Ripasso and Appassimento in Niagara: A Virtual Tasting with Barclay Robinson, Winemaker at The Foreign Affair

15 04 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

As a wine lover, I often feel I am walking a tightrope of sorts between appreciation of bare-bones, terroir-driven wines of place on the one hand, and esoteric, funky winemaking techniques on the other. My allegiance gravitates implicitly to the former camp, populated by relatively pure expressions of soil and grape variety that eschew the muddying effects of various vinification tricks of the trade. Then again, I can be a sucker for the weird, particularly if there is true intent behind the decision to use a particular cellar technique: the careful realization of a particular vinous vision can be every bit as compelling as what results from a more hands-off approach. It turns out that in some cases, particular techniques are the tradition. And traditions, like other aspects of culture, are meant to be shared, applied to new contexts, and ultimately celebrated.

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Enter Barclay Robinson, winemaker at Ontario producer The Foreign Affair, who recently shared the story and results behind some of these techniques and traditions in a personal virtual tasting.  This was a lot of fun, Barclay being exactly the sort of guy I like tasting with: erudite yet down to earth, funny yet quick to impart knowledge. The winery, situated in the Vineland area of the Niagara Peninsula, is completely unique in the Canadian context. Founders Len and Marisa Crispino lived as expats in Italy, where they fell in love with the Amarone wines of Valpolicella. These burly concoctions are made using the the appassimento process, in which the grapes are dried after harvest for to up to 6 months, typically resting on bamboo racks or straw mats, or alternatively strung up from the ceiling where air can circulate and work its dehydrating magic. These raisined grapes provide a very concentrated must (the juice to which yeast is added after crushing to make wine), which makes fermenting the resulting wine to total dryness quite a challenge. I have grown to appreciate Amarone over the last year or so, although its combination of high alcohol, intense flavour concentration, and a unique nut-like bitterness can be polarizing. The Crispinos decided to bring this winemaking approach to Ontario, albeit using the Bordeaux varietals known to do well in the Niagara Peninsula (alas, Niagara Corvina is not a thing at this juncture). Read the rest of this entry »

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Spain, Old and New, Part II: The Wines of Imperial

14 02 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

This is a belated sequel to my introductory post from last November about the marvellous wines and history of Cune, the Riojan benchmark producer melding the traditional and the modern into perfect balance.  Since that post predated Wine Advent and then Vinebox, it’s about 40 posts back on the PnP timeline, and even though it’s only 3 months old it feels like 30.  Perhaps it has aged enough then to allow to slip in a slight correction.  I mentioned way back in 2018 that the Cune brand was made up of 3 different physical wineries and brands, each with their own winemaker:  Cune itself, Vina Real and Contino.  I also mentioned that the Cune brand “also encompasses the higher-level Imperial bottlings, made only in very good years”.  This is ALMOST entirely true:  the wines of Imperial have been made since 1920, only in great vintages, using Cune’s oldest vineyards in Rioja Alta and selected nearby old-vine sites.  Imperial is also still made by Cune’s winemaker, although the label only releases a Reserva and a Gran Reserva red wine, leaving the Crianzas and the whites to the others.  However, further research reveals that, as of 2005, Imperial has its own separate winemaking premises on the Cune property, as outlined in this highly confusing official graphic; it is now a winery-within-a-winery, its own bricks-and-mortar space.  The 3 Cune wineries are actually 4.

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Imperial is a focused and quality-driven enterprise, producing around 200,000 bottles in the vintages good enough to merit its creation, in contrast to Cune’s 5 million.  As of 2004, all fermentations now take place in new oak barrels, as a back-to-the-future nod to history — the Imperials of the pre-1940s were all produced in this fashion, and after decades of dalliances with first concrete, then steel, Cune made the very Riojan determination that sometimes the old ways really are best and went back to its roots.  The winery name comes from a unique historical bottling release for the UK market, the “Imperial pint” size (which is roughly 500mL, a highly underrated and remarkably useful size for a bottle of wine that we should see more of nowadays).  The Imperial brand made more recent history when its 2004 Gran Reserva, an utterly spectacular wine that it pains me to say I have no more of, was named the Wine Spectator Wine Of The Year in 2013, the first such global pinnacle designation for a Spanish wine.  If you ever have the chance to acquaint yourself with the Imperial lineup, do not hesitate.  The current releases continue to showcase the magnificent pedigree of the estate. Read the rest of this entry »





Pop & Repour: Preservation Experimentation

7 02 2019

By Peter Vetsch

And – we’re back.

When I posted the review for Vinebox Day 12 as we polished off our daily reviews for two consecutive holiday wine calendars, I fully intended that the blog would go dark for a little bit while we rested our typing fingers and regrouped.  I did not intend to then catch bronchitis and a cough that wouldn’t die in a house full of plague and contagion, but that’s what happened, leading to a much-longer-than-anticipated blackout period to kick off 2019.  However, I’m back on my feet and Pop & Pour is officially back in business with some compelling content in the wings to kick off our writing new year, starting with a new and intriguing solution to one of my favourite wine questions:  how best to preserve an open bottle.

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I am an unabashed wine preservation geek.  I own a Savino (and it works! at least for shorter storage periods).  I have tried, and ultimately discarded, a number of vacuum pump oxygen-expelling gizmos (which never quite get all the air out and quickly cease to become airtight themselves, thus undermining the whole enterprise).  I have written a lengthy series of real-time preservation reports about the Coravin as I gradually drained bottles with one over the span of six months (a series of posts that continues to get regular views in Iceland to this day, though I could not tell you why).  My current preservation go-to is an argon dispenser, which places a blanket of inert gas over top of the remaining wine in the bottle and acts to prevent further oxygen contact, as oxygen is the primary agent that leads to wine deterioration over time.  I thought I was fairly up to speed on the various different ways to keep wine from spoiling, but little did I know that a new entrant had recently joined the fray.

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The Repour Wine Saver is ingenious in its simplicity.  All wine preservation tools operate by preventing oxygen access to wine in some manner or another.  Some of them fail because they rely on physical or mechanical processes that grow less efficient over time as materials change or fail.  The Repour has no moving parts or components that can get worn down over time, particularly because it’s not meant to be used over time: it’s a single-use disposable bottle stopper that retails for $3-4 CAD, keeps a single bottle of wine fresh for as many times as you care to reopen it, and is then thrown away.  It works not by expelling or blanketing the oxygen in the bottle, but by absorbing it.  The interior of the stopper is crammed full of oxygen-absorbing material (of a type that is also used to help keep food fresh during transit) which, once the cover tab is removed and the stopper is placed in the bottle, starts pulling the oxygen not only out of the air inside the bottle but also out of the wine itself.  No oxygen = no spoilage. Read the rest of this entry »





12 Days of Vinebox: Day 12

5 01 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Well, we’ve done it:  scaled the top of a 24-day Advent mountain, and without pausing for breath, immediately continued up to the summit of the second 12-day Vinebox mountain perched directly on top of it.  36 straight days of blogging later, here we are, weary and satisfied and very ready not to write about any goddamned thing tomorrow.  And we end the 12 Days of Vinebox with the wine that maybe surprised me the most in the lineup, not because there’s anything particularly weird about it (although in this age of wine weird-offs marked by escalating departures from the norm, maybe strait-laced in-its-lane Left Bank Bordeaux qualifies as odd in a post-hipster-irony sort of way), but because it appears to be a library offering.  This 2011 Chateau Hourbanon Medoc is easily the oldest wine in our set of test tubes, proving that even back-vintage wines can be relocated and settle peacefully in their new skinny Vinebox homes.

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I gently chided Vinebox yesterday for not supplying much information along with their wines, but tonight’s offering solves that problem itself by way of an information-packed, if insanely disorganized, producer website, wherein the current proprietor of Chateau Hourbanon tells you absolutely everything you would want to know about the history and current philosophy of the estate in nine different potential languages.  I find this sheer earnest desire to share and educate highly welcoming.  Thanks to this glorious fount of information, I can advise that Chateau Hourbanon has long been highly regarded — it was classified as a Cru Bourgeois (or its pre-official predecessor) back in the 19th century — but the subsequent 100 years were not as kind to it, and when reformed dentist Remi Delayat purchased it in 1974 it was all but abandoned, its winery buildings in complete disrepair.  Delayat made it his personal mission to rehabilitate the estate, and after his premature death in 1981 his widow Nicole carried on the quest, followed by  their son, current proprietor and website content-master Hugh, who now manages the estate’s 13 hectares of vines.  In the current more formalistic classification of the Cru Bourgeois wineries, Chateau Hourbanon’s name remains on the list. Read the rest of this entry »





12 Days of Vinebox: Day 9

2 01 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Sicily update:  the streak is over!  Ask and ye shall receive.  After a rather bizarre run of three straight bottles in this dozen from Italy’s most prolific wine island, our request to the cosmos for variety has been granted with fervour, as we are off to the German-est (and thus potentially the best) part of France, Alsace…where, incidentally, my Vetsch family ancestors apparently hailed from five or six or seven generations ago.  Maybe that’s why I love Riesling so much.  Alsace is something of a mystery to me from a vinous perspective, because despite producing solidly priced and consistently high-quality wines, and despite being one of the few Old World locales to actually consider the casual-drinking consumer enough to place grape varietal names on their labels, the region is almost always a hard sell in our market.  Perhaps adopting the white wine focus, gothic scripts and tall fluted bottles from its German forefathers was not the best marketing decision after all.  But when the wine is in a test tube as opposed to a flute…now we’re talking.

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The non-Sicilian wine in question is the 2016 Pierre Henri Ginglinger Riesling, yet another Vinebox offering about which Internet information is strangely nigh-unavailable.  Maybe they are so eager to give you a surprise in the box that they have shut down all worldly sources of data about the bottlings they select.  Maybe their chosen producers have to sign the mother of all NDAs.  Either way, I speak of family estates and generational turnover with admiration quite a bit, but THIS…this is that on an absurd scale.  The Ginglinger family first planted vines in 1610, and generation number TWELVE is currently at the controls of the estate.  Come on.  Their winery building looks like something out of Hansel and Gretel, nestled in the centre of the medieval town of Eguisheim, which is closer to Freiburg in Germany than the Alsatian hub of Strasbourg and is the birthplace of wine in Alsace; the winery’s appearance may have something to do with the fact that it was built in 1684, trivia so good that it makes an appearance on not only Ginglinger’s bottles, but even its Vinebox vial:

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Read the rest of this entry »





12 Days of Vinebox: Day 8

1 01 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Happy New Year!!  As we leave 2018 behind and stride into 2019, I think Vinebox might find itself in the midst of a bit of a rut, in need of a New Year’s resolution or two.  You know when the record groove glitches and the same loop of sound plays again, over and over?  We may be within that repeating loop of time now.  If you have a seasonal collection of wine that is 12 bottles large, I would resist having any two bottles in a row come from the same place.  When you hit THREE identically situated bottles in a row, and when the locale in question is Sicily, I start to wonder a bit.  This is not a slight against Sicilian wine, which is often quite wonderful, but it is a query about whether it should make up the whole of Act 2 of the 12 Days of Christmas, particularly when the drinking audience for this set is likely in large part unfamiliar with it.  Add that all 3 of the bottles in question appear to be made by the same producer, and I start to yearn for a little more variety.

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All that said, sometimes the variety can be found within the produce of the winery itself. To be sure, the leaner whites from Days 6 and 7 don’t give me a lot of common ground from which to judge this CABERNET SAUVIGNON.  Sicilian Cab?  It is rare, but it exists, and here is allowed to stretch its legs in 100% pure-varietal form.  This is the 2017 Cantine Grosso Baldovino Cabernet Sauvignon, made from grapes grown in northeast Sicily, a highly friendly area for viticulture thanks to tons of sun, moderating ocean influence and mineral-laden soils.  This is been a home to cultivated grapes since Roman times but is just now being rediscovered by modern audiences.  Cantine Grosso is now five generations into its stewardship of Sicily’s long vinous history, having been founded way back in 1887.  Maybe 3 straight Vinebox days aren’t too many after all. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 24

24 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Merry Almost-Christmas!  We are now 24 days and nearly 24 bottles into December, the Bricks Half-Bottle Advent crate is empty, Santa is somewhere over the Atlantic and we’re into Advent reminiscing mode yet again.  I would say that it went by in a flash, but it didn’t — each bottle and each producer and each story took time to find and understand and tell, and after a dozen such efforts in a month I am wearing the effort of them all, but I would (and will) do it again.  Kudos to the fine folks at Bricks Wine Company, who I think clearly surpassed their inaugural wine Advent effort last year with this year’s magnificent beta model.  The bottles of 2018 were stronger almost across the board, impressively consistent and in some instances simply show-stopping; I feel quite comfortable that I got my money’s worth on this vinous adventure, and all of the work that went into finding and sourcing these two cases of month-long 375 mL glory did not go unnoticed.

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As Ray and I wrap up our run of daily holiday blogging (only to start into our next run of daily holiday blogging TOMORROW, as Vinebox’s 12 Days of Christmas kick off, because we’re deranged), just like last year, I thought we’d finish our Wine Advent run with a look at each of our podium wines, as well as our value Dark Horse.  As I expected, there was some clear overlap in our choices, as well as a second straight year of an unanimous Advent victor.

Ray Lamontagne’s Top 3 Wines

  1.  2015 Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 17):  Just a truly ethereal wine, good for the soul.  Deft yet flavoursome.  Fruity yet spicy.  A wine of a specific place yet timelessly delicious no matter where you are.
  2. 2014 Woodward Canyon Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon (Day 22):  Scratches a classic Cab itch without being tiresomely grandiose.
  3. 2012 Rocche Costamagna Barolo Rocche Dell’Annunziata (Day 15):  Taps into that rare middle-ground wellspring — can drink now or hold, and you won’t be bummed either way.  Still thinking about all those blue flowers.
  4. DARK HORSE – 2014 Bodegas Franco-Espanolas Bordon Rioja Crianza (Day 13):  Tiny cork notwithstanding, this similarly straddled two paradigms (in this case, modern and traditional Rioja) with aplomb.  This region never disappoints.

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My Top 3 Wines

  1. 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 17):  This just was not close for me — the Ken Wright towered over all other wines in the calendar.  Just impeccably balanced, driven and sure of what it was, while still being jaw-droppingly gorgeous from start to finish.
  2. 2016 Weingut Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner Kamptal Terrassen (Day 3):  The front half of the calendar is gone but not forgotten, and this Gruner (not to mention Ray’s streak of amazing Austria reviews) was about as classic and dexterous as it gets.
  3. 2014 Woodward Canyon Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon (Day 22):  As a Washington wine devotee and wannabe historian, getting to taste a pioneer of the region and understand why they drew so many more to make such great wines in Washington State is a unique thrill.
  4. DARK HORSE – 2016 Ferdinand Wines Albarino IN A CAN (Day 20):  I got confirmation via Instagram after posting this write-up, from the winemaker himself, that the Spanish-vareital-focused Ferdinand Wines IS in fact named after the big red bull of my childhood story times.  Investigative journalism is not dead.  Let’s change our views of wine vessels; I know we can.

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Just like last year, bottle #24 this year is a Champagne.  Entirely unlike last year, the Champagne is in pristine condition, and is determined to end off the calendar with a bang.  We wrap with the Pierre Paillard Les Parcelles Bouzy Grand Cru NV, and in that list of French words is a compelling story.  Pulling the threads one by one:  Pierre Paillard is a “grower Champagne” house with centuries of history in the region, having planted vines and made wines in Champagne since 1799.  Les Parcelles is one of their Champagne offerings, made from grapes picked from 22 different parcels all within the Grand Cru village of Bouzy, a key home of Pinot Noir within Champagne’s boundaries.  Although this is a non-vintage wine, meaning that the wines within the finished bottle hail from more than one growing season, I can’t help but notice that this particular rendition of Les Parcelles is designated “XIII” on the label.  This seems to refer to the primary vintage used in this specific batch:  this bottling is 80% made from 2013 vintage grapes, 14% from 2012 and 6% from…2004!  It is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, is made in minimally interventionist fashion, and sits for 4 years sur lie after secondary fermentation in Paillard’s 19th century cellars, located 53 feet underground on the winery grounds, where temperatures are a constant and eternal 10 degrees Celsius. Read the rest of this entry »








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