Wine Review: 2015 Culmina Hypothesis

20 03 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

My initial intent was to write this piece without a singular mention of COVID-19. I wasn’t sure I wanted this sort of historical tag on a bottle review…this too shall pass, right? It then occurred to me that wine itself is usually about the vintage, the year it was made. Wine is historical, and other things besides. I also don’t particularly want to talk about  our current global situation. We are all experiencing some degree of anxiety (not to mention other painful emotions) in our own ways, and do I want to fan those flames? Not really, but at the same time, I’m not in the business of denying aspects of the human condition. Perhaps this is a chance for me to ask all of our readers to say safe, look out for one another (even at a social distance), and retain hope that we got this. Because we do. Peter and I are going to keep doing this blog (for which this is post #600 — see? history), because we love what we do and because this is a great way to remain connected. At this moment join me, will you, in experiencing some of the most iconic red wine that Canada has to offer?

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Don Triggs

As a wine lover a tad obsessed with Gruner Veltliner, I immediately recall that Culmina and founder Don Triggs are responsible for one of Canada’s first plantings of this white grape, and they still produce Unicus, a wonderfully salty, flinty, yet surprisingly fruity rendition that does this wacky variety proud. It turns out that Don’s first vinous love is in fact red Bordeaux varieties. You likely recognize the surname. Yes, Don Triggs co-founded Jackson-Triggs, one of Canada’s largest commodity wine brands. When the giant Constellation Brands purchased Jackson-Triggs in 2006, Don thought briefly about retirement…or rather, what to do with retirement. Don and spouse Elaine decided to found a boutique winery, in essence taking the very opposite stance from the path that had previously brought him so much success, focusing instead on a deep desire to make terroir-driven wines. You see, Canada’s relatively cool climate doesn’t always reliably ripen red Bordeaux varieties. Although Merlot is more forgiving, Cabernet Sauvignon needs ample sun and heat. Far from daunted, Don and Elaine embarked on an intense research program to figure out just how “Canadian Bordeaux” could become more fact than fiction. Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





Wine Review: The Reds of Sunrock Vineyards

4 07 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

You cannot make truly good wine without ripe grapes. Simple, no? Insufficient sugar in the fruit is not going to leave much for yeast to consume, and such starved fungi are not going to produce something with sufficient body (and alcohol) to merit any sort of “greatness” mantle. Moreover, grapes need heat if they are to attain physiological ripeness. This refers to the changes in tannins and other chemical components that occur largely in grape skins, stems and seeds during the ripening cycle beyond the mere increase in sugar.  These changes are what produce the key varietal aroma signatures we know and love, preventing a wine from tasting green, weedy, and brittle.

Although sugar ripeness and physiological ripeness are clearly correlated, it would seem that grape hang times might be a stronger predictor of physiological readiness than just heat alone, although in my view (and botanically speaking) you aren’t going to get any degree of maturation, period, without heat. The key question for wine quality is: how much heat is too much? Overly ripe grapes mean clumsy, muddled wines that are boozy, lacking in precision or definition, and often almost devoid of any sense of place or regional character. Such wines are going to be tremendously fruity and powerful, but may not offer much in the way of nuance or balance. As I read up on Sunrock Vineyards, which could very well be the hottest single vineyard site in British Columbia, I wonder how they approach these ripeness issues.

Sunrock is owned by Arterra Wines Canada, formerly the Canadian subsidiary of the massive Constellation Brands, but recently acquired in 2016 by the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan (for some reason that tickles my funny bone…I’m sure we drove many a substitute teacher to drink). Arterra farms around 1300 acres of Okanagan vineyard, with the expected corresponding range of quality tiers. Jackson-Triggs might be the best known of Arterra’s brands, and the single-vineyard Sunrock labels formerly carried this name as the top tier of that portfolio. Sunrock is now a standalone winery, a fine example of a large corporate entity with the good sense to recognize and preserve the unique character of a single site. And what a site it is. Read the rest of this entry »





PnP Panel Tasting: Midnight’s Children – The Many Syrahs of The Hatch

14 06 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

It has been a prolific week for PnP Panel Tastings! This one was a doozy. Peter, myself, and PnP spirits guru Tyler convened to open some Okanagan wines; we also ended up taking a massively (possibly Okanagan-wine-induced) deep dive into ’90s alternative rock, which was good for a monumental spike of nostalgia and a slew of earworms for the rest of the weekend. Sometimes hangovers sound like Wide Mouth Mason. The company was of course excellent, tolerant of my occasional requests for overly long Rush tunes (OK, it wasn’t all ’90s). That aside, this was the sort of night from which memories are made, frivolously pleasant and soul-searching alike, and what better vinous companion for me than The Hatch?

The-Hatch-Wines-West-KelownaYou see, four of the suspects hailed from the cellars of the Hatch, subject of a previous PnP Panel Tasting and still my favourite BC winery. I defy you to find a similar blend of idiosyncrasy, creativity, whimsy, and sheer stubborn courage in our westernmost province. There is a true artist’s aesthetic behind the wines. These guys do what moves them, unabashedly and without any discernable pretense. That kind of genuine interface with the world at large is becoming an endangered species other than in the world of wine, where uniqueness has long been a virtue, one that has likely only gathered steam in recent years. I think The Hatch has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception, pushing well beyond some initial growing pains into the world of truly fine wine, even as they never truly forsake the uncanny, the weird. After all, “a poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep”. The Hatch shall continue to keep us awake (except perhaps if you kill all four of these on the same night. Not recommended.) Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 11

11 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

As we approach the halfway point of this Advent campaign, I gingerly unwrap today’s offering and the bemusement arrives as if on cue: Another 2013! 2013 is the new 2018. Or something. And its a Barbera d’Asti with a lovely label. Hmmm. I begin recalling what I know about this grape. Barbera is a high acid low tannin variety, although it is also very darkly pigmented, containing roughly twice the color compounds of Nebbiolo. Although the grape does best in Piedmont, and in the Asti DOCG specifically, it is the third most widely planted black grape in Italy. Barbera is lauded as being easy to grow and rather tolerant of mistakes in the vineyard or cellar; it yields decent wines even at high yields in rich soil. Although historically such wines were quite austere and characterized by piercing acidity, they have evolved into an approachable, soft, rich style that is often permeated by the telltale chocolate and vanilla aromas of new oak. As is the case with most indulgences, moderation is everything. Some argue that the trend towards oak aging has gone too far. Regardless, Barbera could be a grape on the cusp of international superstardom. It does well outside of its native land and its pacific temperament lends itself to a whole range of styles, from crushable easy-going reds full of juicy red and black cherries to wines more regal and age-worthy.

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Not afraid of oak is La Spinetta, founded by Giuseppe and Lidia Rivetti in 1977. La Spinetta produced the first single vineyard Moscato in Italy, and the present wine, Ca’ Di Pian, was their inaugural red. La Spinetta eventually added holdings in both Barbarsco and Barolo, even spreading beyond Piedmont into Tuscany. Their philosophy is summarized as ” 90% of the work we do at La Spinetta is in the vineyards, with just 10% in the cellar”. 75% of their vineyards are farmed in accordance with biodynamic principles, and chemicals are used at a bare minimum in those that are not. Indigenous varieties are coveted, with La Spinetta seeking to let native grapes reflect local conditions as opposed to using international varieties to score points. Besides, Barbera is more than capable of providing colour. Vine ages range from 35 to 65 years old. Green harvesting is used to keep yields low. Cooperage is 80% new medium toast French oak barrels (225 liter barriques) and the cellar is constantly controlled for temperature and humidity. This is all well and good. My burning question is, why the rhino? Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 7

7 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Now THIS I was not expecting. Seeing tonight’s label takes me back to an industry tasting maybe a year ago. I finagled an invite as “media” (delusions of grandeur) and it was a standard event, really: big crowds and tiny pours. Even at such large events, however, I am consistently astonished by how generous and approachable wine folks are. (Sure, there were a few awkward moments. Me: “I think I like this Viognier the best…really nice floral stuff on the nose”. Guy pouring samples: *blank stare*.) I won’t ever forget meeting these two dudes at the Purcari table, representatives from the near-anonymous wine nation of Moldova. One was maybe in his 20s and the other was on the older side of middle-aged. I wish I could recall their names. The younger guy seemed quite business-savvy, and the older gentleman was more focused on vines and harvest dates and the like. My friend (none other than fellow Pop & Pour author and wine guy extraordinaire Dan Steeves) and I must have spent an hour there, tasting through the entire ensemble and hearing the stories behind each of their wines. The older guy reminded me of my maternal grandfather, a no-nonsense, bright member of the proletariat, very willing to share these unprepossessing but fascinating stories. What a marvellous hobby we have, and what a tremendous memory, revisited in full force by tonight’s Negru de Purcari red, from the winery of those very gentlemen.

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A brief primer of this lesser-known wine region is certainly in order. Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest nations but has the third greatest vineyard area of the former Soviet republics (only the Ukraine has more, if we are talking about states with significant wine production). Grapes have grown in Moldova for millennia, and wine production reached an apex in the 15th century. Turkish occupation struck a severe blow to wine production due to the Islamic prohibition of alcohol, but then recovered after the country was annexed by Russia in 1812 (phew!). Vine varieties from France became ascendant until phylloxera smacked them back down. Grafting was adopted in 1906 and the tzars provided incentives to grow higher quality varieties, only to have the Second World War once again devastate the vineyards. Undaunted, the resilient and industrious Moldovans set about planting more international varieties while simultaneously preserving at least some of the native vine diversity, weathered a few Soviet importation bans on Moldovan wine, and basically kept flipping the proverbial bird at retrograde political, religious, and other forces that sought to threaten their vineyards.

Read the rest of this entry »








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