Calgary Wine Life: Blaufrankisch Masterclass with Georg Prieler of Weingut Prieler

1 05 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne and Peter Vetsch

Austria is renowned for the fruit purity and fine minerality of its wines, and Blaufrankisch is the premier black grape of the region. Grown across Central Europe and going by various monikers (the wonderful “Kekfrankos” in Hungary, and the more prosaic “Lemberger” in Germany), Blaufrankisch is an early-budding, late-ripening variety sometimes dubbed the “Pinot Noir of the East”; its elegance and dexterity earns it that nickname, but its hallmark savoury mineral wildness forges an identity all its own.  Some grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Campania’s Aglianico are said to swamp or overshadow terroir with their sheer varietal character, while others are more protean and can serve as a lens through which the story of their soils and site and climate are reflected.  Blaufrankisch falls firmly into the latter camp, although through its various land-driven expressions one can commonly find dark berry aromas and flavours, vibrant acidity, a pronounced spiciness and that “other” wild rocky character that can set this grape apart.  We were extremely excited to do a specialized tasting of this varietal with Georg Prieler, owner and winemaker of Burgenland’s Weingut Prieler, a dynamic, charismatic, insightful winemaker who carries his family’s history with aplomb…and who might just make the best Pinot Blanc in the world.

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Georg Prieler, Weingut Prieler

Yes, Pinot Blanc. We both first came to know this producer by being absolutely floored by how stunning and utterly fascinating Weingut Prieler’s Pinot Blancs can be.  This particular grape rarely wins this sort of accolade and is often considered a paler, strait-laced shadow of Chardonnay, never fully given the opportunity to take a star turn in any region…except, as it turns out, in Burgenland, where Prieler exalts it among whites and where Georg calls it “the Riesling of the Burgundy varieties”.  That got our Riesling-loving attention, and Prieler’s single-vineyard Pinot Blanc which capped off our tasting held it,  transfixed.

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All that said, Pinot Blanc remains both the winery’s and the region’s “second most important” variety, according to Georg, as nothing in Burgenland knocks Blaufrankisch off its throne. Georg himself hails from (and still lives in) the village of Schützen am Gebirge, population ~1500, known for steely Pinot Blanc but also the sublime Goldberg vineyard, where Blaufrankisch might reach its pinnacle.  He closely oversees operations in both vineyard and winery, inheritor of a legacy that runs from his grandfather to father to sister and now, as of 2011, to Georg himself.  The family’s time in the vineyards predates their work in the cellar — the Prielers have been planting and tending grapes in Burgenland for 150 years, which perhaps is what leads Georg to immediately describe himself as “just a farmer who takes planes and drinks wine”.  After his inaugural visit to Calgary, and with the voice of his wines preceding him, it’s clear that this particular travelling farmer has a global reach. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ripasso and Appassimento in Niagara: A Virtual Tasting with Barclay Robinson, Winemaker at The Foreign Affair

15 04 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

As a wine lover, I often feel I am walking a tightrope of sorts between appreciation of bare-bones, terroir-driven wines of place on the one hand, and esoteric, funky winemaking techniques on the other. My allegiance gravitates implicitly to the former camp, populated by relatively pure expressions of soil and grape variety that eschew the muddying effects of various vinification tricks of the trade. Then again, I can be a sucker for the weird, particularly if there is true intent behind the decision to use a particular cellar technique: the careful realization of a particular vinous vision can be every bit as compelling as what results from a more hands-off approach. It turns out that in some cases, particular techniques are the tradition. And traditions, like other aspects of culture, are meant to be shared, applied to new contexts, and ultimately celebrated.

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Enter Barclay Robinson, winemaker at Ontario producer The Foreign Affair, who recently shared the story and results behind some of these techniques and traditions in a personal virtual tasting.  This was a lot of fun, Barclay being exactly the sort of guy I like tasting with: erudite yet down to earth, funny yet quick to impart knowledge. The winery, situated in the Vineland area of the Niagara Peninsula, is completely unique in the Canadian context. Founders Len and Marisa Crispino lived as expats in Italy, where they fell in love with the Amarone wines of Valpolicella. These burly concoctions are made using the the appassimento process, in which the grapes are dried after harvest for to up to 6 months, typically resting on bamboo racks or straw mats, or alternatively strung up from the ceiling where air can circulate and work its dehydrating magic. These raisined grapes provide a very concentrated must (the juice to which yeast is added after crushing to make wine), which makes fermenting the resulting wine to total dryness quite a challenge. I have grown to appreciate Amarone over the last year or so, although its combination of high alcohol, intense flavour concentration, and a unique nut-like bitterness can be polarizing. The Crispinos decided to bring this winemaking approach to Ontario, albeit using the Bordeaux varietals known to do well in the Niagara Peninsula (alas, Niagara Corvina is not a thing at this juncture). Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





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 »








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