter Vetsch

And – we’re back.

When I posted the review for Vinebox Day 12 as we polished off our daily reviews for two consecutive holiday wine calendars, I fully intended that the blog would go dark for a little bit while we rested our typing fingers and regrouped.  I did not intend to then catch bronchitis and a cough that wouldn’t die in a house full of plague and contagion, but that’s what happened, leading to a much-longer-than-anticipated blackout period to kick off 2019.  However, I’m back on my feet and Pop & Pour is officially back in business with some compelling content in the wings to kick off our writing new year, starting with a new and intriguing solution to one of my favourite wine questions:  how best to preserve an open bottle.

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I am an unabashed wine preservation geek.  I own a Savino (and it works! at least for shorter storage periods).  I have tried, and ultimately discarded, a number of vacuum pump oxygen-expelling gizmos (which never quite get all the air out and quickly cease to become airtight themselves, thus undermining the whole enterprise).  I have written a lengthy series of real-time preservation reports about the Coravin as I gradually drained bottles with one over the span of six months (a series of posts that continues to get regular views in Iceland to this day, though I could not tell you why).  My current preservation go-to is an argon dispenser, which places a blanket of inert gas over top of the remaining wine in the bottle and acts to prevent further oxygen contact, as oxygen is the primary agent that leads to wine deterioration over time.  I thought I was fairly up to speed on the various different ways to keep wine from spoiling, but little did I know that a new entrant had recently joined the fray.

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The Repour Wine Saver is ingenious in its simplicity.  All wine preservation tools operate by preventing oxygen access to wine in some manner or another.  Some of them fail because they rely on physical or mechanical processes that grow less efficient over time as materials change or fail.  The Repour has no moving parts or components that can get worn down over time, particularly because it’s not meant to be used over time: it’s a single-use disposable bottle stopper that retails for $3-4 CAD, keeps a single bottle of wine fresh for as many times as you care to reopen it, and is then thrown away.  It works not by expelling or blanketing the oxygen in the bottle, but by absorbing it.  The interior of the stopper is crammed full of oxygen-absorbing material (of a type that is also used to help keep food fresh during transit) which, once the cover tab is removed and the stopper is placed in the bottle, starts pulling the oxygen not only out of the air inside the bottle but also out of the wine itself.  No oxygen = no spoilage. Read the rest of this entry »





12 Days of Vinebox: Day 11

4 01 2019

By Peter Vetsch

It’s the penultimate day of the Vinebox 12 Days of Christmas calendar, and while Christmas feels like a long time ago, there’s never a bad time to use the word “penultimate” when you have an occasion in need of its natural meaning.  Thanks to the outcome of the one-by-one Vinebox vial draft that I had with Ray, I ended up with the last two days of this miniature vinous adventure, and I certainly sat up and took notice when I pulled a 100 mL test tube of Chateauneuf-du-freaking-Pape out of the box and knew that it had to be mine.  When Vinebox says that they quality-control like crazy and look to represent the best in their sets, it’s not just marketing talk; the level of the wines across this dozen tastes has been consistently legit.

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Where I might give Vinebox a bit of constructive feedback is in the relatively slim amount of information that comes along with each vial.  The Vinebox reveal website for this calendar (which I might as well give you now that it’s the penultimate day of our countdown — see how useful and awesome that word is??) tells me only that tonight’s wine is the “Graveirette Chateauneuf de Pape”; the label of the tube adds that this is the 2014 rendition of this wine.  As the current vintage of this Chateauneuf is the 2015, and as it is not a widely known producer or wine in this market, it is next to impossible to track down any information about this specific bottle, which can be exceedingly frustrating when you’re the Type A kind of person who wants to know these things but can’t find them.  If future reveal sites could at least include the vintage, blend, vineyard details and winemaking and aging regime for the wines, it would be of tremendous assistance in bringing crucial context to the sensory impressions that this wine has in spades.

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Here’s what I can tell you:  Domaine de la Graveirette was founded in 2005 by Julien Mus, a native of the small southern Rhone village of Bédarrides, located in between Orange and Avignon in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, immediately east of the famed new castle of the Pope itself.  Mus was a relative rarity in that he left home to pursue a formal wine education in Beaune, Burgundy, and was perhaps even more rare in that, after said certified advancement of his profession, he came back to his very same tiny hometown to work, first growing grapes which he sold to the local cooperative, but then in 2005 founding his own estate that would allow him to forge his own winemaking path.  This estate, Graveirette, has been organically farmed since 2012 and Demeter-certified biodynamic since 2015.  Under the Graveirette name, Mus makes everything from prestige-cuvee CNDP to experimental micro-vat offerings (100% Marselan, anyone? I’m in) that are intentionally downgraded to the Vin de France designation to allow for creativity and flexibility in how the finished product comes about, freed from restrictive appellation legalities. Read the rest of this entry »





12 Days of Vinebox: Day 9

2 01 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Sicily update:  the streak is over!  Ask and ye shall receive.  After a rather bizarre run of three straight bottles in this dozen from Italy’s most prolific wine island, our request to the cosmos for variety has been granted with fervour, as we are off to the German-est (and thus potentially the best) part of France, Alsace…where, incidentally, my Vetsch family ancestors apparently hailed from five or six or seven generations ago.  Maybe that’s why I love Riesling so much.  Alsace is something of a mystery to me from a vinous perspective, because despite producing solidly priced and consistently high-quality wines, and despite being one of the few Old World locales to actually consider the casual-drinking consumer enough to place grape varietal names on their labels, the region is almost always a hard sell in our market.  Perhaps adopting the white wine focus, gothic scripts and tall fluted bottles from its German forefathers was not the best marketing decision after all.  But when the wine is in a test tube as opposed to a flute…now we’re talking.

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The non-Sicilian wine in question is the 2016 Pierre Henri Ginglinger Riesling, yet another Vinebox offering about which Internet information is strangely nigh-unavailable.  Maybe they are so eager to give you a surprise in the box that they have shut down all worldly sources of data about the bottlings they select.  Maybe their chosen producers have to sign the mother of all NDAs.  Either way, I speak of family estates and generational turnover with admiration quite a bit, but THIS…this is that on an absurd scale.  The Ginglinger family first planted vines in 1610, and generation number TWELVE is currently at the controls of the estate.  Come on.  Their winery building looks like something out of Hansel and Gretel, nestled in the centre of the medieval town of Eguisheim, which is closer to Freiburg in Germany than the Alsatian hub of Strasbourg and is the birthplace of wine in Alsace; the winery’s appearance may have something to do with the fact that it was built in 1684, trivia so good that it makes an appearance on not only Ginglinger’s bottles, but even its Vinebox vial:

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Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 24

24 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Merry Almost-Christmas!  We are now 24 days and nearly 24 bottles into December, the Bricks Half-Bottle Advent crate is empty, Santa is somewhere over the Atlantic and we’re into Advent reminiscing mode yet again.  I would say that it went by in a flash, but it didn’t — each bottle and each producer and each story took time to find and understand and tell, and after a dozen such efforts in a month I am wearing the effort of them all, but I would (and will) do it again.  Kudos to the fine folks at Bricks Wine Company, who I think clearly surpassed their inaugural wine Advent effort last year with this year’s magnificent beta model.  The bottles of 2018 were stronger almost across the board, impressively consistent and in some instances simply show-stopping; I feel quite comfortable that I got my money’s worth on this vinous adventure, and all of the work that went into finding and sourcing these two cases of month-long 375 mL glory did not go unnoticed.

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As Ray and I wrap up our run of daily holiday blogging (only to start into our next run of daily holiday blogging TOMORROW, as Vinebox’s 12 Days of Christmas kick off, because we’re deranged), just like last year, I thought we’d finish our Wine Advent run with a look at each of our podium wines, as well as our value Dark Horse.  As I expected, there was some clear overlap in our choices, as well as a second straight year of an unanimous Advent victor.

Ray Lamontagne’s Top 3 Wines

  1.  2015 Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 17):  Just a truly ethereal wine, good for the soul.  Deft yet flavoursome.  Fruity yet spicy.  A wine of a specific place yet timelessly delicious no matter where you are.
  2. 2014 Woodward Canyon Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon (Day 22):  Scratches a classic Cab itch without being tiresomely grandiose.
  3. 2012 Rocche Costamagna Barolo Rocche Dell’Annunziata (Day 15):  Taps into that rare middle-ground wellspring — can drink now or hold, and you won’t be bummed either way.  Still thinking about all those blue flowers.
  4. DARK HORSE – 2014 Bodegas Franco-Espanolas Bordon Rioja Crianza (Day 13):  Tiny cork notwithstanding, this similarly straddled two paradigms (in this case, modern and traditional Rioja) with aplomb.  This region never disappoints.

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My Top 3 Wines

  1. 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 17):  This just was not close for me — the Ken Wright towered over all other wines in the calendar.  Just impeccably balanced, driven and sure of what it was, while still being jaw-droppingly gorgeous from start to finish.
  2. 2016 Weingut Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner Kamptal Terrassen (Day 3):  The front half of the calendar is gone but not forgotten, and this Gruner (not to mention Ray’s streak of amazing Austria reviews) was about as classic and dexterous as it gets.
  3. 2014 Woodward Canyon Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon (Day 22):  As a Washington wine devotee and wannabe historian, getting to taste a pioneer of the region and understand why they drew so many more to make such great wines in Washington State is a unique thrill.
  4. DARK HORSE – 2016 Ferdinand Wines Albarino IN A CAN (Day 20):  I got confirmation via Instagram after posting this write-up, from the winemaker himself, that the Spanish-vareital-focused Ferdinand Wines IS in fact named after the big red bull of my childhood story times.  Investigative journalism is not dead.  Let’s change our views of wine vessels; I know we can.

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Just like last year, bottle #24 this year is a Champagne.  Entirely unlike last year, the Champagne is in pristine condition, and is determined to end off the calendar with a bang.  We wrap with the Pierre Paillard Les Parcelles Bouzy Grand Cru NV, and in that list of French words is a compelling story.  Pulling the threads one by one:  Pierre Paillard is a “grower Champagne” house with centuries of history in the region, having planted vines and made wines in Champagne since 1799.  Les Parcelles is one of their Champagne offerings, made from grapes picked from 22 different parcels all within the Grand Cru village of Bouzy, a key home of Pinot Noir within Champagne’s boundaries.  Although this is a non-vintage wine, meaning that the wines within the finished bottle hail from more than one growing season, I can’t help but notice that this particular rendition of Les Parcelles is designated “XIII” on the label.  This seems to refer to the primary vintage used in this specific batch:  this bottling is 80% made from 2013 vintage grapes, 14% from 2012 and 6% from…2004!  It is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, is made in minimally interventionist fashion, and sits for 4 years sur lie after secondary fermentation in Paillard’s 19th century cellars, located 53 feet underground on the winery grounds, where temperatures are a constant and eternal 10 degrees Celsius. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 18

18 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Well, any wine was going to have its hands full tonight, following on the heels of the toughest act to follow so far in the 2018 calendar, last night’s masterpiece single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Ken Wright.  Like a schedule loss on the second night of a back-to-back home-and-home set in the NHL, Bricks may have strategically selected what I would guess is the least expensive bottle in the whole calendar ($15ish for a full bottle) to take one for the team right after we all revelled in the most expensive bottle in the calendar.  The Advent backup goalie in this case is the 2016 Ram’s Leap Semillon Sauvignon Blanc from New South Wales, Australia, a bottle that continues what is now a Bricks Advent tradition of vinous animals leaping, after the highly tasty Frog’s Leap Zin from 2017.  Stag’s Leap next year?  Most definitely.

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Ram’s Leap is part of the Canonbah Bridge range of wines, a producer with which I was not previously familiar, possibly because the place where their estate vineyard is planted is not even a recognized wine region!  It forms part of the broader appellation of New South Wales, but so does 30% of the Australian wine industry.  The 80-acre vineyard was strategically planted on an old riverbed in the middle of a 30,000-acre sheep farm near Warren, slightly west of the Hunter Valley, a couple hours northwest of Sydney.  Half of the plantings are Shiraz, and the other half are, well, everything else:  Merlot, Grenache, Mourvedre, Semillon, Verdelho, Chardonnay and Tempranillo.  It remains the only commercial vineyard in this highly arid area, with scorching hot days and cool nights that facilitate the practice of organic viticulture (there are no plant-attacking fungi, mildews or moulds in the desert, so less need for herbicides).  Canonbah Bridge takes their organic principles one step further by aiming to avoid any intervention with the vineyard soils whatsoever:  no tilling, all weeding (and much fertilizing) performed via wandering sheep service, cover crops preventing the spread of unwanted plant life, etc. Read the rest of this entry »








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