Co-op Wines: The Social Collection, Bin 105

17 02 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Here is the final installment of our Co-op Social Collection feature, and we are ending with a potentially big wine, one that I would not expect to see in a curated series such as this: the 2015 Bin 105 Amarone della Valpolicella. There is something seemingly incongruous about an Amarone inclusion in a line of negociant wines intended for affordable easy drinking, although with the Social Collection there appears to be a well-intentioned and laudable desire to preserve some degree of regional character and varietal typicity. I’m intrigued. I support the notion of an Amarone “for the people”, or at least an introduction to the style at a lower price point (lower, not low!) for those who are unfamiliar with what can be a daunting, polarizing, but ultimately rather compelling wine. It is worth noting that this bottle won an Alberta Beverage Award for Judges’ Selection in Veneto Blends, as adjudicated by the stellar Culinaire Magazine.

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The Valpolicella region is close to Verona and produces a sequence of red wines that ascend in degree of concentration and power. At the top of the density hierarchy, Amarone is a blend of red grapes, of which Corvina Veronese is typically the most dominant, with DOGC regulations mandating that this thick-skinned grape constitute 45% to 95% of the blend. Partner Corvinone, a grape with larger berries and clusters than Corvina, was long thought to be a clone of the latter but instead turns out to be an entirely distinct variety. This vine can occasionally serve as the foundation of an Amarone, but is more commonly used to provide additional tannic structure to Corvina’s base of cherry-like red fruit. Corvinone can substitute up to 50% of a similar percentage of Corvina. Rondinella, which generally can comprise 5% to 30% of the blend, provides a key seasoning in the form of herbal notes that add a savoury character. Only Corvina and its progeny Rondinella are mandatory in Amarone, but the law permits other native “non-aromatic” red grapes to be included as up to 25% of the blend, with none of these individually exceeding 10%. Some of these grapes are fascinating but fall beyond the scope of the present review. Read the rest of this entry »

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Calgary Wine Life: Barone Ricasoli Luncheon @ Alloy Fine Dining

10 02 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ growing up. Amongst the many fond memories (including my grandmother’s never-ending tolerance of my boundless energy and predilection for getting into various forms of trouble), I can recall that there were always a few fiascos kicking around the house, those round-bottomed bottles covered with a close-fitting straw basket that shall be forever associated with one of the world’s great wines: Chianti. Although the wine contained in most of these vessels was far from remarkable, over time a serious quality revolution occurred, one that led to the creation of the Chianti Classico DOCG designation. This important development was associated with a renewed commitment to meticulous winemaking as well as the elimination of winemaking techniques that were eventually appreciated to hinder quality (e.g., blending white grapes into a must that was largely red). At the same time, there was a dedication to preserving a unique identity; Chianti was and is a Sangiovese-dominant blend, not a varietal wine (at least usually…it turns out that Chianti Classico can be 100% Sangiovese!). As a newly christened regular contributor to Pop & Pour, I could not have been more keen to draw this tasting assignment, hosted by none other than Francesco Ricasoli. You see, Francesco’s ancestor Bettino actually invented the style.

IMG_0808When Francesco, a professional photographer, finally entered the world of winemaking, Bettino Ricasoli’s beloved Castello di Brolio estate had spent some time being passed from one multinational to the next. Enter a “contractual loophole” that gave Francesco a chance to purchase his family’s legacy from Hardy’s, based in Australia. Although he was initially unsure about whether this was a good idea, some helpful advice and prodding from a friend at Castello di Fonterutoli sealed the deal. Alas, there was much work to do. Francesco wanted to restore his wines to glory. He commissioned a three-year study to clarify the agronomic potential of his property and conducted trial plantings of fifty different Sangiovese clones, eventually determining which would perform best in his vineyard soils. The latter are largely calcareous clay with additional stony components and occur at a wide range of altitudes. Francesco was careful to explain his philosophy of “precision viticulture”. Under this approach, every vineyard parcel is a distinct entity yielding a unique vinous product. Parcels are each farmed according to their individual characters. The wines are all vinified separately to preserve their distinct attributes and are then thoughtfully blended. It became clear that Francesco does not like leaving winemaking to chance. “Why make mistakes that can be avoided?”, he asked, in response to a question about whether he uses selected yeasts for fermentation. However, he is passionate about preserving grape character. This is a highly intelligent man who thinks deeply about his wines, one who has the utmost respect for nature’s raw materials but who is not shy about steering vinification exactly where he wants it to go, according to his vision. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 12

12 12 2017

We are here, my friends:  at the midpoint of Advent, 24 posts in (including this one) and 25 to go, about to hit Advent Hump Day tomorrow (on a Wednesday, natch), with two columns of the Bricks Wine Advent crate vaporized and another two left to go.  I’m late posting this tonight not because I got started late, but because tonight’s bottle is so damn fascinating that I’ve just spent the better part of the last hour reading about it instead of getting down to business.  It’s a Cava, but not really.  It has a history dating back either millions (for the land) or hundreds (for the family) of years, but it’s also so new that it has yet to obtain an official designation.  I looked at the label for a good long time trying to figure out what was going on before resolving to dive deeper on this one.

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The label says “2011 Raventos i Blanc Conca Del Riu Anoia De La Finca”.  I recognize it to be a sparkling wine from eastern Spain, but it doesn’t say “Cava” (the only widely known bubbles appellation in the area) anywhere on the bottle.  It’s also vintage-dated, which a lot of Cava is not.  Um.  Starting with the only one of those label words that I knew, and the only one with its own website, I pulled on that thread and started unravelling the mystery.  Raventos i Blanc is one of the top quality sparkling producers in Spain, an estate that has been family-owned and -run for TWENTY-ONE GENERATIONS, since 1497.  The Raventos family is intimately connected with the creation and rise of Cava:  it was Raventos ancestors who first established the indigenous grapes that would form part of the Cava blend (Macabeu, Xarel-lo and Parellada) and who actually made the very first bottles of Cava in 1872.  The Cava DO has since stretched, however, now encompassing a half-dozen areas that aren’t at all geographically connected and now permitting Champagne grapes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to also be used in the bubbly blend.  The current generation of the Raventos family were not a fan of these changes.  So in December 2012, they left the Cava appellation and started their own.

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The estate and vineyards are still based in the very heart of classical Cava, of course, in the core of Penedes near Barcelona.  But Raventos pulled the name of the region off its bottles and instead added the name of a proposed new location-focused appellation:  Conca Del Riu Anoia, named for the nearby Anoia River.  Their proposed requirements for this new region are strict, ranging from a commitment to organic viticulture to minimum purchase prices for fruit bought from growers to longer minimum aging periods.  I keep saying “proposed” because the Conca Del Riu Anoia “region” has no legal or formal existence but is still just a vision; but it has some kind of existence, because I see it on the label of this leading light. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Calliope White Trio

3 10 2017

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

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Pop and pour power.

There are a few ways to measure how far British Columbia has come as a wine industry in the past 10-15 years, during which time for my money the jump in quality, understanding and identity has been close to exponential.  Here’s one way:  15 years ago, I don’t think you could have convinced me that a BC winery’s SECOND label could produce a suite of balanced, expressive and generally delightful wines worth seeking out.  In 2017, Burrowing Owl (or, more accurately, Wyse Family Wines, founders of Burrowing Owl) have managed that exact feat with the 2016 releases of their Calliope label, a lineup of wines that according to the accompanying campaign literature is meant for easy and early enjoyment; a true pop and pour.  Sourcing grapes from both the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, the Wyse family focuses mostly on whites for Calliope, creating (at times) multi-regional blends under the general “British Columbia” appellation, yet still under the BC VQA banner.  These are marketed as easy-drinking patio wines, meant for drinking rather than dissecting…but since we’re all here, let’s dissect them anyway.

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Stelvin Rating:  8/10 (See what you can do if you apply yourself to screwcaps?  Dead sexy.)

I was provided three different single-varietal examples of Calliope’s white regime:  Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Viognier.  When I’m drinking single-grape wines on the lower end of the price spectrum (these bottles probably straddle the $20 mark Alberta retail), the first thing I look for, even before balance of component elements or general deliciousness, is typicity.  In non-wino speak:  if the wine is a Sauvignon Blanc, does it smell like a Sauvignon Blanc?  Does it taste like a Sauvignon Blanc?  Does it help people understand what Sauvignon Blanc is all about, and does it then go the next step and show people what Sauvignon Blanc from its particular home region is all about?  Varietal wines that do this exhibit strong typicity, and as such become extraordinarily helpful barometers for both learning about wine and understanding your own preferences.  If these 2016 Calliopes have any major strength, it is dialled-in typicity:  they are clear and precise examples of what’s in the bottle and what comes out of the ground. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Reviews: Red ShowDownUnder

13 06 2017

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

FullSizeRender-646I first got seriously into wine about 10 years ago, when the Australia Phenomenon was in its heyday and Argentinian Malbec was just a glint in some clever investor’s eye in Mendoza.  Yellow Tail Shiraz was my gateway drug, a fact that is assuredly true of more than one of you currently reading this as well.  Looking back now on the Australian wine scene then, there are still tons of similarities.  Critter wines, like it or not, are still a thing. On the quality pinnacle, the high-end wines from Down Under rocking people’s worlds in 2017 aren’t that different from those doing so in 2007.  But I’ve noticed a couple clear differences in the imports from Australia that have evolved over the last decade:  first, a welcome explosion of site-driven elegance from the cooler areas of the country, be it Pinot from Yarra or Mornington or bubbles from Tasmania or the laser purity of some of the post-modern wines coming out of the Adelaide Hills.  Second, a new focus on bottles like the ones below, step-up bottlings, a shade above entry-level in price and a world above the critters in authenticity and quality.  The $20-$30 tier of wines has never had stronger representation on our shelves from Australia than it does currently, as more and more producers zone in on these bottles as the best way to build a lasting relationship of trust with consumers as opposed to an $11 fling.

So what better way to celebrate how far Australia has come as a mature wine producer, and how far I’ve come in my 10 years of Yellow Tail-catalyzed oenophilia, than by lining up two step-up bottles, each from highly respected multi-generational family wineries and legendary regions, and tasting them side-by-side?  It’s not about picking a winner — the mere fact that the exercise is possible is a win in and of itself — but I’m sure that won’t stop Jim Barry and Yalumba from exerting full effort in this battle of reds under screwcap.  Let the showdown from Down Under begin. Read the rest of this entry »





Entering The Hatch, Spring 2017

23 05 2017

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

IMG_6146Ever since I first saw The Hatch’s avian-Thomas-Crown-Affair primary logo shortly after it opened a couple years ago, I have been sort of transfixed from a distance, finding both the winery and its artistic ethos strangely compelling despite knowing basically nothing about them.  Based out of a rustic-modern “shack from the future” in the heights of West Kelowna and sourcing grapes from across the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, The Hatch initially comes across (quite intentionally) more like an artists’ collective than a commercial winery, listing Salman Rushdie on its personnel page and expounding in esoteric wine-code about “Ross O” and B. Yanco” (I’ll give you a second to sort that one out).  They confidently found their visual style from the outset thanks to the remarkable imagery provided by local western Canadian artist Paul Morstad (who is also found on The Hatch’s personnel page, playing a banjo); once people have been drawn in by the graphics, it’s up to winemaker Jason Parkes to keep their attention.  The whole artistic cacophony and the simultaneously grand yet whimsical presentation lends The Hatch a jolt of personality that the generally strait-laced BC wine scene can happily use…but does the buzz extend to what’s in the bottle?  Happily, I got to find out.

FullSizeRender-601The Hatch releases its wines in stylistic series, of which I had the opportunity to experience two:  the mid-tier Hobo Series wines, featuring a panoply of hand-drawn labels of hobos (seriously) that risk making you cry thanks to their sheer beauty (also seriously), and the ambitious Black Swift Vineyards series wines, which collectively form an expansive single-vineyard project focused on the various facets of BC’s glorious dirt.  The wine, like the winery, was never boring. Read the rest of this entry »





The Great Coravin Test, Part 4: Final Thoughts (For Now)

26 08 2015
No Girls Grenache by the glass?  Don't mind if I do!

No Girls Grenache by the glass? Don’t mind if I do!

The sun has shone a little less brightly this week (and not just due to wildfire smoke blocking out the sky) – I had to return my borrowed Coravin, leaving an empty spot on my counter and a needle-sized hole in my heart.  Apart from testing out the device on the three bottles of wine the agent provided to me (adventures catalogued in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this post miniseries), I also went to town last week on a few bottles from my cellar, including a couple of the pricy variety in case you were wondering about my level of Coravin confidence.  Most importantly, I re-accessed the 2012 Tabali Pinot Noir from Chile that acted so strangely I last time I Coravinned my bottle samples just to make sure that all was still well, and it was fresh as a daisy and exactly how I remembered it on first opening, confirming that the Coravin’s preservation record remained fully intact.

I thought I’d end my Coravin saga with a few closing thoughts on the pros and cons of scooping the device for yourself and on whether the amazing features of this wine access wonder-machine justifies its hefty $400ish price tag, particularly for individual wine lovers.  First, the most obvious pro:  there is nothing like this anywhere.  It is literally in a class of its own in the wine preservation game, to the point where it’s almost not fair to call it a preservation device at all:  you don’t have to worry about preserving the wine when you never expose it to the elements in the first place.  You’re not using it to stave off inevitable oxygen decay for a few days or a couple weeks; you’re using it to stop the oxygen time clock from even starting, so that you can drink a bottle from your cellar a glass at a time over any length of time that you want, even years.  That’s just mind-blowing.  Even after using the thing for a month, it’s hard to wrap my head around just how much of a game-changer it is. Read the rest of this entry »








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