Wine Review: Red Blends of the Eternal Ice Age

20 03 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

Happy first day of spring.  Spare me.  Yeah, I’ve seen all of the (obviously non-local) articles and Instagram pics and Twitter updates about new rosé and bubble releases and patio beers and T-shirt weather.  Meanwhile I have snowbanks bordering each side of my driveway that are taller than each of my children and still see the minus sign side the thermometer heading to work every morning.  It’s supposed to snow again on Thursday morning and there is no god and we are in some kind of forsaken meteorological time loop that will have no end.  So forget you, frizzy pink refreshing splashes and dainty Prosecco; I’m gearing up for blustery Armageddon, armed with a pair of full reds that scoff at the entire concept of spring.  I need to find joy somewhere, after all.

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Forget you, “spring”.

2014 Gerard Bertrand Corbieres (~$20)

I know from past experience that Gerard Bertrand is a value wine savant, and that his legend in the south of France is ever-growing.  I also knew that this particular bottle of Corbieres, part of his “Terroirs” regional collection of bottlings, hit the wine awards mother lode in 2016 by landing the #55 spot in the much-anticipated Wine Spectator Top 100 list — not bad for a $20 bottle from a little-known region.  What I didn’t know about Bertrand was that he was a prodigious professional rugby player before he followed in his family’s footsteps and turned to winemaking, even juggling a pro career with vigneron duties in the aftermath of his father’s death as he took over the reins of his ancestors’ business.  He has now hung up the cleats for good but brings some of his sport’s scrappiness to all of the wines that bear his name.   Read the rest of this entry »





Burrowing Owl Spring Releases

16 05 2017

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

Some people chart the seasons using a calendar; others look to the melting snow and the first robins to mark the start of spring.  For me and this blog, the new season only arrives when the box of new releases from Burrowing Owl is delivered and tasted.  I can now happily announce:  spring is here.

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OK, yes, I had a glass of the Chardonnay before the tasting started.  I regret nothing.

Burrowing Owl is one of the few Canadian wineries that has been consistently able to juggle both quantity and quality, producing 35,000 cases annually from 16 different varietals grown across 170 acres and three different estate vineyard sites encircling the scorching southern Okanagan hubs of Oliver and Osoyoos.  It is likely best known for its Bordeaux varietals, but also makes room in its vineyard sites for less expected offerings like Tempranillo and Viognier, not to mention a killer Syrah that is proof of concept of the region’s suitability for the grape.  Burrowing Owl’s two largest vineyards are scant minutes away from the US border, on western-facing slopes angling down towards the temperature-modulating Lake Osoyoos, which both restrains the Okanagan desert heat during the day and extends it at night.  The third is due west of Oliver, in the neighbouring Similkameen Valley, using its proximity to Keremeos Mountain to help grow Bordeaux whites Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, where 2017’s spring releases conveniently start. Read the rest of this entry »





World Malbec Day Review: 2014 Bodega Norton Barrel Select Malbec

17 04 2017

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

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Happy World Malbec Day!

Happy belated Easter to all – I hope your long weekend was filled with family and food and chocolate and wine in some order.  If you headed back to work on Easter Monday and were feeling the post-holiday blues, fear not, because there is another event on today that’s worth celebrating:  April 17th has been designated World Malbec Day, a designation I would bet many people choose to live out far more often.  In a blink sometime in the last decade, Malbec went from being an overlooked Bordeaux blending grape and an esoteric dark and chewy hidden treasure from Cahors to Australian Shiraz’s heir as the friendly, fruity, powerful gateway drug into the wonderful world of wine.  Whereas I stumbled onto Yellow Tail sometime in the early 2000s and worked my way up from there, nascent wine lovers today are heading to the previously non-existent Argentina section of their local liquor store and starting their odyssey with the grape, one that will hopefully last a lifetime. Read the rest of this entry »





Domaines Paul Jaboulet Ainé: Parallele 45 Trio

6 07 2016

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

There are not many producer names as synonymous with their home region as Jaboulet and France’s Rhone Valley.  From their pinnacle bottling La Chapelle from the world-renowned hill of Hermitage (which I have had once and vividly remember to this day) down through the rest of their lineup, the wines of Domaines Paul Jaboulet Ainé are known and revered the world over, although until recently they were decidedly under-represented in our market.  That has now thankfully changed, and Alberta once again has full access to some of the best wines the Rhone has to offer.

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The Jaboulet winery was first started by Antoine Jaboulet in 1834, who then passed it to his two sons, Paul and Henri, to carry on his legacy.  Paul, the older son, gave the winery his name (the “Ainé” in “Domaines Paul Jaboulet Ainé” literally translates to “eldest”), and it stayed in the family for almost 175 years before finally being sold in 2006 to the Freys, a family of French winemakers with properties in Champagne and Bordeaux.  Caroline Frey (fittingly the eldest daughter of the family), who is now 37 and so was in her late 20s at the time of the acquisition, assumed the mantle of winemaker and has instituted sustainable vineyard practices and carried forward Jaboulet’s reputation for classic quality.

Parallele 45 is Jaboulet’s entry-level lineup of Cotes du Rhone wines, so named because the 45th parallel of northern latitude runs right through the Rhone Valley, bisects some of the Domaine’s vineyards and is only a couple kilometres from its cellars.  The bottles all bear an inscription found on a monument in the nearby village of Pont de l’Isere (which, and I am not making this up, is at 45.0040 degrees N latitude):  “Ici Commence Le Sud” – The South Starts Here.  Post de l’Isere looks to be on the southern edge of the Northern Rhone as opposed to the northern edge of the South, but the mantra still fits, and Jaboulet’s wines straddle both sides of the Valley.  I got to taste through the full Parallele 45 lineup – white, pink and red, all of which share the same $18ish wallet-friendly price tag – and see how well they carried forward the tradition of this great name. Read the rest of this entry »





FLX: Finger Lakes Extravaganza – Part I

22 05 2016

If you’re a fan of stage-setting or want a little more background info about what the Finger Lakes are all about, start here with this intro post.  Otherwise read on for the first breakdown of what went down over our four days of visiting and tasting in FLX, NY.

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We ironically spent our first actual tasting in the Finger Lakes trying New York State wines from anywhere but.  We disembarked at the beautiful New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua, on the northern shores of the lake of the same name, which featured a built-in tasting classroom, professional learning kitchen, bistro and wine shop. There we tasted and were educated about a variety of wines from two other major New York AVAs, the Hudson River region due north of NYC and the Long Island AVA on the eastern half of Long Island.  Two winery representatives made a long early-morning trek to guide us through their wares. Read the rest of this entry »





Bargain Bubbles: Prosecco Showdown

7 11 2015

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

Bring on the bubbles!

Bring on the bubbles!

Sparkling wine is instantly celebratory — unless you’re opening two bottles simultaneously, by yourself, at your kitchen table, on a weeknight, like I did.  Even then, the brisk pops of the corks out of the bottles lightened my mood and made my analytical tasting exercise a little more festive.  You almost can’t drink Prosecco and be in a bad mood.

Prosecco is very, very hot right now.  Global sales of this Italian sparkler have increased by double digit percentages every year since 1998 (!), and last year they were up an astonishing 32% (!!) over the year before, five times the sales growth of sparkling wine overall (!!!).  In 2013, global Prosecco sales actually overtook global Champagne sales at over 300 million bottles.  Suffice to say it is on trend, buoyed by its general approachability, fruit-centered flavours and highly attractive price tag.  And yet, before now, Prosecco had never featured on Pop & Pour:

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So since this is uncharted blog territory, allow me to toss out a bit of a primer before we get into the bubbles themselves.  Prosecco is made in the Veneto and Fruili regions of northeast Italy; the Prosecco DOC quality region actually spans and overlaps most of both.  The wine is named after the village of Prosecco (which may have been its birthplace) near Trieste on Italy’s eastern border at the top of the boot.  Its made primary from a grape that used to also be called Prosecco, but as of 2009 is now known as Glera, primarily to annoy you and make it harder for you to remember it.  Just like all quality sparkling wine, it is created by first making a low-alcohol still base wine and then starting a second fermentation of that wine (by adding extra yeast and unfermented juice to it) in an airtight container, such that the carbon dioxide created as a byproduct of the fermentation cannot escape and becomes trapped in the wine, making it bubbly. Read the rest of this entry »





PC Wine Fall Collection Faceoff

22 10 2015

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

Grocery store wines are making strides.  Supermarket labels are no longer (or at least not all) resigned to Two Buck Chuck ignominy, and a select few are starting to pair their expected wallet-friendly price tags with actual quality inside the bottle, making them legitimate value plays in a competitive buying environment.  The Kirkland label from Costco comes immediately to mind, a negociant-style operation that sources wines from prestigious regions across the globe (even Champagne!  And it’s not bad!) and makes them accessible at a fraction of the cost of other bottles from the area.  Now Loblaws is making its own foray into the value wine world with a curated lineup of stylishly branded PC Wines, currently only available at an Alberta Superstore liquor store near you.  Take that, rest of Canada.

A step up from the No Name wine labels.

A step up from the No Name wine labels.

 

The PC Wines approach differs from similar supermarket offerings in a couple of ways.  First, the wine collections will be seasonally rotated, so the five bottles in the fall collection will be replaced with a whole new set of wines in a few months.  Second, the pricing is uniform:  all of the bottles cost exactly $20, but that price drops to $15 in each case if you buy 3 or more.  The fall collection was hand-selected by Aaron Bick, founder of local vino e-commerce site wineonline.ca, and features offerings from four different producers in California, Italy and Spain.  Although each bottle bears a PC Wines label, it still recognizes its original producer on the front, which is a nice touch.  There’s even some back-vintage stuff in the mix!

Read the rest of this entry »





Canada’s Natural Wine Club: Cellar Direct

1 09 2015

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

FullSizeRender-118It was not like any other sample box I have received.  This two-bottle sample pack showed up in a container that could have easily fit a full case of wine with room to spare.  Puzzled, I broke into the box to discover the wine inside was surrounded on all sides by multiple inches of insulated styrofoam, like I was being shipped radioactive isotopes instead of a European red and white.  The bottles in the centre of the box were encased in even more styrofoam, and sitting in between them was a liqui-gel cryopack, like the kind you would use to keep your camping cooler cold.  After a multi-day, interprovincial Canada Post voyage, the icepack was still completely frozen.  And the wine?  Precisely at cellar temperature fresh off the delivery truck, a constant, perfect 13 degrees Celsius.  As it turns out, Cellar Direct doesn’t just ship their wines out in a way that ensures temperature stability; it also imports them in from producers in a rigidly temperature-controlled manner too.  They officially had my attention. Read the rest of this entry »





Lebanese Duet: 2011 Reds from Chateau Ksara

26 05 2015

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

Lebanon?  Lebanon!

Lebanon? Lebanon!

The cool thing about being a wine lover is that it constantly invites you to broaden your horizons and seek out new sensory experiences.  The cool thing about running a wine blog is that sometimes those experiences come to you.  A few weeks ago, out of the blue, I got an email from the oldest winery in Lebanon, Chateau Ksara, a vinous institution that predates Canada by a good ten years (founded in 1857).  Even though their wines are not currently available in Alberta, they wanted me to try them.  Shortly afterward, the courier box arrived from Ontario, containing a duo of 2011 value reds, Ksara’s Reserve du Couvent and Le Prieure bottlings.  Each clocks in at around the $15 range (at the LCBO, at least), and each was a complete revelation to me of the strong state and developing identity of Lebanese wine. Read the rest of this entry »





FEL Wines: Pinot Showdown

11 01 2015

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

Happy New Year!  I took a bit of a holiday blogging break after 24 straight days of whisky-induced Advent madness in December, but I always had it in my mind to start up 2015 (and return to actually producing wine-related content on this wine blog) with these two bottles of California glory.  Although they come from what might technically be considered a new producer, their roots and history are inextricably linked to a California stalwart…and, as it turns out, to my home province of Alberta too.

Great wines, plus new wine glasses - to be the subject of a separate post.

Great wines, plus new wine glasses – to be the subject of a separate post.

FEL Wines came into being less than a year ago, in March 2014.  It is the brainchild of Cliff Lede, whose eponymous Napa Sauvignon Blanc helped renew my faith in the grape a month ago.  Lede is well known for creating those rarest of beasts, Napa Valley value wines, and he’s also a born-and-raised Albertan who is well known outside of the wine world as one of the owners and senior executives of the Ledcor Group, which was founded by his father (how the construction lawyer in me failed to mention that in the last review is beyond me).  FEL represents Lede’s foray outside of Napa’s welcoming confines and into the cooler climate areas of California, and it also seems to be underlaid by a personal passion:  FEL is so named for Cliff’s mother Francis Elsie Lede, who helped kindle his love of wine as a child. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Taittinger Nocturne Champagne (N.V.)

23 12 2014

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

You just can't look away.

You just can’t look away.

First things first:  this is a bit of a milestone occasion for this blog, as it marks the very first sparkling wine review in the near-250 published posts on Pop & Pour.  Actually, no — first things first:  would you take a look at this bottle!!  This thing is bling squared.  With New Year’s Eve on the horizon, Taittinger has released special “Disco” packaging of its normally slightly more sedate-looking Nocturne Champagne, and it’s about as celebratory as you can get…mine actually came with little disco ball ornaments attached.  Awesome, and totally fitting for this blog’s inaugural sparkler write-up festivities.

The Nocturne, as you may have guessed by its appearance, is a party Champagne.  It is built to be easily (and happily) consumed and shared in groups to round out an evening in style.  This is not at all to say that it’s lacking in substance, however, as the classic craftsmanship of the Taittinger name is still readily apparent.  Part of the Nocturne’s universal appeal is rooted in the fact that it receives a fairly hefty dosage (added liquid cane sugar after disgorgement), leaving some residual sweetness to lend heft and approachability to the wine’s complex flavours.  This may be the part of the review where you look at the bottle and say:  “Residual sugar?  Sweetness?  But doesn’t it say ‘Sec’ on the label?”  Um, yes…about that. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2010 Prospect Winery Major Allan Merlot

3 10 2012

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

Prospect Winery, colour me impressed…again.

After being quite pleasantly shocked by the first bottle of red wine that the Prospect Winery sent my way (the 2009 Red Willow Shiraz, written up here), I opened the second and final red they had provided last night thinking that it was fighting against a strong precedent.  I wasn’t heading into this bottle with the lowered expectations with which I had traditionally approached inexpensive Canadian wine; instead, after Prospect’s dynamic Shiraz, I was looking for big things, at least as far as sub-$20 BC Merlot goes.  And while I’m still trying to figure out whether I was satisfied or disappointed with the outcome, I continue to be refreshed and enthused by the fact that I’m starting to approach my own country’s wines with something resembling optimism…because of that alone, Prospect Winery has already succeeded in its mission to showcase the various varietals of the Okanagan in an affordable way.

Since I covered the winery’s corporate ancestral lineage in detail in my previous PW post, I won’t rehash it here other than to say that the Prospect lineup is part of the Mission Hill family once removed, with its own winemaker and plans to create a stand-alone winery.  Of the various brands falling under the umbrella of MH affiliate Artisan Wine Co., it may be the one with the brightest prospects (pun only half intended), putting out dependable, varietally-correct wines at very reasonable prices.  Each of Prospect’s bottlings is named for a different ecological or historical feature of the Okanagan Valley; the Major Allan Merlot is an homage to Allan Brooks, a prolific wildlife artist whose wildlife paintings are known across North America (and on this bottle’s label, which showcases one of them).  I was particularly interested to try this wine, because, as far as I could tell, unlike many of Prospect’s other offerings, the Major Allan is not currently available in Alberta.  In other words, unless my research is wrong, my home province may just have to take my word for this. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2010 Mission Hill Martin’s Lane Riesling

6 08 2012

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

R is for Riesling.

Time to issue the first official correction in PnP history.  When I reviewed Mission Hill’s Reserve-level Riesling back in June, I stated that the Reserve (the 2nd lowest of 4 quality levels of MH wines) was Mission Hill’s top-level Riesling, and I openly pined for the winery to put together a high-end single-vineyard Riesling that would really showcase what my favourite grape could do in Okanagan soil.  I said that if MH ever decided to release such a wine, I would be lining up to try it.  Shortly after posting, I received an e-mail from a representative at the winery that said something like:  “Well, actually, we already DO have a Riesling exactly like that…”, and a week later, this bottle showed up at my door.  In my defence, this particular Riesling doesn’t show up in the official portfolio of wines on the MH website, but as a devoted Riesling disciple, I still feel bad about not being aware of it, and I feel particularly bad about suggesting that it didn’t exist in front of an online audience.

Sorry Mission Hill — time to set the record straight. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Kung Fu Girl Riesling

9 07 2012

Best served chilled (as shown by my glass), especially when it’s 30C in Calgary.

New KFG!!  Mid-year is an exciting time for oenophiles, because that’s when many white wines from the previous year’s vintage start appearing on store shelves, and since this particular white is one of my all-time favourite value wines, its release turned an otherwise-mundane outing to Superstore into a cause for celebration.  My love for Kung Fu Girl is partly predicated on my adoration for both Riesling (my all-time favourite grape) and Washington State (one of my go-to wine regions, still criminally underrated despite producing world-class wines) and partly just due to the fact that it’s an awesome bottle of wine for under $20 CDN.  And my excitement obviously not an isolated phenomenon:  my review of last year’s 2010 Kung Fu Girl Riesling is Pop & Pour’s second most popular post of all time, with 2,444 unique views and counting.  I guess when you make something of high quality that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is priced to sell, people pay attention.  Charles Smith, I salute you. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Mission Hill Five Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc

5 07 2012

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

General tip: clear bottle = open soon!

You know it’s officially summer when I can sit outside on my deck and write up a review of a crisp white patio sipper.  The sun is shining, there’s a slight breeze blowing through the trees, and it’s almost-but-not-quite-scorching hot — perfect Sauvignon Blanc weather.  This is the second white I’ve written up recently from the good folks at Mission Hill — I took a look at their Reserve Riesling just over a week ago.   This bottle will be an interesting contrast, because not only are we dealing with a different grape, one with somewhat less of a track record in Canada, but we’re also taking a step down Mission Hill’s quality hierarchy to their introductory level bottlings, which retail for $15ish in Alberta.  The Five Vineyards line of MH wines are sourced from (guess how many) five different estate vineyards scattered across BC’s Okanagan Valley:  Osoyoos and Oliver in the south (just north of the Washington State border), Pinehill and Naramata slightly further north, and the aptly-named Mission Hill Road vineyard surrounding MH’s winery just outside of Kelowna in the northern part of the region.  Each vineyard features differing soils, altitudes and microclimates — Oliver and Osoyoos are near-desert conditions, while the other vineyards along the shoreline of the vast Lake Okanagan, which cools and moderates the growing temperatures — all of which makes it easier to grow grapes with a variety of different characteristics to facilitate the creation of a blended wine that is fairly consistent year over year.  I was surprised to note that the two vineyards that Mission Hill’s website mention specifically for Sauvignon Blanc production are the two hottest ones, Osoyoos and Oliver, although I would guess that some of the grapes in this bottle come from other locations as well. Read the rest of this entry »








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