Oleksyn: Saying goodbye to an iconic and influential Calgary wine store

J. Webb Wine Merchant had a huge influence on my wine journey

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Calgary lost one of its finest wine boutiques last month. It was a sad day when I read that J. Webb Wine Merchant would be closing.

The store was launched by Janet Webb in 1985 and was the oldest independently owned and operated wine store in Alberta.

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The flagship store in Glenmore Landing had a huge impact on my wine career. I still remember the first time I visited the store in 2004. My wife and I had just bought a home nearby after moving from Saskatchewan and I was checking out the Glenmore Landing shops. That’s when I saw J. Webb. I went in and the place was hopping. People were sitting at the tasting bar sampling wines and talking with the staff. It seemed like everybody knew each other on a first-name basis.

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As I browsed, I noticed that I knew very few of the labels. The big mass-market brands that I was familiar with weren’t here. Someone came to help me, explaining the concept of the store and asking what types of wines I liked before directing me to some bottles that would probably match my taste. They were right!

After that first visit, I knew I wanted to be part of this crowd. My wife and I would often pop in on Saturdays to sample, browse and learn while catching up with the staff. Then we started attending the store’s Thursday night events. Everyone working there was so knowledgeable and passionate. They weren’t selling; they were sharing. I learned so much. The experiences helped inspire me to become a wine writer.

I want to offer a big thanks to everyone I’ve gotten to know at J. Webb and I wish them all a smooth transition.

Now, here are some hearty red wines for winter for $30 or less.

wine

Adega de Penalva

2021

Red

Dao, Portugal

Adega Cooperativa de Penalva do Castelo is a co-operative that has been producing wines in Portugal’s Dao region for more than 60 years.

With around 1,000 members, the co-operative produces a long list of wines made from Portuguese red and white grapes. The granitic and sandy soils of the rugged, hot region have harboured vines for centuries, while the winemaking history goes back to Roman times.

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This red – tinto in Portuguese – is a blend of touriga nacional, tinta roriz and jaen. Touriga nacional is probably the best-known of the bunch as it is a star in the port and still wines made in the Douro River Valley, located a bit north of Dao.

Dry and medium-full bodied, this plucky, vegan-friendly wine offers flavours of ripe strawberry, cherry, blackcurrant, black raspberry, flint and smoke. It’s an easy-drinking wine for a cold weeknight.

Price: About $20. Look for it at Cork Fine Wine Liquor and Ale, Market Wines, Sundance Wine Market, The Naughty Grape in Okotoks and Vine Arts Wine and Spirits.

Drink: Now. Try it with lamb kabobs, hamburgers or braised elk. Cork; 12.5 per cent alc./vol.

wine

Errazuriz

2020

Max Cabernet Sauvignon

Aconcagua Valley, Chile

Named after founder Don Maximiano Errazuriz, who launched the winery in Chile’s Aconcagua Valley in 1870, the Max line of wines (formerly Max Reserva) is meant to offer bang for the buck.

This medium-full-bodied cabernet sauvignon delivers flavours of plum, blackcurrant, vanilla, wet earth, sour cherry, spice and blackberry. It was aged for 12 months in French oak barrels, with 25 per cent new, and boasts ripe, smooth tannins.

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The 2020 vintage was a hot and dry one, making irrigation essential. The heat-loving cabernet sauvignon thrived, ripening early with great depth of flavour. Despite the arrival of a COVID-19 lockdown in Chile during harvest, the crop was brought in successfully. Now we can enjoy those efforts.

Price: $21. Look for it at 7-star Liquor, Ace Liquor Discounter, Alberta Liquor Wine and Spirits, Co-op Wines Spirits Beer, Costlow Liquor, Crowfoot Wine and Spirits, Deer Point Liquor, Legacy Liquor, Liquor Depot, Liquor Empire, Metro Liquor, Mission Wine and Liquor Merchants, Olympia Liquor Store, Safeway/Sobeys Liquor, Sam’s Liquor Store and Wine and Beyond.

Drink: In the next three years. Open it with roast beef, beef short rib or grilled lamb. Cork; 13.5 per cent alc./vol.

wine

Gerard Bertrand

2020

An 1152 Malbec

Cahors, France

Gerard Bertrand has embraced the diversity of southwestern France’s wine world, building a portfolio of labels to highlight different regions and grapes.

This addition to the collection is a malbec from Cahors. The picturesque wine area located along the Lot River was legendary for its malbec long before the grape arrived in Argentina. Known regionally as cot, the malbecs of Cahors are generally brawnier and beefier than the polished, rich examples made famous in South America.

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The wine’s name, An 1152, refers to the year that Henry Plantagenet, future king of England, married Eleanor of Aquitaine, the former queen of France. The future king was a supporter of Cahors and legend is they drank malbec from the region at their wedding.

While French winemakers aren’t known for jumping on bandwagons, the wineries of Cahors have taken note of Argentina’s success with their grape. They’ve started putting the name malbec on their bottles to help North American consumers recognize what’s inside. And some wines are being made in an approachable, ready-to-drink style popular in North America.

This version is definitely made with more than a nod toward Argentine style, with a deep purple colour and rich flavours of mocha, black raspberry, plum, vanilla and graphite. It’s dry, with grippy tannins and some pleasing savoury notes.

Price: About $28. Check for it at CAP Liquor, Co-op Wines Spirits Beer in Shawnessy, Mission Wine and Liquor Merchants, Willow Park Wines & Spirits and Wine & Beyond.

Drink: In the next five years. A grilled steak or meaty pasta would be great pairings. Cork; 13.5 per cent alc./vol.

Contact Darren Oleksyn at [email protected] or follow him on Instagram or X, the app previously known as Twitter. Looking for a specific wine? Because wine inventories are always in flux, it’s a good idea to call a store to confirm they have it. A search on Liquorconnect.com can give you an idea of stores that have carried the wines.

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