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 »





The Great Coravin Test, Part 3: Two Weeks In

2 08 2015

OK, so to recap:

  • I got lent a Coravin and figured out how to use it (Part 1).
  • On July 17th, I accessed three different bottles – a white and two reds – via Coravin and wrote up control tasting notes (Part 2).
  • Exactly two weeks later, on July 31st, I Coravinned the bottles again to see how they were doing.  Now the real fun begins (Part 3, right now).

FullSizeRender-91Some brief methodological notes:  after tasting the bottles on July 17th, I put them back in my cellar as if they were brand new – on their sides, no special treatment.  They stayed there till the 31st, when I gave them a brief chill before accessing them again.  I took detailed tasting notes without looking at my initial set of notes and then compared the two sets after the fact to see if the descriptions were similar and if any notable changes to the wines had taken place.  After the second round of tasting, the bottles are all about half full, and they have been put back in my cellar until I pull them out again for the grand finale of this Coravin experiment six months from now.  So how did the wines do?  Is the Coravin all it’s cracked up to be?  Let’s get to it, again:

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The Great Coravin Test, Part 2: Initial Tasting Report

23 07 2015

The journey continues.

The journey continues.

If you missed Part 1 of this soon-to-be-epic tale, wherein I got a Coravin to borrow and figured out how to use it, you can click here to get caught up.  This post will set the control for my test of the Coravin’s wine-preserving prowess, documenting my initial tasting impressions of three different bottles that I was provided along with the device so that I could give it a spin:  one white, one lighter red and one fuller red.  I actually tasted these last Friday, July 17th, so that’s the point from which the preservation clock starts ticking.  I will taste them all again in a couple of weeks and report back, and then again in a few months to see just how far the magic of the Coravin can stretch.  Word of warning if you ever try this yourself:  when you have a tool that lets you taste as many wines and access as many bottles as you want in a night without pulling a cork, you end up drinking a LOT of wine.  Duly noted.  On to the wines — be sure to check back in two weeks to see how they’re doing!

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The Great Coravin Test, Part 1

19 07 2015
Ladies and gentlemen:  the future.

Ladies and gentlemen: the future.

It is an age-old problem:  what to do with the rest of a bottle of wine if it isn’t all consumed in an evening?  Unless being used to let tight young wines breathe, oxygen is generally the enemy of wine, and once the atmosphere gets its claws on the liquid in a bottle, the results aren’t pretty:  the wine gets flat and stale, brightness and flavours fade, and any distinguishing characteristics are quickly lost.  You can help slow this aerobic inevitability by putting the wine in the fridge overnight, but I always still noticed a difference in the bottle the next day, a slight but undeniable decline.

There have been a few standard approaches invented for dealing with the leftover wine oxygen problem, each effective to different extents.  You can buy a vacuum pump that fits into the opening of the bottle and (at least theoretically) manually sucks out the offending oxygen, leaving a decay-free zone inside the bottle.  This may sort of work at times for short durations IF the pump actually makes an airtight seal with the bottle, which it often doesn’t.  You can instead opt for a separate narrow storage vessel that has a sort of buoy-like floatation device engineered to exactly match the interior circumference of the container; you pour your wine in, plop the float on top and add a lid for good measure, keeping the surface of the wine from any immediate interaction with oxygen.  This is better and more consistent than the vacuum for short stints (I have one, the Savino, which I use for weeknight wines) but not that trustworthy for more than a day or two.  Then there’s the gold standard:  argon.  You pump a little argon gas into the heel of your bottle (from a purchased canister or a fancier system like my Pek Preservino) and, since it’s inert but heavier than air, it forms a harmless protective layer over top of the wine that prevents oxygen from accessing it.  I have left a wine under argon in the fridge for a week and it’s been good as new.

FullSizeRender-71These preservation systems all tackle the problem of wine degradation from different angles, and yet they all share one key thing in common that puts a ceiling on their effectiveness:  they all start with an open bottle of wine.  No matter what tricks you try to keep oxygen away from your precious liquid, once you pop that cork and pour that first glass, you have exposed your wine to the air and the decay clock starts ticking.

But what if you didn’t HAVE to open the bottle?  Could wine be preserved indefinitely if you could somehow access it while keeping its bottle fortress intact?  Enter the Coravin. Read the rest of this entry »





An Albertan’s Guide to Grabbing US-Only Wines

29 03 2015

You may have experienced the frustration of being a wine-loving Canadian.  You finally get on the mailing list of your favourite cult US winery – only to find that they don’t ship to Canada.  You track down a rare bottle on an American retailer’s site or win an online auction – but they won’t get your wine across the border for you.  As far as I know, it’s not illegal to ship wine from the US to Canada, but if you try to get FedEx or UPS to do just that they generally won’t touch it with a ten foot pole.  I have heard of the odd case where people have successfully had bottles sent to them up here, but I’ve never had any luck with it myself.  So I decided to do it a different, admittedly less convenient, but far more fruitful way.  Here’s how.

Want to be on a US winery mailing list?  It's possible, but complicated.

Canadians: Want to be on a US winery mailing list? It’s possible, but complicated.

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