Summer Saga III

Our Summer Saga continues with some new and long-awaited Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc-based wines from all over the whole wide world.


Dominus 2015. No need to wait, this 2015 is already a legend. The Moueix family (they of the Bordelais unicorn Chateau Petrus) bought into the small Napanook vineyard in Yountville around the same time that the Rothschilds started Opus One, and though Opus has reflected the Mondavi partnership (and the inherent To Kalon vineyard) in its relative lushness, Dominus has become the region’s stately French Embassy, like a Californian portal to the Médoc. Built like the Washington Monument pelted with blackberries, 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc. 2015 is the tallest of the tent poles in Napa’s golden run of 2012-2016, the vintage’s extra midsection making the wine a little more immediately approachable, but the stately thing to do would be to give it a decade’s nap. 100 points Robert Parker, 100 points Jeb Dunnuck, 98 points James Suckling, 2 wooden 6-packs available, $469.99 +tax ** 

Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015. Mike Grgich has accomplished many things in his incredibly long and storied life – including a short dishwashing stint in Vancouver on his journey between native Croatia and Napa – but it’s likely that he’ll best be remembered for making the Chardonnay that beat the French in the Paris Tasting of 1976. He started Grgich Hills shortly after leaving Chateau Montelena, and was an early champion of organic, non-interventionist winemaking in California, back in an era where pesticides were considered a vitamin. When I met Mr. Grgich at his winery in 2014 – he was 91 at the time – he offered me some wine in exchange for my wife (I declined). Although Mike is no longer the head winemaker (a job now held by his nephew Ivo Jeramaz), his fingerprints are all over this 2015 Cab, it is as floral and herbaceous as it is fruit-packed, with blackberries and violets taking centre stage. Ever the humanist, Grgich’s wines drink (awesomely) young, they age terrifically (I have a signed 2010 at home) and although most wineries now practice his methods, no one has quite matched his style or spirit. 96 points Decanter, 2 6-packs available, $110.98 +tax

Ashes and Diamonds Grand Vin No. 2 2015. What do you get when you combine the scion of Darioush, the winemaker of Larkmead and the oenologist of Eisele and Altagracia? Not what you think, actually. Whilst one could reasonably expect an incendiary Glycerine-grenade, Ashes and Diamonds is a throwback to the Napa wines of yore, echoing an era when the red wines of the valley could actually make French Judges mistake them for French wines. Built from Cabernet Franc and Merlot grown in their own Oak Knoll vineyard, Grand Vin No. 2 is reserved, complex, and civilized, the fruit is matched by earth, there are wisps of cinnamon and fresh portabella mushroom, spicy anise on the finish – all these flavours are present but not obvious, just like a Saint-Émillon, you have to put some work in. A&D is an unlikely cult-wine given how un-loud it is, but the buzz is booming none the less, very little enters the province because very little is made. Positioning themselves as a kind of Anti-Parker, A&D is not submitted for ratings. 6 bottles available, $154.98 +tax

Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2014. Smells like a Danish and drinks like a hug. Former Disney exec Richard Frank bought the old Tudor-style house on Winston Hill in Rutherford in the early 90s to get away from L.A. from time to time, the fact that there was a vineyard on the property was incidental to him – until he moved in and started fielding calls from dozens of Napa wineries all trying to buy his fruit. Turns out that the estate was part of the original Larkmead winery from the 19th century, and it didn’t take long for Richard to start bottling his own juice under his family label. Frank Cab is a pleasure-forward affair, with candied cherries, rich espresso, vanilla bean and cassis. The thick body is the real story here, overflowing its tannic beltline like a muffin-top after Thanksgiving. Will age a decade but so will you, so drink now and be very happy. 3 6-packs available, $87.98 +tax

DuMol Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. Enjoy a glass of Premium California Unobtanium. Adam Smith’s Uber-Cult winery Du Mol is mostly consumed with producing Sonoma Pinots and Chards that desperate collectors run each other over for in order to assume their allocations. Accordingly, this Napa-grown 2016 Cab - the third bottling he’s ever done – is available only to their wine-club members in the US. Minerality sings lead, here, over lower layers of cocoa powder and violets. The nose suggests a rocky ride but the landing is smooth and creamy. As graceful as their Pinots, as deep as a double-bass, and as forbidden to US consumers as Ketchup Chips. 93 points Wine Spectator, 6 bottles available, $175.98 +tax


Austin Hope Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. I was standing at the back of the classroom during our recent tasting with Austin Hope when we got around to this Cab, and I watched about a dozen guests get up from their seats, one by one, to trade in whatever previous wines they were holding and grab this one. It just tastes so instantly like Yes. Probably the best value I have in a blockbuster Cal Cab, full of Wagnerian bombast and girth, with sweaty ripe blackberries fanning themselves with cinnamon bark. Not sure if this is my last batch for this year, but I fear it may be. 96 points Wine Enthusiast, 6 6-packs available, $69.99 +tax

Viña Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. Can’t keep this one on the shelf. Even though Viña Robles is owned by a couple of Swiss guys, they sell so much wine locally that we pretty much have to beg them to send any to BC (incidentally, Everything Wine has the exclusive on this). Once upon a time Hans Nef was importing Napa wines into Europe, and was tiring of the rising costs when his friend Other-Hans (Hans-Rudolf Michel) turned him onto Paso and the terrific value therein. They partnered up to start Viña Robles and life got busier. Sporting a smidge of Petit Verdot for structure, this bonkers Cab was aged almost 2 years in a mix of French and Hungarian barrels, and shows tasty lil’ blueberries (a Paso hallmark) with chalk and cloves. 95 points – Gold Medal – Best In Show - Los Angeles International Wine Competition, 3 cases available, $49.98


Blind Creek Collective “Consensus” 2015, Cawston. The new vintage of BC’s boldest Meritage is also its last, making this gorgeous 2015 all the more collectable. The Similkameen’s Blind Creek vineyard, due to a gap in the mountains on the south ridge of the valley, gets an hour more evening sun than nearly any other vineyard in the Similkameen or the Okanagan, making it one of the best sites in BC for ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, blended here with rich Merlot from the same plot. The “Collective” was bought out by original partner Road 13, which was itself purchased my Mission Hill, but the Blind Creek lot wasn’t part of that acquisition, leaving the future unclear for this premier BC terroir. I grabbed the last available boxes of this future lost legend, I encourage you to do the same. 6 6-packs available, $59.98 +tax


El Enemigo “Gran Enemigo” Cabernet Franc 2013, Gualtallary, Mendoza. Makes a credible claim to Argentina’s First Growth. I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen a 100 point wine at this price. Ripe, fresh, and structured for the ages, this is the crowning achievement of this boutique wing of the storied Catena family, and beats a new alternative path forward for fine Mendoza wine that doesn’t depend on Malbec. If a Chinon and a Pomerol had a baby, and that baby was born a full-fledged Ninja, you’d have Gran Enemigo. Pulls off that rare trick of wielding the power of an angry Roman God without being overly heavy or backwards – those afraid of the dreaded green Greek Salad aromas (pyrazines) in unripe Cab Francs need not worry, this Ninja is full grown.  100 points Robert Parker, 4 wooden 6-packs available, $141.98 +tax

Until next time, Happy Drinking!

Summer Saga II - Bella Italia

Our Summer Saga continues with must-have wines, today featuring that nebulous term “Italian Wine”.

Saying that you like “Italian Wine” is like saying that you like “plants”: for the statement to mean anything a bit more specificity is required. Italy has been a unified country for less time than Canada has, and although there are several differences between here and Edmonton, at least the buildings are roughly the same shape. Driving between regions in Italy – each with their own autonomous histories - will result in dramatic changes of dialect, architecture, cuisine and, of course, wine. So, let’s throw some darts at a map and explore those differences, starting today with:

SICILY - As brave Wine Explorers from all over the world slowly and cautiously explore the untouched alien planet of Sicily, one indigenous grape variety in particular has been vaulted into the spotlight: Nerello Mascalese. It’s hard not to admire the fierce loyalty that Nerello shows to the volcano that birthed it – it makes brilliantly perfumed, elegant sculptures high up on Mt. Etna, but pretty much bugaboo everywhere else. Somewhat like Pinot Noir on MDMA, the bold wild strawberry and cinnamon notes pull you by the nose into a unicorn rainbow, which you discover is actually the Great Gatsby one the wine hits your tongue. Modern classics from ancient vineyards.

Pietradolce Vigna Barbagali 2014, Etna Rosso. From the 100-year-old Barbagali vines on the northern slopes at 900 metres – these vines give forth grapes like my grandpa gave hugs: rarely and with conditions. The grapes they do produce are intensely concentrated and somewhat resentful, only a nearly 2-year stay in French Barriques (with a light toast) could calm the beast down to get to this wonderful place. Floral notes and electric red fruit with licorice, menthol and vanilla – that’s just the nose – flow into a deep river of awesome – this drinks closer to a Cahors than the usual Pinot comparisons. Finishes with orange zest and a wisp of white heat. 97+ points Robert Parker, 2 wooden 6-packs available, $115.99 +tax

Terre Nere San Lorenzo 2016, Etna Rosso. This was the label that got me into this grape, I remember trying it at a downtown tasting and I’m pretty sure that everyone saw the light bulb turn on above me. Like watching a movie about Burgundy with the colour settings turned to red and the language settings turned to Strawberry. Geologically speaking, the Contrada San Lorenzo (Contrada is the local word for Cru) is one of the rarest terroirs in the world – a window to pre-history, of sorts. Contemporary Etna is a volcano built on the ruins of older volcanoes, one of which was Ellittico, meaning “The Elliptical”.  As the eruptive centre moved away from Ellittico about 15,000 years ago the cone collapsed on itself, and its volcanic soils blended with various other soils, except in two spots. Caldera and San Lorenzo retain pure Ellittico volcanic soils, not found anywhere else on earth. Velvety rich tannins follow an elegant, fruit-rich deployment of flowers, herbs and crushed strawberries. Your bulb with go on too. #9 – Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2018, 95 points Robert Parker, 4 6-packs available, $85.98 +tax


Pelissero “The Long Now” 2015, Langhe. An unorthodox blend of 50/50 Nebbiolo/Barbera. Google the philosophical concept “The Long Now” if you want to spend the subsequent 20 minutes staring into space like I did. Only half of the Cascina Tolino vineyard falls within the Barbaresco delineations, which made Giorgio Pelissero very mad, but since shouting didn’t turn those grapes into Barbaresco, he decided to blend them with Barbera under the larger Langhe designation as a kind of protest. The resulting elixir was a hey-your-chocolate-got-in-my-peanut-butter kind of eureka, because this blend has taken off with critics and collectors big time, and it’s my clear favourite out of all his wines. The Barbera fills the holes that the frame-minded Nebbiolo creates, and the mouth-feel is so satisfying that it’s kind of surprising that no one really does this blend much. Blackberry, vanilla and dark cherries on the nose, a surprisingly expanding mid-palate and a rich, persistent finish of balanced tannin and minerals, Long Now is an accidental classic– much more delicious than important. 95 points Vinous, 95 points Decanter, 3 6-packs available, $63.98 +tax

Giuseppe Cortese Rabaja 1998, Barbaresco. A killer find from the Rabaja cru in Barbaresco, where Giuseppe Cortese makes the bulk of his wines from (well, his kids do most of it now). The Cortese winery is a largely traditional affair, the fermentation is accomplished by simply waiting, the various sizes of barrels used on every wine serve more as aging vessels than flavour generators, and the longevity is, well, long. This 21-year-old tonic is straight from the winery’s cellars, and the structure is still pretty much intact, but the nose is teeming with stories – licorice, soft spices, dried cherries, burnt orange peel. A real treat – right place, right time. 12 bottles available, $154.98 +tax

Until next time, Happy Drinking!

Summer Saga I - Bella Toscana

Over the next several weeks I’ll be releasing collections of incredible wines: exciting new discoveries, historical icons, and buzzy exclusives – sometimes all rolled into one! These offers will be comprehensive and well-populated, and as such will read a tad longer, but since life often slows down a bit in summer, a bit of wine reading may be welcome (especially if you’re drinking alongside, clink!). I’ll be offering wines from all over the world at several price points, so there will definitely be something that you want on these pages, read to the end and don’t miss an episode!!

Indeed, this summer will long be remembered for its sheer epic-ness of wine emails. Future troubadours shall sing its story to wide-eyed, disbelieving wine drinkers for decades to come: Lo, ‘tis the Summer Saga of 2019. We begin in Tuscany.

Tenuta Sette Ponti Oreno 2016, Toscana IGT. The now-legendary Supertuscan vintage of 2015 is experiencing a shorter time in the sun than expected, now that the shadow of the as-or-more-legendary 2016 vintage is creeping towards its lawn chair. Trading in its sharpened fangs for a little more girth, Sette Ponti’s flagship Bordeaux blend may be fatter and richer in 2016, but it still needs to hibernate for a bit until it no longer wants to eat you. 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot, with dark currents, lavender and licorice on the nose and a platoon of angry Tuscan boars on the palate. Stunning after 5 more years, James Suckling calls Oreno the “Ch. Latour of Tuscany” (it placed #5 on his Italian Top 100 last year), and this is the best version I’ve seen since 2010. 99 points James Suckling, 94 points Vinous, 94 points Robert Parker, 4 wooden 6-packs available, $99.99 +tax

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 2015, Colli Toscana Centrale IGT. The nice folks in Chianti had to invent the Colli Toscana Centrale designation for wines like this because the term Overperforming Chianti made everyone else look bad. Accordingly, Flaccianello is farmed in the famed Conca d’Oro (“Golden Shell”) near Panzano in Chianti Classico, but the yield they take from the vineyard is so low, it runs afoul of Chianti’s rules. Low yield means higher concentration, and Flaccianello is a much thicker sauce than its geographical contemporaries despite being made from Sangiovese just like everyone down the street. Dark cherries rule the fortress with licorice spears and vanilla shields, the mid-palate is abnormally round and the finish is elegant and persistent. If the Manetti family keeps topping themselves like this year after year, everyone’s gonna run out of points. 98 points Robert Parker, 97 points James Suckling, 96 points Wine Spectator, 96 points Decanter, 12 bottles available, $150.98 +tax

Bibi Graetz Testamatta 2015, Toscana IGT. Where to begin with Bibi Graetz? The artist-turned-winemaker still paints his own labels, and in contrast to all those wine-is-made-in-the-vineyard producers, Bibi is more than content to have is brash, unconventional wines reflect his considerable personality (the term “Testa-Matta” – literally “Crazy-Head”, means “Strong Personality”). This 100% Sangiovese, accordingly, drinks like street art – the loudness and brightness that command your attention overshadow the subtle sensibilities that must be looked for to be found. The body is huge, so you may not notice the beautiful, elegant landing on the finish. The dark fruit is intense on the nose, so you may overlook the soft toasted spices that surround it. Bibi staggered his harvest (8 times!!!) to layer his tannins and acids perfectly – indeed, beneath the Steve Vai guitar solo lurks a nearly flawless structure. Picasso had to learn to draw correctly so he could draw wrong. Perhaps the illusion in Crazy-Head is that it’s not so crazy after all. 99 points James Suckling, 2 wooden 6-packs available, $189.98 +tax

Fontodi Vigna del Sorbo 2015, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG. To call this statuesque Chianti “Fontodi’s traditional answer to its contemporary Flaccianello” overlooks the fact that – despite operating within the DOCG classification - Vigna del Sorbo spends 24 months in new French oak and is a Chianti so modern it’s practically an app. The Sangiovese grapes from the organic Sorbo vineyard (again in the Conca d’Oro) built this castle, an impressive structure with a large mid-palate and a nose of dark cherries baking in the sun on a hot stone. Rosewater and cloves close off the finish – this is a Gran Selezione that you only have to bury for 2 years, not 10. #60 – Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2018, 97 points James Suckling, 96+ points Robert Parker, 95 points Wine Spectator, 12 bottles available, $106.98 +tax

Castell’In Villa 2009/2010, Chianti Classico Riserva. Nothing modern about this operation, headed by the indefatigable Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa in the hot, hot Castelnuovo Berardenga at the very southern tip of Chianti Classico. Indigenous fermentations in huge, open-top Botti and spending several years in bottle before coming to market – I can imagine them arguing amongst themselves about whether it was “cheating” to use new-fangled technology like pointed sticks. Whilst one could reasonably expect that such an old school method would produce Dirt Chowder, the wine itself is a gosh-darn revelation – gorgeously ripe fruit, bursting with energy and body and minerals – here be hidden treasure. Although the flavours aren’t similar, this wine reminds me of Chateauneuf’s Domaine Pegau in ethic and spirit: the earthen, traditional notes are more than balanced by an overabundance of fruit and happiness. Put this wine on your radar, it is a planet. I have a case each of 2009 (93 Vinous) and 2010 (94 Vinous) and that’s it, folks. Pounce now or forever wish you pounced. $75.98 +tax

Argiano Solengo 2015, Toscana IGT. I blind tasted this as Tignanello because a) it’s more focused and linear than a Cab/Petit Verdot blend usually is, and b) I am not good. Solengo is proof that you can staff your way to victory, the modest Brunello house hired Sebastiano Rosa (Lafite, Sassicaia) as G.M. and Dr. Giacomo Tachis (Sassicaia, Tignanello, Solaia) as Oenologist. Grown in the warmer southern third of the Montalcino region (I can attest to a 3C increase compared to the north side of the mountain), Solengo shoots for Bordeaux by way of Saint-Julien – picked earlier for peak brightness, it wants to make friends with future you, not you. Cassis and dried blackberries jump happily up your nose, followed by a sensation that the sun is shining up at your chin. Incredible energy, here, around a medium-to-full bodied mid-palate, and the finish is smoky, mineral and a tad hot. Fine tannins and a sneaking sense that you’re looking at a great store through the windows but the store’s not quite open yet. 97 points James Suckling, 95 points Robert Parker, 2 6-packs available, $107.98 +tax

Until next time, Happy Drinking!!

Deckbusters - Highly Rated Patio Wines For Under $60

As the mercury edges upwards our meals edge outwards, and before we know it we’re cooking and eating everything out on the deck. Dude, it’s crazy out there. Never mind the squeals of the kids from adjacent yards or the yips of jealous dogs, the average patio is a chowder of sniffs and smells. Lawn cuttings, sunscreen, chlorine from the pool, even your own BBQ is smoking more than a stop/slow-sign holder on a roadwork site.

You need great wines to go with dinner, but subtly nuanced study pieces need not apply. Only bold, intensely focused red wines can cut through the nose-quiche of scents on your deck, and it just so happens that I have a few in mind...

Scala Dei Cartoixa 2015, Priorat, Spain. The Baseball Bat from Priorat. The Burning Flame from Eastern Spain. The Blast-a-Zone-a near Barcelona. No matter what it rhymes with, Priorat is HUGE, and this deck-capsizing blend of Garnacha, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon grown on stark sunburnt slopes is no exception. Named after and grown next to the Escaladei monastery from the 12th century (Escaladei = Ladder To God), this juice from the historic Cartoixa vineyard is dark as night but tastes like evening sun. Violets and licorice precede the fruitsplosion of dark berries and plums, a buttery, lush mouthfeel and a long spicy finish that qualifies as an aftershock. Enough concentration to cellar this for a decade, but we won’t. 97 points Decanter, 3 6-packs available, $59.99 +tax

Zuccardi Concreto Malbec 2017, Uco Valley, Argentina. Jumping in with both feet to the growing Mendoza movement of capturing high-altitude Malbec with the lens of Italy rather than California, the Zuccardi family aims for elegance (and nails it - see the points) with Concreto, using whole-cluster fermentation and concrete aging (hence the name). Stony red fruits are the star of this electric race car, with dried herbs and flowers underwriting the track, and blackberries and cassis waiting at the finish line. Zippier than most zippers. We may have found the Song of the Summer. 96 points James Suckling, 94 points Robert Parker, #10, Wine Enthusiast Top 100 of 2018, 6 6-packs available, $46.98 +tax

Orofino Petit Verdot 2014, Similkameen Valley, B.C. Previously mentioned on these pages, but I sold out and now I got more so this is a victory lap of sorts. I am soooo not supposed to have this, seeing as the Weber family only makes 3 barrels, but I got the new guy when I called in and he didn’t know I couldn’t have it so I took everything they had. Simply one of my very favourite BC reds, a beast of a wine with just enough fruit-weight to match the leathery tannins, with blackberry, tar and lavender surrounding the mouth of the cave. A true statement of how Similkameen stands apart from Okanagan, and totally worth that new guy getting fired. 3 cases available, $45.98 +tax

Shaw + Smith Shiraz 2015, Adelaide Hills, Australia. Cousins Martin Shaw and (Master of Wine) Michael Hill Smith specialize in two things: making exquisite wines from cool(ish) Australian climes, and using the initials M.S.. This Shiraz from the high(ish)-altitude Balhannah vineyard in Adelaide Hills shows their grasp of balance perfectly, the invariably intense fruit concentration is commensurate to the elegant acid that defines the finish. Drinking Shaw + Smith is having one’s cake whilst eating it: you get to enjoy the generous blast radius of a fruit bomb without experiencing the impulse to spread it on toast. Blackberries and cherries with mint and rocks, freaking delicious. 97 points James Haliday, 96 points James Suckling, 3 6-packs available, $56.98 +tax

If stocks hold, I’ll be pouring the Priorat and the Malbec this Saturday in the River District Vintage Room at 3pm. If not, I’ll be pouring the new Apothic blend: Apothic Crunchy (no).
Until next time, Happy Drinking!

Off the Grid: Portugal

Calling certain Portuguese wines “off the grid” can be superfluous, as even the well-known wines from that country aren’t “on” the grid of many wine drinkers to begin with. You don’t walk into Debra’s Fruit Hat Emporium and say “gimme the weirdest one, I don’t do mainstream”, the esoterica are pretty much assumed.

The Portuguese don’t help matters with their fluid moon-man nomenclature, though, do they? Our first wine is from an area that half the wine maps call Borba and the other half call Borda, and knowing the Portuguese language is probably pronounced Gerald or something. As I've said before, Portuguese is like Spanish with an extra helping of Sinutab. All ribbing aside, these wines should be on your grid. Portugal and Spain represent the very best Old World value by leaps and bounds, the Portuguese icons at the top of the pyramid are sold for the same prices as mid-level French and Italian wines. The bottles I bring you today are modern, beautifully structured wines with unique profiles and great longevity, they can stand alongside top Bordeaux and Tuscany in quality and stature without ever employing the language of low expectations, like “rustic” (Rustic in Furniture-Speak: quaint and charming. Rustic in Wine-Speak: smells like horse). Let me guide you through the place-names to show you some absolutely stunning juice, beginning with a region just north of the Algarve:

Alentejo. Don’t call them California. Even though the rolling hills look like it, even though the wines boast the fruit-roof-over-a-log-cabin brawn of Napa, don’t say California in front of them but it’s perfectly normal to think it. Traditionally one of the regions that we get corks from, the viticulture here dates back to Roman times but Alentejo, like many other Portuguese regions, stayed unseen in the shadow of Port wines until Portugal joined the EU and investment rolled in. Tempranillo’s alter-ego Aragonez is planted here but the stage truly belongs to Alicante Bouschet, the thick, fat French-born grape whose claim to fame – besides awesomeness – is that its flesh and juice are as deeply red as the skins (most red grapes – almost all of them - bleed clear). Red wines from this hot place are big and bold and unafraid of fruit or wood, drawing unavoidable comparisons to the top wines from the Golden State – albeit at a fraction of the price.

Herdade das Servas Reserva 2013, Estremos, Borba/Borda/Gerald, Alentejo. Get this wine on your radar now, or everybody else is going to have a better summer than you. The Serrano Mira family has farmed in Estremos for 350 years, and brothers Carlos and Luis founded Servas in 1998 with an eye towards pairing the traditional grapes of Alentejo with more international varieties like Cab, like this Reserva that reaches the depths and structure of wines 3 times its cost. Alicante Bouschet with Cabernet Sauvignon hit with French and American oak and drinking like Napa by way of Jumilla. Spicy blackberries tossed with cocoa and crème de cassis hit all the pleasure centers with a huge body and a brilliantly modern afterburn. We’re going to pour it this Saturday at 3pm in the River District Vintage Room if I have any left. Not submitted to any reviewers (that speak English, anyway). 8 wooden 3-packs available, $66.98 +tax

Heredade do Mouchao “Mouchao” 2013, Casa Branca, Alentejo. One of Portugal’s most famous non-Port wineries (and one of the buzziest booths at this weekend’s Top Drop Vancouver for sure), Mouchao was turning heads well before anyone could find Alentejo on a map. Originally a cork farm started in the early 1800s by a Port importer named Thomas Reynolds, Mouchao has seen its output change from cork to olives to sheep to wine, all amidst political turmoil and violent revolution, but it’s still owned and run by the Reynolds family. The flagship wine Mouchao is an ode to traditional Alentejo winemaking, blending in local grape Trincadeira with the dominant Alicante Bouschet, and fermented in open-top granite tanks (called Lagares) before aging 3 years in used tonneaux. A long decant is necessary to wake the bear, but it’s one spicy bear when it’s awake, and this bear likes chocolate, berries and beef bouillon a lot more than other bears. Mouchao is the Beaucastel of Alentejo, if you will: the traditional benchmark against which other wineries measure themselves. 96 points Wine Enthusiast, 95 points Decanter, 94 points Robert Parker, 3 6-packs available, $83.98 +tax

Bairrada. Sitting off the Atlantic coast about halfway between Lisbon and Opporto in a warm Maritime climate, Bairrada’s unique contribution to the world of wine is the thick-skinned, late-ripening Baga, the red grape that answers the question: What If Nebbiolo Carried A Gun? Baga was long the sneaky little secret of Port producers, who added the illegal grape to Port blends to boost structure and longevity; the grape fraud became so commonplace that the 18th century Portuguese government ordered all of Bairrada’s vines ripped up to protect Port’s reputation in the all-important British market. Today, Baga makes amazing tannic, tight and statuesque wines that only start singing after a decade plus of cellaring, and hey, whaddya know:

Luis Pato Quinto do Moinho 2000, Beiras (Bairrada). Like Angelo Gaja in Barbaresco, Luis Pato eschews the qualitatively restrictive regs of Bairrada and files his wines under the more general Beiras regional appellation. Where many Bairrada producers soften their wines by adding Merlot, Mr. Pato – the scion of a 4-centuries old wine family – goes full commando with 100% Baga but then does us the favour of putting it down for a 19-year nap. This 2000 Quinto do Moinho has taken on the orange tinges of an aged Barolo but reminds me mostly of a 20-year-old Saint-Estephe from Bordeaux: there never was much fruit to lose, and Nirvana is reached when the structure calms down enough to find balance with the body. The herbaceous nose – again after a long decant – is teeming with roses, tobacco, dried plum, and burnt orange. Gorgeous stuff, you can judge for yourself when we pour it this Saturday at 3pm in the River District Vintage Room. Not submitted for reviews (another thing that cranky Mr. Pato despises), 2 6-packs available, $72.98 +tax

Until next time, Happy Drinking!

97-point Rose and more Warm Weather Wines

Hi Everyone!

I did a cartoonish double-take, the kind that Adam Sandler or Krusty the Clown would do, when I looked out the window. If I had coffee in my mouth it would have sprayed. On the way down from my hotel room, heading towards breakfast, I looked to my right and saw sideways snow, already accumulating on the cars outside. The front desk staff must have seen my wide-eyed Three Stooges expression because they both said in unison “Welcome to Edmonton”. That was Saturday.

But I’m back home now, having successfully collected my son from university, and it seems like Vancouver, in contrast, will be getting a lovely streak of pleasant weather over the next couple of weeks. I take no pleasure in informing you that you are not ready for it. Do you have crisp, aromatic white wines from the world’s most famous Amarone producer? Do you have lush, creamy Provençale Rosés that will drown your patio in happiness? No?

Fret not, dear drinker, for I bring you awesome:

Quintarelli “Ca’ del Merlo” Bianco Secco 2017, Veneto IGT, Italy. By the time Guiseppe Quintarelli passed in 2012, he was such a mythical figure that many wine drinkers questioned whether he was real in the first place. A pioneer in concentration and intensity, Guiseppe led the Amarone movement away from rustic, oxidative wines, and towards purity of fruit and centre-of-the-sun mass and body (and even heavier price tags). This crisply structured white wine, half Garganega and the rest Trebbiano-Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc, is like the antidote to his glass-melting Amarones, conservatively nosed with white flowers and honeysuckle, and sneakily rich rather than obviously so, the body hides behind the structure. Very lovely, actually. Lees-stirred for texture and layers but not barrel-aged, great minerality, will theoretically age like a Loire wine but let’s not kid each other. Not yet reviewed, 2 6-packs available, $69.98 +tax

Rimauresq MAGNUM (1.5L) Rosé Cru Classique 2016, Côtes de Provence AOC, France. Because sometimes, the whole party has to know how awesome you is. Although the Cotes de Provence appellation is vast (and frequently dilute, as more and more producers cut corners to cash in on the hype), only 23 producers earned the title of Cru Classé (Classified Growth) in 1955, and Rimauresq – named after the “Real Mauresque” river that flows through the property – is often considered to be the top of the heap. Grenache and Cinsault (along with their weird cousins) are grown on north-facing slopes, so as not to overripen with the baked fruit notes that can befall that sun-drenched Mediterranean region. After a quick crush with minimal maceration and no barrel aging, we get a pale salmon-tinged glory of red fruit, spice and fresh melons. Big and generous and creamy but fresh and crisp – a gorgeous expression of Provence and a dandy way to win friends and influence people. Allow me to influence you when we pour this in the River District Vintage Room on Saturday at 3pm. 97 points Decanter, Platinum/Best In Show – Decanter World Wine Awards, 15 Magnums (1.5L) available, $81.98 +tax

Caves d’Esclans Whispering Angel 2018, Côtes de Provence AOP, France. Although the Pitt/Jolie wine called Miraval finally broke the dam on Provençale Rosé sales, one wine has risen above the ensuing flood to enjoy sustained buzz and actually outsell Miraval in many countries, and it happened based on word of mouth alone, Whispering Angel doesn’t market itself. Already an accomplished Bordeaux winemaker at Margaux’s Chateau Prieur-Lachine, Sacha Lachine (boy Sacha, not girl Sacha, because France) dove into Provence head first just over a decade ago and loosed his Terminator-esque Bordeaux ethics – optical sorting table, severe winery cleanliness, dominatrix-style vineyard management – upon a region historically known for picking stuff up off the ground and dusting it off. Sacha’s laser focus on purity of fruit shines through the vanilla-laced nose, and the chewy, mouthwatering body and clean finish remind me very much of being on a big boat in the sunshine. I don’t expect to have this for very long, I never do. Not yet reviewed (although it tends to consistently score around 93 points). 4 cases available, $42.98 +tax

Penner-Ash Viognier 2016, Willamette and Rogue Valley, Oregon. They don’t make much Viognier in Oregon, but Lynn Penner-Ash has never really paid mind to what anyone else is doing, a trait that was gloriously on display when I met her and her husband Ron 3 years ago at her winery in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Lynn comes at viticulture from a science perch, and bumped around Stag’s Leap and Chateau St Jean before landing in the Willamette in the late ‘80s. Her main gig is of course Pinot (two of which landed in WS Top 100) but she makes a tiny batch of Viognier – so tiny that it’s not even listed on the website (or submitted for review) – and it’s to die for. Neither as aromatic nor as oily as a Condrieu, but far more generous and rich than comparably priced Australian or BC offerings, jasmine and lime dance around pink apple and honeysuckle. Pretty and vibrant, with considerable afterburn. 2 6-packs available, $41.98 +tax

Until next time, Happy Drinking!

Hooray for Chardonnay Part Two: Die Charder

A few more delicious Chards for your late-winter’s perusal.

Domaine Faiveley Ladoix Blanc 2016, Burgundy, France. I can already hear “what’s a Ladoix” forming on everyone’s lips, so let me explain: Ladoix is 1) a tiny village/AOC just below the eastern slopes of the hallowed hill Corton, and 2) one of the last Burgundy appellations where we can find anything like a good value from a leading producer without leaving the Côte d’Or. Though the area makes mostly Pinot Noir, Faiveley’s east-facing vineyards grows this delicate Chardonnay with hidden depths – imagine a toasted flower sandwich on the nose, with good medium body and a nutty, racy finish. A lovely, smile-forward Burgundy with a price just north of many generic “Bourgogne” bottlings. If you love it, tell no one – I like Ladoix at the price it is. Not submitted for reviews. 2 6-packs available, $62.98 +tax

Walter Hansel “Cuvée Alyce” 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California. The top cull of all the Hansel vineyards, winemaker Steve Hansel named this Chard after his mom Alyce, which has great narrative follow through because it smells like Mother’s Day: Crème Brulee, flowers and peaches with fresh toasted brioche and lots of hugs. Rich, velvet delivery with a soft but firm landing; this is oaked, buttery Chard done right, with full malolactic and 40% new French barrels. A class act, and much more delicious than many “acid-is-the-best-no-I’m-not-crying” Chard snobs (like me, sometimes) want to admit. 94 points Vinous, 2 cases available, $85.48 +tax

El Enemigo 2016, Gualtallary, Mendoza, Argentina. The name of this buzzy collab between Adrianna Catena and long-time Catena winemaker Alejandro Vigil does not, as I assumed, mean “The Frenemy” in Spanish. So very exciting to watch Mendoza drift naturally from “Cali but cheaper” towards its own stylistic realm, and this flaming comet of unstable energy is at the vanguard of that migration. Forgoing lees stirring in favour of the “flor” method used in Vin Jaune and Fino Sherry (although this wine is nothing like those), the spent yeast cells rise to the top of the barrel and form a somewhat-permeable barrier between the wine and oxygen. Acting more like a Jura Chard with nuts and spices surrounding the golden pie-crust body, which itself surrounds a mischievous tartaric streak, El Enemigo pulls off the trick of being both enormous and lit up like a neon sign. Honeyed salinity on the nose, outstanding, sick value, bathe in this. 98 points James Suckling, 94 points Robert Parker, 3 cases available, $50.98 +tax

Until next time, Happy Drinking!

Is it Chardonnay season yet?

Hey everyone, guess what? Yesterday the sun shone through the windshield of my parked car sooo much, it was moderately warm inside when I unlocked the door, time for Chardonnay, don’tcha think?! Woot!

Passopisciaro Passobianco 2016, Etna, Sicily. The cure for sadness. I’m serious. This electric, intensely aromatic Chardonnay is so far off the usual descriptor grid that part of the fun is blind pouring it for your friends and watching them not guess Chardonnay (I thought it was Marsanne/Viognier, my colleague guessed Chenin). Grown on the slopes of the volcano in the Guardiola cru (3,600ft elevation) and aged in concrete, Passobianco is driven by minerals, and the minerals make the fruit go bonkers. Expected honey and citrus are tumbled with green pear, acacia flower, jasmine rice and even quinine. Dude. The minerality closes the lid on the crisp finish. This is another win for Tenuta di Trinoro’s Andrea Franchetti (who owns and runs this Sicilian estate), and although no one has reviewed it except for Australia’s fledgling Wine Front (score: 94), don’t miss out by waiting for the reviews – if you love Burgundy this is essential, and finally answers the question: What if Chardonnay collected all the Infinity Stones? 94 points Wine Front, 4 6-packs available, $55.98 +tax

Greywacke 2015, Marlborough, New Zealand. Kevin Judd’s importance to NZ wine can’t be overestimated, his first winery Cloudy Bay pretty much put the cool, sheep-governed region on everyone’s wine radar. After leaving there with nothing but a coffee machine, his friends at Dog Point let him tinker around in their caves until he birthed Greywacke (named for a common bedrock stone in Marlborough), which forsook the clinical precision of Cloudy Bay in favour of wild yeast ferments and old oak – imagine if Don Henley’s post-Eagles output consisted of slam poetry yelled through a wizard’s hat. His Chardonnay, which often gets more attention than his Sauv Blancs, shows nuts and smoke under the reams of stone fruit and honeydew. Full, flinty and rich (but not buttery) with lemon zest and grapefruit around the long finish. Delicious now (we will be pouring it this Saturday March 16th at 3pm in the River District Vintage Room if you’re consumed with doubt), my guess is that it will age like a Beaune. 95 points Bob Campbell MW, 2 cases available, $47.98 +tax

Ponzi Reserve 2014, Willamette Valley, Oregon. In contrast to the statuesque Domaine Serene, the Ponzi sisters (second-generation winemakers after their parents started near Portland 50 years ago) steer their Willamette Chardonnay towards pleasure and hedonism, all whilst keeping the same crisp regional frame – it’s enormous but it’s still Oregon after all. Noses like lemon oil, mandarin orange and the distinct impression that you dropped a slice of green apple in peanut butter, drinks like money. The lush concentration is all on the front, this 2014 finishes clean and mouth-watering. Lovely, graceful delivery from a local legend. 93 points Wine Enthusiast, 2 6-packs available, $79.98 +tax

Tips and Tricks for attending the Vancouver International Wine Festival

Like many of you, I’ll be attending the Vancouver International Wine Festival this week, and although the smaller, more specialized seminars are heaps of fun, the main draw for me has always been the Festival Tasting on the Convention Centre floor, where so many of the world’s wineries converge to pour their particular brands of awesome sauce. To extract the most enjoyment out of any festival-style tasting, for yourself and others, it’s always helpful to remember these fun, simple tips:

DO Check out the Feature Country. You’re here to explore and discover new wines, so don’t make a beeline to the stuff you already know. This year’s feature is California, and although many of the wineries coming have good exposure in BC already, they’re likely bringing juice that you can’t get here, so be sure to check them out. Already made up your mind about California? I bet there are one or two wines on the floor that may change that (hint: it rhymes with Shmenache).

DON’T Wear Fragrances. We can all smell amazing, but everyone came to sniff good wine, not perfume/cologne/aftershave. Nothing roils a wine geek more than finding that the Petit Sirah they’ve waited for weeks to try shows notes of Axe Body Spray.

DO Spit.
The spittoons are there to help. There are hundreds of wines being poured and you aren't magic. Remember that they can’t legally serve you if you’ve rendered yourself liquid, so staggering up to a booth saying “gimme moas shpensive one” won’t produce the desired result, and getting kicked out of Wine Fest isn’t classier than getting ejected from The Roxy. Or so I'm told.

DON’T Sport Spit. We’ve all seen those dudes who can hit the spittoon from 20 paces away, like a llama. Please don’t try to do that. If you fail, it’s a disaster. If you succeed, it’s still really weird. Get a new superpower.

DON’T be a Booth Hog. There are probably lots of folks behind you, so when you finally get up to your desired booth, it’s not the best time to start telling the winemaker about the time you went to this winery and it was great but there was this dog there and you like dogs but you saw almost the exact same dog earlier in the city with a white patch on the left eye instead of the right eye but come to think of it that could be because of the mirror. Get your glass filled and then step to the side to let others get theirs, and watch your karma grow and blossom into a karma flower.

DO Have a safe ride home. No jokes here, get home safe, it is literally the most important thing you’ll do during Wine Fest. Both Skytrain lines end a 5 minute walk from the Convention Centre and this weekend should be nice and clear. Find someone on the train who also has purple teeth and compare notes.

Here are some of the booths I'm stoked to visit: Altesino (IT), Carpineto (IT), Marchesi di Barolo (IT), Herdade das Servas (POR), Bodega Garzon (UR), Elk Cove (OR), Aquilini Red Mountain (WA), Coronica (Croatia), Voyager Estate (AUS), Grgich Hills (CA), Ridge Vineyards (CA), Hall/Walt (CA), Jackson Family (CA), Antinori (IT) - and many more!! If anyone makes an amazing discovery please let me know!!

Vintage Port 2016 and more

Hi Everyone!


With Santa’s Dandruff still sprinkled all across this chilly land, it’s time to discuss the new bonkers vintage of the wine world’s best internal Firestarter: Port. When sipped slowly, great Port warms the heart and curls smiles further upwards. When consumed with abandon, Port’s proven magical powers include:


1) Not caring if it’s cold out

2) Not caring that you don’t have a jacket on

3) Ability to create better words


Now, these newly-released Ports from the instantly-classic 2016 vintage certainly aren’t for chugging, in fact they’re not really ready for sipping yet. These are the seeds of future awesomes, brilliantly dense fortified wines to anchor your cellar (or fridge); 2016 is the best declared Port vintage since 2011, and perhaps since 1994, but only time will tell. To the juice:




Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 2016. The flagship of the Guimaraens fleet. If David’s wines were the Justice League, Taylor Fladgate would undoubtedly be Superman. Boasting a body that could repel bullets, the muscle and power contained underneath the black-fruited licorice defies science, although it’ll be about a decade before we on earth can understand its language. Plus it can see through walls and it knows if you're lying. 100 points James Suckling, 98 points Wine Spectator, #23 Top 100 of 2018 (Wine Spectator), 98 points Wine Enthusiast. 6 full-size bottles available at $145.99 +tax, 12 half-size (375ml) bottles available at $77.99 +tax


Dow’s Vintage Port 2016. Always the picture of elegance, this is Dow’s first declared vintage since winning Wine Of The Year (Wine Spectator) for their 2011 Vintage Port. Soft floral notes surround the expected dark fruits, and the slight minerality peeks out just before the welcome acidic lift on the finish. That brightness ties a bow on everything and holds the key to Dow’s longevity, the house style is a shade drier than most. 98 points Wine Spectator, 98 points Decanter, 5 bottles available, $120.99 +tax


Warre’s Vintage Port 2016. Every player has their card to play, and for Warre’s, the oldest British Port house, that card is Touriga Franca, the indigenous Portuguese grape variety that takes centre stage in this rustic field blend. Violets, chocolate and bramble lead to endless silken layers in the mouth and a juicy finish of anise and roses. 98 points Wine Spectator, #14 Top 100 of 2018 (Wine Spectator), 98 points Decanter, 5 bottles available, $108.99 +tax




Taylor Fladgate Single Harvest Tawny 1968. In arcane Portuguese terms, this is a Colheita (Col-hee-YIGH-tah), meaning that it’s a Tawny Port (different from the ruby Vintage Ports) from a single vintage, which is rare, as most Tawny Ports consist of many vintages blended together to an average age (10, 20, 30 etc.). This 1968 drinks like a sext, with caramel figs amongst the almonds and butterscotch. Give it a chill in the fridge for a half hour for maximum yesness. 98 points Wine Spectator, 3 bottles (each in its own wooden box) available, $279.99 +tax


Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port 1994. This pillar of modern architecture has been described on these pages before, but I thought some of you may want an example of what the 2016 will be like in its window of glory. Still youthful, still racy, the tannins are well integrated and the fruit is finally starting to come into focus. Tastes like genius. 100 points Wine Spectator, 6 bottles available, $359.99 +tax


Stay safe, stay warm, and Happy Drinking!!