Wine Review: $21 Old World Supremacy

11 07 2017

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

FullSizeRender-676This will be the last PnP post for a while – in a couple days I’ll be escaping the country on summer vacation and will not be thinking much at all about word counts or flavour descriptors while I’m gone.  Expect palm tree and sea turtle Instagram pictures and not much else until the end of the month.  I therefore felt compelled to send off July on the blog with a double-feature, a head-to-head review of two Old World value level wines with near-identical just-a-shade-over-$20 price tags and almost nothing else in common.  It’s Italy vs. France, a contest of different grapes, winemaking styles, vintages and approaches, with the main unifying links being longstanding traditional estates and a quest to over-deliver on quality for a supermarket price tag.  Enjoy the summer! Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Canada Day: Stag’s Hollow Summer Set

1 07 2017

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

Happy Canada Day all!  Our majestic and humble home turns 150 today, which makes me both celebratory and reflective, emotions which both inevitably lead to wine.  (OK, many things inevitably lead to wine, but these do too.)  As a nation, even at its sesquicentennial, Canada is still young and developing, growing increasingly confident in its global identity but not yet possessed of that inner calm of countries who have already seen and lived through it all.  As a wine nation, we are younger still:  while grapevines have been planted in Canada since the 19th century, our movement towards becoming a commercial producer of quality wines probably only dates back 40 to 50 years; the oldest producing vinifera vines in British Columbia are likely of a similar age.  In many ways, we are still finding ourselves and only starting to chart our path.


British Columbia wasn’t blessed in centuries past with Burgundy’s army of soil-testing, site-delineating monks, who segregated cohesive parcels of land and determined which grapes did best in which spots.  As such, and without a suite of indigenous varietals to choose from, BC is playing global catch-up, still trying to sort out what might succeed in its soils and what is destined to fail.  In this New World landscape, it would be useful for the province to have a sort of advance wine scout, someone who is unafraid to push the envelope in terms of planting options and help set the boundaries for the area’s future course.

I nominate Stag’s Hollow Winery in the Okanagan Falls, which, led by winemaker Dwight Sick, has done nothing but innovate since I first found out about them.  Make reserve-level small-production Tempranillo?  Check.  Create the Okanagan Valley’s first-ever bottling of Grenache?  Check.  Solera-style fortified wines?  Orange wines?  If you can envision it, Sick and Stag’s Hollow have probably made it, and have expanded the range of possibilities for Canadian wine in the process.  A recent further jump:  Albarino, the crispy, crunchy white grape that is the pride of Galicia in northwest Spain, features heavily in Portugal’s Vinho Verde and has been gaining an increasing worldwide audience.  I had never yet seen a Canadian version of this hot and trendy grape – but if I had had to place a bet on who would be among the first to come up with one, it turns out that I wouldn’t have been wrong.  I got to check out this trail-blazing New World version of Albarino along with a couple other patio-friendly new releases from the winery just in time for summer. Read the rest of this entry »

Calgary Wine Life: Value Wine Uncorked! (by Shelley Boettcher)

17 12 2012

[Cross-posted at  This book was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Uncorked2013COVERYou almost certainly don’t need me to remind you that it’s December 17th.  By some true Christmas miracle, I managed to finish both my shopping AND my wrapping this past weekend, easily setting a new XMas Efficiency Standard for myself.  But if you happen to be using the eight days between now and the 25th to scramble madly around looking for last-minute gifts, fear not, because I can help you with two simple words:  buy wine.  Shopping = finished.  Everybody likes receiving a gift they can drink, and even if they aren’t sure about the wine you pick out on the first sip, by the fifth glass I guarantee they’ll be all over it.  Alternatively, if you don’t quite feel up to the pressure of picking out that perfect bottle for the people you love, you can do the next best thing and buy them a book that tells them what that perfect bottle might be.  Shelley Boettcher’s slightly pre-emptive 2013 edition of Uncorked! is one such book that is focused on finding that rarest of beasts:  good cheap wine.  All of its recommendations clock in at $25 or less retail.  It is also the only such wine guide that I have seen which is geared entirely to the Alberta market instead of to American or European audiences, each of whom have a remarkably different selection of vino to choose from than we do here.  If you live in the province, you should be able to find at least some of these wines at a shop near you; if you live in Calgary or Edmonton, you should have access to almost all of them. Read the rest of this entry »

Calgary Wine Life: Meet Dave Amadio @ Richmond Hill Wines

2 11 2012

[Cross-posted at]

The best word to use to describe Richmond Hill Wines as you pull into the parking lot is “unassuming”.  Located just north of Richmond Road in a quiet strip mall just off of 51st Street SW, it has the almost dreary, sleepy look of your average neighbourhood liquor store.  This Clark Kent exterior hides an absolute gem of a wine shop on the inside, one whose longevity is almost unparalleled (it opened in 1991) and whose staff are some of the most knowledgeable and qualified in the city, not to mention the longest-tenured.  In an industry where high turnover and staff attrition are entirely expected, Richmond Hill has a number of long-time employees who have been with the shop for years, helping to maintain loyal customer relationships and giving the store a sense of consistency and permanence that is tremendously rare in the world of retail wine.  One such employee is RHW manager Dave Amadio, who was the first guy I met when I first walked into Richmond a couple of years ago and who continues to remember me to this day even though I only manage to frequent his doorstop once every few months.  I use the term “manager” loosely because, as Dave puts it, “we don’t really do titles at Richmond Hill”; the actual job description that he provided was “manager/purchaser/pusher/overly opinionated wine guy”, which more or less sums it up. Read the rest of this entry »

Calgary Wine Life: Meet Tim Hendrickson @ Wine Ink

31 08 2012

[Cross-posted at]

Whether it’s wine or cheese, Tim has you covered.

The first time I met Tim Hendrickson, he was selling me cheese.  In between stints as co-owner of some of Calgary’s most interesting and eclectic wine shops, Hendrickson was the resident cheese guru at Blush Lane Organic Market in Aspen Woods, and every time I saw him it turned into an educational experience about cow vs. sheep vs. goat milk, aging and ripening techniques, the nuances and subtle differences between the products of different countries.  The man straight up knows his cheese, and his knowledge and enthusiasm about his wares led me to try things I never would have picked out for myself.  This earnest desire to serve the customer and teach them new ways to appreciate their favourite indulgences translates seamlessly to his current venture at Wine Ink, where he gets to engage with people about his foremost passion. Read the rest of this entry »

Calgary Wine Life: The YYC Corkage Primer

25 07 2012

[Cross-posted at]

Time to BYOW, YYC. OK?

Corkage has been a hot topic in Canada recently, thanks to last week’s announcement from the British Columbia government (finally) allowing diners to bring their own bottles of wine into participating BC restaurants.  Here in Alberta, restaurants already have the ability to establish Bring Your Own Wine (BYOW) policies, and many have done so, generally charging a set per-bottle fee (called the corkage fee) in exchange for letting their guests arrive with their vino of choice.  Although this option is widely available in Calgary, it seems like it’s only rarely exercised, as most people either don’t know about the possibility of corkage or would prefer to trust in the carefully-selected wines that a restaurant puts on its own list.  While I usually fall into the latter category, there are certain times — when I have a certain bottle that I’ve been dying to open, when I’ve had a less-than-stellar past wine experience somewhere, or when I want to bring a Wine For An Occasion to celebrate something special — where corkage comes in really handy.  If you’re not sure about how the corkage process works, what the etiquette is around bringing your own bottle, and which places in Calgary offer BYOW service (and for how much), all your answers await below. Read the rest of this entry »

Calgary Wine Life: Meet Jesse Willis @ Vine Arts

29 06 2012

[Cross-posted at]

Calgary, Jesse. Jesse, Calgary.

I walked into the Vine Arts retail space for the first time a couple of weeks ago and, like I do in most wine stores, I looked for the Germany section.  There wasn’t one.  No Riesling section either. Rather than sorting its vinous wares by country or by grape, the more or less universal ways of arranging a wine shop, Vine Arts had catalogued and displayed all its wines by adjective, grouping whites under headings like “Off-Dry & Aromatic” or “Light & Fresh” and reds under headings like “Bold & Structured”, “Spicy Earthy Funky” or, my favourite, “Smooth & Sexy”.  That simple but radical design choice is why I believe Jesse Willis when he tells me he’s trying to do things differently. Read the rest of this entry »