Wine Review: Culmina Spring Releases, Part 1

30 05 2019

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

IMG_0135You have to admire a guy like Don Triggs.  After co-founding the eponymous Jackson-Triggs, taking the brand to meteoric heights and carrying the cause of Canadian wine along with it, Don parted from the brand in 2006 when it was subsumed into the massive Constellation empire, his finances and legacy secure, a career in wine that started shortly after his graduation in the late 1960s drawing to a close, retirement beckoning.  But instead of choosing that comfortable path, he threw himself back into the breach once more, this time thinking smaller in scale and fixated on quality.  This next quest started, literally, from the ground up.  With the aid of legendary vineyard consultant Alain Sutre, Triggs spent a year scouring the Okanagan Valley for just the right site, one that could reliably and properly ripen red Bordeaux varietals, including Canada’s white whale, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Finding a promising spot with southeast-facing exposure on what is now the Golden Mile Bench, the Okanagan’s first legally recognized sub-Geographical Indication (GI), they carried out a slew of temperature and soils tests and discovered that the microclimate of the site (at least in terms of degree-days, a measurement that tracks relative aggregate temperature over the course of a growing season) was very similar to that of Bordeaux.  Arise Bench, the inaugural estate vineyard of Culmina Family Estate Winery, was acquired, and Don Triggs’ newest project came to life.

Having located a potentially ideal site for big, chewy reds, Triggs and Sutre only had to look up to find complementary cooler spots for elegant whites.  Two separate and increasingly higher-altitude benches a short hike up the adjacent hillside completed the Culmina vineyard collection:  Margaret’s Bench, at almost 600 metres of elevation a truly unique Okanagan location, welcomes Riesling, Chardonnay and Canada’s top plantings of Gruner Veltliner, while mid-level Stan’s Bench splits time between these whites and Malbec and Petit Verdot to round out Culmina’s Bordeaux blends.  This three-tiered vineyard elevation stairway is the foundation of everything Culmina does, every square inch mapped and studied to maximize the location of each vine planted.

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As Culmina established its identity in the Okanagan, its lineup of releases began expanding: its base Winery Series line, culminating (no pun intended) with Hypothesis, the Bordeaux blend that was the mission statement for the venture, has now been joined by two other sets of releases.  The light-hearted R&D line (which stands for either “research and development” or Don and his twin brother Ron, who are featured in childhood form on the labels) allows Culmina to let its hair down a bit and focus on budget-friendlier wines that are a joy to drink; the limited-release Number Series is a set of small-lot one-offs that push the boundaries of possibility on Culmina’s trio of sites.  I had the opportunity to taste some of the winery’s latest releases, which have just started to hit shelves now, and track the continued upward trajectory of one of Canada’s most exciting wine projects. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Patient Vintner: Bodega y Cavas de Weinert

24 05 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

If I was to tell you that I was drinking the current release of a mid-tier offering from a well-regarded producer and from a name region, made from 70-110 year-old vines, and that the vintage date on the bottle was 2006, what would you guess the region was?  Rioja – maybe a Reserva offering from a traditional-minded producer?  Champagne, if you are extremely liberal with your definition of “mid-tier”?  Somewhere in Italy?  Portugal?  You would probably be most of the way through the global wine region Rolodex before you landed on Mendoza, Argentina, and once you did, you would probably immediately discard the possibility, knowing this to be the heart of bold, fruity, approachable Malbecs that are released and enjoyed in their youth.  Bodega y Cavas de Weinert, and its current-inventory $25 old-vine 2006 Malbec, will cause you to re-evaluate all of your presumptions; they are an anachronism in all the best ways.

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This classical estate actually has a rather recent history:  the winery dates back to 1890, but its current identity was tied to its acquisition by Brazilian Bernardo Weinert in 1975. Swiss winemaker Hubert Webber has been at the helm since 1996, when he was ensconced at the ripe old age of 27; his mission has been to craft wines from Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines that avoid early showmanship and start to reveal themselves after a decade or more, as it is only then that the Bodega will release them to market.  Lengthy barrel aging (up to 5-6 years in large oak foudres in Weinert’s cool granite cellars), then further time in bottle pre-release, is the estate’s hallmark — Weinert follows the old-school Spanish model of only allowing his wines into the public sphere when they are deemed ready to drink, whether or not this follows the standard chronological vintage release playbook.  In other words, don’t necessarily assume that the 2007 will follow the 2006 as the next wine on the shelf.

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The relatively modest prices of the finished wines might be reflective of advantageous land and labour costs in Argentina, but they are not the result of any lack of care in the vineyard:  Weinert’s vineyards, located in Mendoza’s top subregion of Lujan de Cuyo, feature largely ungrafted own-rooted vines that are a minimum of 25 years old and are exclusively hand-harvested.  Fermentation takes place in cement tanks, and Weinert’s cellar boasts both the largest barrel in Argentina (44,000 L) and the oldest barrel in the world, each of which are a reminder that the goal of the Weinert wines’ extended time in barrel is not wood flavour transference (which increases the newer and smaller the barrel is), but gentle, lightly oxidative maturation.  I had the opportunity to taste a trio of Weinert offerings, all 12-13 years old (as is par for the course in this particular corner of Mendoza), to explore this wholly unique take on Argentinian viniculture.  Malbec first, as always. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 4

4 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Well, Ray got his blast from Wine Advent past yesterday, continuing his baffling streak of Austrian dominance (which I believe is now at FOUR Austrian calendar wines in a row, somehow).  Mine came today.  Last year, I was a fresh-faced Wine Advent newbie on December 4, 2017 when I pulled a Manoir du Carra Cru Beaujolais from the Bricks calendar.  Tonight, on December 4, 2018, I unwrapped my designated Advent bottle to find…a Manoir du Carra Cru Beaujolais.  I quickly checked my calendar to ensure I had the right year.

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To be clear, it’s a different Manoir du Carra Cru Beaujolais this time around.  This producer is on its fifth generation of family ownership and has accumulated 34 hectares of vineyard land in an astonishing FIFTY different plots scattered throughout Beaujolais. Last year’s wine was from one of the better-known of the 10 Beaujolais Cru subzones, Fleurie; tonight’s option is from the larger but lesser-known (or at least less visible on shelves here) Brouilly, the biggest and southernmost of the Crus which by itself comprises 20% of the Cru vineyard land in the region.  Brouilly is so named for a massive volcanic hill at the heart of the area, Mont Brouilly, which is itself named for Brulius, a lieutenant in the Roman legion who apparently liked naming volcanoes after himself.  This particular wine comes from the Combiaty lieu-dit (or small plot/area bearing a traditional wine) in the village of St. Etienne le Varenne, located in the south of Brouilly and known best for its dry, nutrient-poor pink granite soils.

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I have a strange relationship with Manoir du Carra, in that I have had their wines on at least a dozen different occasions, but NEVER yet in a full-sized bottle — I’ve had a few splits, a number of glass pours, and a strange but incredible 500 mL bottle (which is a remarkably effective size for a bottle of wine and should be produced in greater quantities).  I assume they actually make normal bottles but cannot confirm.  The Terre de Combiaty comes from Gamay vines that average 50 years of age which are hand-harvested (like everything in the Manoir du Carra portfolio), treated with minimal intervention in the cellar and fermented using semi-carbonic maceration, where the intracellular fermentation processes within the individual grape berries from the carbonic maceration process are joined with simultaneous normal alcoholic fermentation from the crushed berries at the bottom of the fermentation tank, resulting in more colour and tannin than pure carbonic maceration and a scaled-back version of the bubble-gummy carbonic flavour set.

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Cork Rating:  1.5/10 (Further deduction from last year’s edition for not changing the nondescript “Mis en Bouteille” nonsense after being blog-warned.)

This sort-of carbonic Brouilly is a sharp purple colour in the glass but thins quite markedly at the rim.  It is initially much darker than expected aromatically, date and slate and dirt emerging first, with black cherry and chalk peeking through underneath.  Over time, a Banana Runts (with banana leaf?) top note emerges, a nod to its carbonic half, as well as the more anticipated raspberry-rooted Gamay sense of joy.  Fresher and plummier on the palate, the wine showcases its clean, squeaky tannins almost immediately, and fairly laissez-faire acidity results in this Gamay seeming more broad and expansive than its standard varietal signature, albeit while retaining a feathery, wispy sort of texture.  The mineral streak noticeable on first smell lasts throughout, iron and rock dust and magnets, but red fruit blooms as you go along to keep anything from seeming severe.  Bricks, I’d say you are 4 for 4.

88 points





Spain, Old and New: The Wines of Cune

20 11 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

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Welcome to Cune. Er, CUNE. Er, CVNE.

My love affair with the wines of Spain’s premier wine region of Rioja goes back almost to the time when I first started taking the contents of bottles seriously.  The area, located in north-central Spain and without question the spiritual homeland of the Tempranillo grape, is somewhat unique among the classic regions of the world for producing two very distinct types of wines, depending on the producer in question.  The traditional take on Rioja is more old-school than almost anywhere else, where both reds and whites spend near-shocking lengths of time maturing in flavour-heavy American oak barrels and even more time in bottle before release, leading to a mellowed-out, oxidative, nutty expression of regional identity.  The modern Riojas reduce barrel time (or even eliminate it for whites), focus more on riper, purer fruit and aim for immediate impact as opposed to patient complexity.  I admit to being a total sucker for the former style, largely because it’s unlike anything else produced in the entire world, a whole era unto itself, frozen in time.  That said, it is easy to see how browned, decade-aged, air-exposed wines don’t attract a universal following in this age of pristine winemaking and carefully controlled everything.  Sometimes it can be hard to reconcile the two different sides of this same regional coin.

Cune does the best job of simultaneously representing both the traditional and the modern epochs of Rioja of any winery I’ve ever come across.  Their wines harken back to the old soul of the area and feature many of its wizened delicate characteristics, while still retaining some of the vibrancy and primacy displayed by the region’s vanguard.  They are themselves part of both the history and the new blood of Rioja, founded in 1879 and now run by the fifth generation of the founding brothers.  Cune’s cellars were designed by a famed French architect by the name of Eiffel…perhaps you are familiar with other taller Parisian works of his.  The name “Cune” is more accurately “CUNE” (an acronym), which itself is more accurately “CVNE”:  Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana, or “the Northern Spanish Wine Company”…calling it Cune (Coo-nay) for short (and giving yourself a nickname) is borderline questionable, but they make it work.

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The Cune universe is actually comprised of 3 different brands, each of which has its own winery and winemaker.  The Cune brand is based in the Rioja Alta subregion and also encompasses the higher-level Imperial bottlings, made only in very good years; the Vina Real label is based in nearby Rioja Alavesa, as is the Contino bodega, which makes wines only from its own estate vineyards.  Tonight’s Cune introduction is focused on a trio of bottlings from the original label’s portfolio, each of which gives a hint of the heights that this marvellous producer can reach. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Finca La Linda Malbec Tiers

26 07 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

In some ways, trendy grapes have it tough.  Malbec has a proud and lengthy heritage as one of the six permitted grapes in red Bordeaux (yes, I’m still counting Carmenere, and shall ever continue to do so) and as the dauntingly famous Black Wine of Cahors, and it is almost single-handedly responsible for giving an entire country a vinous identity that has led to the rediscovery and cultivation of astonishingly high-altitude decades-old vineyards and a re-imagination of what grapes are capable of achieving in Argentina.  It is both an Old World stalwart and a New World trailblazer, pulling off both with equal aplomb and giving itself new life in the process.  But with raging-wildfire levels of success comes an inevitable fight against consumer boredom, particularly amongst the more avant-garde and adventurous in the wine world, which creates a sort of quiet undercurrent of peer pressure to steer clear of what is currently painfully a la mode.

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Great labels, but why is one bottle a third taller than the other??

I feel this way quite a bit, pulled away from the customer staple of the day in part because of my own desire to see what else is out there, but in part because of some innate resistance that I see amongst other wine geeks, some refusal to go along with what is everywhere.  So it was with Australian Shiraz; so it is with Argentinian Malbec; so it will be with whatever comes next.  I don’t really have a hard stance on this, but I have recently tried to make sure that my efforts at open-mindedness in wine extend equally to those grapes and styles that are suddenly ubiquitous as to those that remain esoteric.  I have also tried hard to remember that I once relied very heavily on the Shiraz-laden fads of the day as a gateway that set wine’s hooks into me for the first time, and I enjoyed the living hell out of them.  Fifteen years later, I have a WSET Advanced certification and have been publishing reviews on a wine blog for seven years.  Trends can lead somewhere.  So let’s start somewhere. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Tom Gore Vineyards, A Tale of Two Sauvignons

14 07 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]IMG_1713

Cabernet Sauvignon remains the most widely grown quality wine grape in the world, so it is perhaps appropriate that in at least one regard, “Cab” started me off on the path to becoming a serious scholar of wine.  I had previously acquired a taste for certain Canadian Gewurtztraminers, spellbound by how a grape could smell and taste so exotic, although hard-won experience has taught me that many such wines recall one of those chemically augmented gym nuts who can flip a giant tire from a mining truck once or twice, only to catastrophically gas out immediately thereafter: initially powerful but ultimately quite flabby.  Rather wary of this focus, I then snagged a few wine books from a local book sale, thinking that this subject’s unique combination of history, geography, botany, technology, and gustatory delight would give my brain something new and compelling over which to obsess. I noticed right away that in these sundry tomes, blackcurrant or cassis was an aroma descriptor frequently associated with Cab. As someone who adores this particular flavour, I did further research. Not just cassis, but cedar, “cigar box” (I’ve always been intrigued by this one), blackberry, even vanilla and cola and chocolate cake. Wine smells like these things?! I was officially hooked, all this before even seriously tasting a Cab.

Once the actual drinking started in earnest, I rapidly encountered one of Cab’s parents: Sauvignon Blanc. My dad ordered a New Zealand example one nice evening in a Calgary steakhouse, as an aperitif, telling my mother:  “It’s one of those really grapefruity ones you like.” Grapefruit, you say? A cursory look at a tasting wheel for Sauvignon Blanc ultimately reveals a whole litany of “green” aromas, with these ultimately outnumbering the also prominent citrus and sometimes tropical fruits. There are classics like grass, gooseberry, and green bell pepper, along with rather more esoteric takes such as matcha, lemon grass, apple blossom, or even “cat pee”. Maybe we should stick with grapefruit or “tomato leaf”. Go crush and sniff a tomato leaf… You’ll probably get at least an inkling of pipi du chat, if nothing else in the form of a vague association with “funky” or “rank”. Some claim that this character, driven by organic compounds called thiols, is in fact a fault due to vineyard overproduction. Maybe so, although I experience cheap Sauvignon Blanc as something more akin to dilute lemonade in which a few broken fluorescent bulb filaments have been macerated, largely devoid of character across the board. A quick spray of thiols would often do this stuff a favour.

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From http://socialvignerons.com/2015/12/10/infographics-guide-to-sauvignon-blanc-wine-grape-variety/.  This thing is comprehensive and rather fascinating…and there it is, cat pee, complete with schematic depiction.

So in addition to capturing aromas that I find pleasant (maybe at this point forget I mentioned cat pee), Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are both associated with formative memories in my quest to experience as much of the wine world as possible. Fitting then that I drew this assignment to review these two varietal bottlings, which interestingly enough hail from the first California wine label named after a grape grower.

Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Famille Sichel Bordeaux Tiers

15 04 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

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What a Bordeaux progression looks like.

Bordeaux is one of those regions that any aspiring wine geek finds out about roughly 15 seconds after beginning their vinous adventure.  It leads off many textbooks, is (rightly) touted as the spiritual homeland of red grape overlord Cabernet Sauvignon and its consigliere Merlot and is held up as a must-try area both so that new oenophiles can get a sense of the classics and because top-flight Bordeaux can be so memorable that its first-chapter place in all future textbooks is likely assured.  Of course, all of that comes at a price, one that seems to be increasing by the year, as wines from the top chateaux become more luxury commodity and less agricultural product and as international demand in new markets shoots through the roof.  So what are the non-obscenely wealthy wine-curious to do?  Here’s one way to start:  find a reputable producer and taste your way up their lineup, through the quality tiers and nesting-doll classifications layered throughout the Bordeaux appellation.  Even if you don’t make it all the way up to the grand vin flagship of the chateau, you will end up with a really good sense of what makes this rarefied region tick and also start to understand why those tiers exist in the first place.

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I was fortunate enough to test this tasting theory with the wines of Famille Sichel, a producer with whom I didn’t initially think I was familiar until discovering that they are the owners of one of Bordeaux’s hidden gem producers, Margaux’s Chateau d’Angludet.  While the winery is centuries old and the Sichel family’s history in Bordeaux is almost equally entrenched (they have been established in the region as a negociant since 1883 and are on their sixth generation of family ownership), their two paths didn’t cross until the 1960s, when d’Angludet was in a state of extreme disrepair and was bought and revived by Peter Sichel thanks to an extensive replanting and restoration program.  Current proprietor Benjamin Sichel continues both the negociant business (under the Maison Sichel banner) and the Chateau’s estate bottlings with a heavier focus in the vineyard and a defter touch in the cellar.  I have previously enjoyed Chateau d’Angludet on numerous occasions and now got to experience the trail of bottles that leads up to it. Read the rest of this entry »








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