Selection Matters: Select Wines Portfolio
Founded in 1982, Select Wines has grown to become one of Canada’s top independent wine import agencies. In the Spring of 2018 the Alberta office held their annual portfolio tasting in Banff, Calgary and Edmonton for members of the wine industry and trade. Select Wines also partnered with another import agency, Icon Fine Wines & Spirits as well as retailer Highlander Wine & Spirits to host a private consumer tasting in Calgary. I had been fortunate enough to attend last year’s tasting and this year’s was even better. If they continue to one-up themselves, they’re going to need a bigger venue!
Ambiance Matters: The Commons Calgary
The event was held in the Hemingway Room at the Commons Calgary; a beautiful space near the community of Inglewood in the Ramsay Design Centre. The space is both modern and vintage, providing the perfect backdrop for sipping and savouring wine. Part of experiencing wine in its entirety is what your environment is like. I promise you, your mind can trick your palate into changing the taste of a wine depending on factors that have nothing to do with what’s in that bottle. Think of it this way; you’re looking forward to a nice night out for dinner and a bottle of wine. You made reservations at a new restaurant you’ve been wanting to try. When you arrive the lights are a little too bright, the music is a bit obnoxious, the service is mediocre, the decor is tasteless and the bathroom is less than clean. Everything around you is a miss. You’ve ordered a fantastic bottle of wine, but with everything else going on that has disappointed you, the next time you see that bottle of wine, you may think twice about spending your money on it. Just like with music, wine can bring back memories – good or bad – and influence our opinion about the wine. Likewise, if you’re on vacation, relaxed and loving life, sharing a bottle of wine with great company can make you search that wine out in order to replicate the feelings you had in that moment. The right environment makes a difference. The Hemingway Room at the Commons Calgary is exactly the right kind of space for a positive and memorable wine tasting experience.
Munchies Matter: Peasant Cheese
A selection of premium cheeses and charcuterie were provided by none other than Peasant Cheese. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, this place is phenomenal. A local boutique cheese shop nestled in the heart of the Kensington community near downtown Calgary, Peasant Cheese has everything you need to create your own or treat yourself to a catered feast. From preserves to bread, charcuterie, crackers, accessories and of course, the finest cheeses from around the world. They even have a cheese club that can be delivered right to your door. If you’re smart, you’d sign up for a wine club that delivers and the Peasant Cheese club, then never have to leave your house.
Categories Matter: The Select Wine Tasting Advantage
There were a lot of wineries represented. A lot! That can be overwhelming for anyone. What I often see at a portfolio tasting is one family of wine at each table. This can mean there are several styles of wine together at a station and the consumer is either jumping back and forth from table to table, or they’re tasting a wide range of styles together and maybe confusing the palate. What I appreciated the most about the set up for this tasting event is that the stations were organized in styles of wine rather than families of wine. That meant I could taste wines within the same style category from various wineries and compare them with each other without getting confused. There are three main categories of attendees and here’s why this set up works best for each:
- These are industry professional that have purchase power for retailers and on premise (restaurant) accounts. Import agencies pitch their products to these people and they either influence or decide what goes on the shelves or menus. The advantage here is if a buyer has a gap in their program or is looking to replace an existing wine within a category, they can hone in on that particular style at the event and knock it off their list of must-tastes.
- The average person who walks into a wine shop or dines out and chooses what they want to buy is a consumer. From newbies to wine enthusiasts to anyone studying wine academically, consumers and the reason we’re all in this industry. Don’t forget, industry professionals are consumers, too. I wouldn’t be writing about wine if I didn’t also love to drink it! When you’re putting on an event you want it to be as consumer-friendly as possible and Select Wines did just that. You can visit the station of a style you know you already enjoy and within that category still find great variety without tasting too far out of your comfort zone. Alternatively, you can try tasting at a station you’re unsure about and maybe find a new favourite. Highlander staff was onsite with order sheets for consumers so they can conveniently choose their favourites and pick them up at a later date. It’s always great to attend an event that you can try before you by, especially when it’s organized this thoughtfully.
- JustWine wasn’t the only media platform present at the event. There were bloggers like Les Brown of First Crush and of course, Tom Firth and Linda Garson were there from Culinaire Magazine. We all received a book with not only a list of the wines but also space for plenty of notes. I usually have my own notebook, but this was a fantastic idea. Everything stayed organized and I didn’t have to write down the full name of each wine. The wines were organized in the book to match each station in the order that you would walk from left to right around the room. These are the kind of details that make the Select Wines Portfolio Tasting a success.
Organization Matters: Wine’s Order of Operations
Generally speaking, in order to treat your palate right and get the best results from a wine tasting, the basic order you want to taste in is this:
- Sparkling Wine
- White Wine
- Rosé Wine
- Red Wine
- Fortified and Dessert Wine
Within each category you want to start with light body wines with lighter flavour intensity and move towards fuller, bigger wines. It’s kind of like mathematics and the order of operations! Except it’s wine and way more fun. If you start with intense, boozy, full bodied wines then have light, crisp easy-drinking wines after, you’ll get tonnes of flavour out of the first few wines and hardly be able to taste the wines that follow them. Imagine sipping on a mouth-gripping, Cabernet Sauvignon at 14.8% alcohol with intense dark fruit flavours, then sampling a light, crisp Pinot Grigio at 11.5% abv with flavours of pear and nectarine. What do you expect? That Pinot Grigio is going to taste like water.
Here are the categories from the Select Wines Portfolio Tasting. I’ve chosen something from each category that stood out for me.
- Crisp & Light (Whites)
- Aromatic Whites
- Voluptuous Whites
- Light and Elegant Reds
- Savoury & Earthy (Reds)
- Structured Reds
- Big Reds
- Ogier Wines
- Icon Fine Wines
Opinions Matter: Tracy’s Top Picks
Always Start with Bubbles
Bubbles calibrate your palate. The effervescence cleanses your palate and gets you ready for whatever wines you’ll be tasting next. At least, that’s what I tell myself at the beginning of every tasting, or on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, and sunny Sunday mornings!
Gusbourne Bland de Blancs 2013.
A charming and elegant sparkling wine from Kent, England, made with 100% Chardonnay. Mineral, lemon zest and buttered toast dominate with a bit of pair and green apple. Pair with Truffle popcorn.
Faustino Cava Rosado DO NV
A stand out, aromatic sparkling rosé from the famous Rioja winery. The Faustino Cava Rosado has a very floral nose with dried and candied red fruit on the palate. Pair with St. Angel cheese.
Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc 2015.
I didn’t have high hopes for this wine as I typically stay away from New Zealand and South American Sauvignon Blanc. This one proved me wrong. You can taste the French influence immediately in the Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc. It’s got tonnes of stone and steel mixed with grapefruit, pineapple and lime rind. It had none of the green notes I expected which blew me away. Pair with goat cheese, just as you would with Sancerre.
Tyrrell’s “HVD” Semillon 2012.
Classic single vineyard, Hunter Valley Semillon with soft biscuity notes laced with lemonade and mineral. Tyrrell’s HVD Semillon is approachable now but could definitely use a few more years of more cellar time for greater complexity and to smooth out the edges. If you can’t wait, just decant it – yes, you can decant white wine, too!
Domaine Laroche “Les Vaudevey” 1er Cru AOC 2015
An excellent Premiere Cru sourced from the left bank of Chablis. the Laroche Les Vaudevey is lively, focused and intensely aromatic. Notes of salinity and crushed oyster shells with mouthwatering acidity make this the perfect accompaniment for raw oysters on the half shell.
Los Vascos Rosé 2017.
A fresh and fruity rosé from Chile made with primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes. Bold red fruit with hints of watermelon jolly rancher. Drink the Los Vascos Rosé young and pair with a strawberry spinach salad.
Ogier Heritages Rosé AOP 2016.
A classic Rhone Valley rosé laced with salinity and mineral. Subtle strawberry and cherry notes balanced with flavours of rhubarb and crab apples. The Ogier Rosé is a simple, go-to rosé for summer sipping on the deck. Keep a few in the fridge so you’ve always got something easy going for warm weather sipping.
All Kinds of Red Wines
The aroma is all cherry tobacco all day! Tart red fruit on the palate, earthy enough without being too much and a little bit of leather. 100% estate fruit.
Beautifully smokey aroma with a little bit of potting soil. Super juicy raspberry flavour with bright acidity. Makes you want to keep going back for another sip. And another one.
Dense, ruby red colour. Blackberry and English tea aromas with hints of dark chocolate and espresso. A full mouthfeel of dark fruit, cloves and leafy characteristics accentuate this elegant Cabernet Sauvignon.
Ogier Family of Wines
The highlight of the event was meeting Raphaël Pommier, Brand Ambassador for Ogier and Associate Winemaker for Clos de L’Oratoire des Papes in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. A lot of people claim to have “passion” for wine, and they probably do, but when you hear a winemaker talk about the heart that goes into every drop from grape to glass, it’s quite remarkable. Noteworthy is the fact that Ogier wines are organic, although they don’t advertise as such. They also practice biodynamics in the vineyard and have for many, many years. I need to highlight all 6 wines that were presented by Mr. Pommier because each have something quite unique about them.
Ogier Clos de L’Oratoire des Papes Blanc AOC 2015
The soil is limestone, boasting some of the oldest land in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The soil and climate are perfectly suited to white wine producing not only fresh, mineral driven character, but a fuller mouthfeel with a solid line of salinity from start to finish. The Clos de L’Oratoire de Papes Blanc is elegant as it is rich.
Ogier Clos de L’Oratoire de Papes Rouge AOC 2014
The label remains unchanged since 1926. The Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes is made from a 25-hectare vineyard that boasts a perfect balance between Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s four great soil types: the “galets roulés” (rounded pebbles), “safres” or (fine sand) “goes rouges” (red sandstone) and “eclats calcaires” (limestone rock). The wine is approachable now but certainly has the potential to age.
The following wines were tasted in the order below, starting with the Eclats Calcaires. All of the wines are 100% Grenache and vinified in the same way. The only difference is the soils the grapes were grown in. These wines truly express how different the characteristics of one grape can be when planted in different soils. Think of it this way: Most people have an idea of what New York City is like, even if you have never been there. We’re read about it, seen pictures and movies about it, and without having experienced New York first-hand, we can all still get a sense of what it is. However, within NYC there are five boroughs. Staten Island is not the same as Brooklyn or The Bronx even though they are all part of the same city. It’s the same with Chateauneuf-du-Pape. We’ve read about the 13 grape varieties, seen pictures of the large “pudding stones” and likely tasted a few red wines from the region. But the soils are different depending on where you are within the region. This is what the French mean by terroir!
Ogier Expression de Terroir “Eclats Calcaires” AOC 2015
Limestone Rock. Fresh, mouthwatering acidity. Strong mineral throughout, with clean fruity aromas and flinty hints. Fine tannins
Ogier Expression de Terroir “Safres” AOC 2015
Fine Sand. Intense aroma with with fresh red fruit and floral notes. Elegant with delicate tannins and a silky finish.
Ogier Expression de Terroir “Gres Rouges” AOC 2015
Red Sandstone. This is the harmony of the first two soil types. Fresh and elegant, but powerfully aromatic with a strong, complex palate and long finish.
Ogier Expression de Terroir “Galets Roules” AOC 2015
Rounded Pebbles. A deeper colour that reflects the warmth of this soil type. Jammy aromas of prune, dark berries, and soft, sweet spice. The most powerful of the four with a fatter mouthfeel and big, but silky tannins.
Icon Fine Wines
This station was the exception to the organization of categories. Icon Fine Wines and Select Wines are two separate import agencies and Select invited Icon to join their Portfolio tasting to feature some of great selections from the Icon portfolio. Icon had one representative with a selection of white, rosé and reds together.
Cline North Coast Viognier 2017
Incredible floral aromas and mineral driven on the palate. Great balance of tropical fruit and Meyer lemon. The Cline Viognier is soft and full, not too acidic.
Famille Bougrier Vouvray V Chenin Blanc 2017
A tonne of stone fruit on the nose and palate. Round and decadent at 18 g/L of residual sugar but the acidity evens out the sugar to finish clean. Don’t expect a quaffable wine. The Famille Bougrier Vouvray V would do well with a little spread of Shropshire cheese, cured, salted meat, roasted almonds and dried apricots.
Paul Autard Chateauneuf du Pape 2015
Earthy, dusty, gravel and all the things you want in a traditional Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It could use more time in the cellar or you’d have to decant this a while before serving. On the palate the Paul Autard CNDP is all plum, dark cherry and black raspberry. A bit too grippy right now, but the potential is there – once it has aged another few 2 or 3 years it’ll be dynamic. Could cellar a decade if you have the patience.
Everyone’s a Wine Winner
Every Select Wines portfolio wine tasting is a winner. This year with the addition of Icon Fine Wines and one more year under their belt, it was better than ever! I’m already looking forward to seeing what they come up with for next year’s tasting.