Wine Review: The Reds of Sunrock Vineyards

4 07 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

You cannot make truly good wine without ripe grapes. Simple, no? Insufficient sugar in the fruit is not going to leave much for yeast to consume, and such starved fungi are not going to produce something with sufficient body (and alcohol) to merit any sort of “greatness” mantle. Moreover, grapes need heat if they are to attain physiological ripeness. This refers to the changes in tannins and other chemical components that occur largely in grape skins, stems and seeds during the ripening cycle beyond the mere increase in sugar.  These changes are what produce the key varietal aroma signatures we know and love, preventing a wine from tasting green, weedy, and brittle.

Although sugar ripeness and physiological ripeness are clearly correlated, it would seem that grape hang times might be a stronger predictor of physiological readiness than just heat alone, although in my view (and botanically speaking) you aren’t going to get any degree of maturation, period, without heat. The key question for wine quality is: how much heat is too much? Overly ripe grapes mean clumsy, muddled wines that are boozy, lacking in precision or definition, and often almost devoid of any sense of place or regional character. Such wines are going to be tremendously fruity and powerful, but may not offer much in the way of nuance or balance. As I read up on Sunrock Vineyards, which could very well be the hottest single vineyard site in British Columbia, I wonder how they approach these ripeness issues.

Sunrock is owned by Arterra Wines Canada, formerly the Canadian subsidiary of the massive Constellation Brands, but recently acquired in 2016 by the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan (for some reason that tickles my funny bone…I’m sure we drove many a substitute teacher to drink). Arterra farms around 1300 acres of Okanagan vineyard, with the expected corresponding range of quality tiers. Jackson-Triggs might be the best known of Arterra’s brands, and the single-vineyard Sunrock labels formerly carried this name as the top tier of that portfolio. Sunrock is now a standalone winery, a fine example of a large corporate entity with the good sense to recognize and preserve the unique character of a single site. And what a site it is. Read the rest of this entry »

The Ultimate Wine & Chip Pairing Showdown

26 11 2018

By Peter Vetsch

The event was almost a year in the making:  a one-versus-all challenge for pairing supremacy, putting the food-matching skills of eight local wine enthusiasts to the test against a backdrop of one of the more ubiquitous (and delicious) foodstuffs to grace a pantry.  Through extensive research and experimentation, and more than a little trial and error, we sought to answer the question: what wines pair best with the most common flavours of potato chips?  And who could best elevate a chip flavour with a pairing match that ticked all the right boxes?

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Here’s how our game was played.  After some market research, we first agreed on the top chip flavours that would participate in the competition:  BBQ, Salt & Vinegar, All Dressed, Sour Cream & Onion, Dill Pickle, Ketchup, Jalapeño Cheddar, and Bacon.  (A couple notes on these flavours:  1. “Plain” is not a flavour.  It has to HAVE a flavour to BE a flavour.  2. Americans, I don’t want to hear any complaining about All Dressed – it is a pantheon chip and no chip-based contest is complete without it.)  We were then each randomly assigned a chip flavour as our pairing muse and were tasked with finding the perfect pairing for that chip.  When we gathered together, we tasted through each flavour one at a time (again in randomly drawn order) and graded each potato chip/wine duo out of 10 on the strength of the pairing only:  the individual merit of each wine and each chip were disregarded, and the only question was how well they meshed together.  The top average score out of 10 took home the prize (which was nothing, other than eternal bragging rights and a pervasive sense of wellbeing).


I should add before diving into the results that potato chip and wine pairing is WAY harder than you might think (and that the bulk of the articles that you can Google on this point almost surely did not go as far as to actually taste their recommended pairings with their chips), as once you put glass to lips with a bowl of chips you realize it does not quite unfold as expected.  With very limited exceptions, potato chips are crammed full of bold, potent, concentrated flavours meant to pack a punch, which can lead to them overwhelming many a potential pairing match that might otherwise be complimentary from a flavour perspective.  Chips also contain an array of particularly exaggerated spicy, sour, sweet and/or salty notes that can pose pairing challenges on their own, let alone in combination (or, in the case of All Dressed, which features ALL of these flavours at once, in accumulation).  A successful chip pairing wine is either one that has the firepower to match the lab-tested amplitude of Old Dutch’s natural and artificial flavours, or one that can do enough to comfortably neutralize them and provide some palate relief without getting lost itself.  Neither are easy targets to hit.

Below I will set out (in the order that the tasting took place) each brave contestant in this inaugural PnP Wine & Chip Pairing Showdown (complete with Twitter handle), their assigned bag of fried potato destiny and their vinous gladiator.  Then I will include a brief explanation of basis for the pairing and the thought process behind it in each competitor’s own words, before assessing how it all worked out in practice.  Finally, I will reveal the outcome of the pairing in question, both on my personal ballot and in the overall official group tally.  You will see that my scores tend to be lower than the group’s across the board, which is more a personal reaffirmation of the difficulty of the mission on my end, a confirmation that a perfect processed potato pairing can be elusive.  Without further ado — let’s eat some chips. Read the rest of this entry »

National Zinfandel Day: An Interview With Ravenswood Founder Joel Peterson

15 11 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Happy National Zinfandel Day! Although we do not feature many interviews on Pop & Pour, we felt that the chance to publish a Q & A correspondence that I recently had with Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, commonly described as California’s “godfather of Zin”, would be a consummate way to celebrate, especially when paired with tasting notes for one of Ravenswood’s most iconic wines. To me, Zin embodies a key dialectic at play within wine appreciation: that between elegance, austerity and grace on the one hand, and sheer hedonism, richness and bold frivolity on the other. As an avowed disciple of Pinot Noir, you can deduce which pole of the dialectic I might ultimately prefer. However, wine is so immensely enjoyable precisely because there is ample diversity, so many different experiences to chase down and absorb. And I do like having my mind blown by huge flavours as much as the next bon vivant. If I am being honest with myself, a well-crafted Zinfandel may do a better job of resolving this particular dialectical dilemma than almost any other black grape:


There are some very specific cherry varieties listed here. I approve. (

The best Zins feature succulent, approachable berry fruit in lockstep with robust secondary flavours of smoke and spice, all festooned on a moderately formidable structure of fresh acidity and fine ripe tannins. They are fun and serious in equal measure: light yet dark, carefree yet intense, simple yet complex. Joel Peterson masterminds just this sort of Zin. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2013 Ravenswood Besieged

19 10 2014

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



Let me first say that I fully support theme wines, provided that they exhibit a little bit of effort and make some shred of sense.  Seasonal and holiday releases are just fine in my books as long as they’re somewhat consistent with a winery’s overall image and aren’t just a lazy cash grab.  A producer slapping a new red Christmas label on old stock just in time for the holiday season?  Not cool.  But a winery already named “Ravenswood” concocting an on-brand, original, spooky limited release bottling for Hallowe’en?  I’m in.

Imminently available in stores near you, the 2013 Ravenswood Besieged is a field blend of 7 different, slightly disparate, and never usually combined red grapes:  Petite Sirah (cool), Carignane (double cool), Zinfandel (the winery’s bread and butter), Syrah (my favourite), Barbera (what?), Alicante Bouschet (double what?) and Mourvedre (whew).  The percentages of each grape in the blend are not listed on the label and not currently available online, but by law the grapes listed earlier on a label have to comprise a larger portion of the blend than those listed later, so you can think of Besieged as being primarily made from the thematically similar (deep, dark, bold, structured) Petite Sirah and Carignane, with a bit of kitchen sink thrown in.  The wine is from grapes sourced all over Sonoma, including top subregions Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley and a couple other Valleys.  According to the winery, this release is called “Besieged” because pioneering winemaker Joel Paterson conceived of it “under a threatening sky besieged by rain clouds” as ravens cackled overhead, a seasonally appropriate vignette which also happens to be laid out on the bottle’s equally eerie label.  My vote for the name was “Nevermore”, but the ravens may have eaten my ballot. Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Thanksgiving!!

10 10 2011

To everyone out there in the PnP universe who has followed and supported this blog, whether or not you’re from north of the 49th parallel, I just wanted to take a quick minute tonight to wish you all a very happy Canadian Thanksgiving.  Apologies for the lack of posts this weekend, but we hosted this year’s family Turkey Day feast, which meant that most of the past three days has been spent either in the grocery store or the kitchen.  I’m happy to report that the meal turned out great — and if you’re wondering, I paired our brined, spice-rubbed and BBQ-rotisseried turkey with both a Ridge Geyserville Zinfandel from California and a Tantalus Old Vines Riesling from the Okanagan…both were top-notch wines, but I think the Zin was a surprise winner of the top pairing prize.  Pop & Pour should be back churning out content in a couple of days:  tomorrow night is the great wine & chocolate taste-off, where we will try to answer the question posed last week about what wines pair best with chocolate, so look for that write-up mid-week.  Cheers!

Wine Review: 2009 Owen Roe Abbot’s Table

7 06 2011

Great label, insane blend, great wine.

From delicate Old World white to bold New World red in the span of a day!  This wine gives new meaning to the term “red blend”: it’s comprised of (wait for it) 25% Zinfandel, 20% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 7% Blaufrankisch, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec and 1% Merlot.  I feel like that should add up to 250%…I can buy into the use of the first 5 grapes, but I think the last 4 are just for showing off.  Unsurprisingly, this info is left off the label, as it must prove abjectly terrifying to most consumers (including me).  The precise blend for the Abbot’s Table changes every year, and with this many grapes involved, the focus of the producer must be to create a wine that’s of a similar style and flavour profile every year rather than one that’s reflective of one or two particular varietals.  And I have to say, even if it takes nine different grapes from disparate world wine regions to make it happen, the end result is quite worthwhile. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2006 Ridge Lytton Springs

24 04 2011

Zinfandel! When made right, still one of my favourite reds.

Happy Easter everybody!!  Special occasions call for special wine, and on this Easter weekend I turned to Ridge, a classic California producer who is giving serious attention to a grape that’s often treated too frivolously:  Zinfandel.  If any of you reading this just said “Hang on, I thought Zinfandel was white?”, banish that thought from your head forever.  While an ocean of blush jug wine has been created bearing the name “White Zinfandel”, Zin is actually a red grape.  What makes White Zinfandel white (or, more accurately, slightly pink) is that when it is made, the fermenting juice is only left in contact with the grapes’ skins for a very short time, after which it is quickly separated so that the skins can’t pass on much of their dark colour to the finished wine (thus preventing it from being red).  White Zinfandel is a cheap, uninteresting, bastardized version of a varietal that, when shown the proper care, can create some of the truest versions of American red wine out there.  The US (especially California) is the predominant producer of Zin in the world; Zinfandel really only shows up elsewhere around the globe in southern Italy, where it is known as Primitivo. Read the rest of this entry »

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