Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 5

5 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve migrated into our “classics” phase of the 2019 Half-Bottle Wine Advent calendar.  After Canadian bubbles, German red crossings and New York cans, yesterday’s Chianti Classico signalled a bit of a vibe shift, and tonight’s offering got the message loud and clear and has continued the trend.  You don’t get more throwback textbook Old World than Sancerre, a region that has stood the test of time but also run the fairweather gamut of popular opinion over the past few decades.  If this was the 1982 Half-Bottle Advent Calendar, it might be entirely composed of Sancerre; fifteen years before or after might have seen Sancerre wholly excommunicated.  Now it’s making a cautious return, seeking to reclaim (or maybe just re-assert) its status as the spiritual home of Sauvignon Blanc.

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Sancerre is one of the most easterly sub-regions of the long, thin, west-to-east Loire Valley, which ultimately connects to the Atlantic Ocean but extends all the way to the dead centre of France on its other end.  Monks first planted vines in Sancerre in the 11th or 12th centuries, and subsequent swaths of royalty ensured that its sought-after wines were always available in their courts.  While currently most known as a (if not THE) key French site for Sauvignon Blanc, which now makes up 80% of all plantings in the region, it was previously home to considerably more Pinot Noir and Gamay, the latter of which was ravaged by a phylloxera outbreak in the 19th century and was replanted with Sauvignon.  Pinot retains 20% of the acreage in Sancerre, but this is now firmly a white wine region, and tonight’s bottle has its name all over it.

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I don’t know whether to call this the 2017 Chateau de Sancerre or the 2017 Chateau de Sancerre Sancerre.  It seems completely ridiculous to use the name twice, but I’ve never come across a producer whose name was the name of its region before.  (Chateau de Bordeaux and Domaine de Bourgogne, you missed your chance.)  The Chateau appears quite aware of its unique nomenclature, boasting in almost all of the available online literature, not to mention the back label of this bottle, that it is the “only wine which can be marketed under this exclusive name”.  Well…no kidding?  Isn’t that the case for EVERY SINGLE WINERY on Earth?  You don’t get a lot of non-Beringer wines marketed under the “exclusive name” of Beringer, thanks to the rather handy world of intellectual property law.  But whatever.  The Chateau de Sancerre is actually a Chateau, a castle (re)built in 1879 in the heart of the vineyards of the region, which was purchased in 1919 by Louis Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle and is still owned by the Marnier-Lapostolle company a century later.  Its name is more familiar than you might think, as Louis Alexandre was also the inventor of Grand Marnier (speaking of exclusive names).

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Cork Rating:  6.5/10 (Pretty boring cork, but I love the swag associated with the tagline “Pass before the best.”  Badass.)

This particular bottling is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, as one might expect, and emerges a deeper lemon colour than I had anticipated given its utter lack of oak contact.  Meyer lemon, salted lime (inching towards margarita), Fuzzy Peaches, Tums, rock dust and straw/dried grass sing a stately yet playful aromatic song…until you sip and the hammer comes down.  The Sancerre Sancerre is bright and instantly alive on the palate but extraordinarily tart, like Sprite if you removed all of the sugar.  Tonic water, (very) green apple, citrus peel, flint and a torrent of biting, punishing acid lead into a chalky, icy, mineral finish that oddly dries out the mouth as it scrubs it clean.  An emphatic and almost angry wine, vociferously expressing its turf in defiance.  Sorry for the IP jokes?

88- points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 4

4 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

After three days of alternative bottle shapes and even a can, Day 4 sees something more conventional lurking under the tissue paper. The previous Bricks calendars were true world tours that struck chords across the wine-making globe, hitting many of the classic regions and styles without disregarding lesser-known up-and-comers. Will I draw an Austrian wine this year? Of course I will, but not yet. If I do have a horse in the wine-making country race, one that I always return to no matter what, even if my favourite grape (Pinot Noir) is a bit player there at best, it is Italy. I am enamored by the diversity of grape varieties and terroirs, a patchwork quilt of regions and styles that often bleed influence into one another even as they remain distinctive and true to their own traditions. So in other words, today’s bottle suits me just fine.

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Last Advent season I took the opportunity to hike up the word count and write a bit of a love letter to Chianti Classico. I’m pleased to report that my feelings have changed little since then. I’m a sucker for temperamental grapes of the earth, with Sangiovese dutifully translating the nuances of soil and climate into its finished wines even as it stubbornly clings to a sour-cherry-meets-tea-leaf-and-damp-earth calling card. I remain fascinated by the history of the wine region itself, which has seemingly (and finally) found its footing in the world of fine wine after decades of bloated growth, political upheaval, and an unhelpful tenacity when it comes to clinging to tradition. There can come a time when one must change in the interest of making better wines, and today’s iconic producer, Isole e Olena, directly embodies Chianti’s many ups and downs.

The properties previously associated with Isole e Olena had a quality problem until the 1960s, when they were purchased by the Piedmontese family of current proprietor Paolo de Marchi. Given that Chianti period had a quality problem around this time, this should surprise no one. Paolo’s father in fact purchased two adjoining small estates, ‘Isole’ and ‘Olena’, and thus Isole e Olena was born. The headaches were many and the road to better wine was tortuous. Indeed, Paolo started running the property at 25 years of age, dutifully making a Sangiovese-based wine that included white grapes in the blend in a nod to tradition that the winemaking law then demanded, and one now almost universally and justifiably derided as detrimental to quality. Weary of this and not afraid to take a stand, in 1980 Paulo released Cepparello, a 100% Sangiovese wine that could not legally be labelled Chianti but that did go on to become one of the famous so-called “Super Tuscans”. Finally, Paulo took full advantage of key changes to the Chianti productions rules in the 1990s to banish the white grapes, wryly commenting that “it is much easier to make red wine out of red grapes”. Enter the bottle I now hold in my hand. Dubbed “Mr. Sangiovese” (which is a sweet handle), Paolo continues to pay close attention in both vineyard and wine cellar, carrying on the legacy of what has become one of the most prominent producers in the region, and one widely credited as key to the quality turnaround that saved Chianti from the doldrums of mediocre commodity.

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This estate’s vines cover a range of exposures but are largely planted on clay with a few contributions from limestone and volcanic rocks. “Mr. Sangiovese” moniker notwithstanding, here Paolo spiced up 82% Sangiovese with 15% classic blending partner Canaiolo and (fascinatingly) 3% Syrah, which Paolo himself reintroduced to Chianti Classico after a long absence in the hope that small amounts could contribute body and texture. As an interesting aside, in recent years he has decreased the percentage of Syrah used, which some argue can be rather coarse when grown in this region. All grapes were estate-grown, hand-harvested and fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks with approximately 15 days maceration, with pumping-over taking place twice a day during fermentation. Maturation occurs for one year in large oak casks. No small new barrels you say? Lovely. Sangiovese needs vanilla like Hollywood needs more sketchy reboots.

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Cork Rating: 3.5/10 (At least the producer is named, and the vintage.)

The 2015 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico presents a lovely middle path ruby hue that wafts up pleasing aromas of pie cherry, raspberry, sun-dried tomato and fresh salsa in approximately equal measure, with oregano, anise, menthol lozenge, dried cranberry, paprika and graphite lock lubricant, all wreathed in a perfumed floral corona of dried roses, lilacs, and carnations. There’s some brooding smoke but no overblown oaky fire to blot out the tangy nuances. I start doing a happy Sangiovese rock in my chair… Some blackberry bramble and Damson plum join the red fruits on the palate, along with a blood-like iron tang and singed orange peel. Everything is in its right place, the fresh acidity pooling over chalky tannins while the ripe fruits power forward. If this had an engine I’d certainly gun it a few times. Lithe and sinewy with bold fruit but no excess weight, thoughtfully constructed yet unmarred by crass commercialism. Classico indeed, with a modern twist.

89+ points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 3

3 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Three days into this year’s half-bottle extravaganza and we haven’t seen a standard-shaped Bordeaux or Burgundy bottle yet.  First off was the reinforced bubbles bottle, followed by the Germanic flute (which trickily held a red), and tonight it became immediately clear that the streak was going to continue.  Can we roll with the punches?  Yes we can.

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This is also the third straight day that I’ve peeled off the tissue paper to find a familiar friendly face:  Day 1’s Tawse has been my go-to Ontario stalwart for years, Day 2’s K.H. Schneider makes the best goddamn Dornfelder in the world, and Day 3’s can is brought to you by the wonderful, hospitable, salt-of-the-earth people at Fox Run Vineyards, from New York State’s gorgeous Finger Lakes area, a winery and a region that I was lucky enough to visit back in 2016.  That was the same year that this wine — sort of — was named the feature white of the Calgary Stampede.  Meet the Fox Run Vineyards On The Run Unoaked Chardonnay, can edition.

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Fox Run is a New York State institution.  This pastoral property on the western shores of Seneca Lake was originally a dairy farm before grapes were first planted there in 1984.  Fast forward 35 years and the winery now owns 50 acres of east-sloping vineyards and focuses on crafting a wide variety of estate wines under the watchful guidance of longtime winemaker Peter Bell.  While they rightly take pride in their excellent Riesling lineup, their Chardonnays are in my mind an equal part of their house identity, both the spritely unoaked Doyle Family Chardonnay and the marvellous barrel-fermented Kaiser Vineyard Chardonnay.  I believe that this can is made up of the former, although the can itself gives away no hints of its specific identity.  The can also strangely does not indicate a vintage, perhaps to avoid the annoyance of having to re-print can labels for each successive harvest; however, I am told that it is most likely not a NV wine and is instead probably the 2018 edition of the Doyle.  This is excellent news, because it means that it is likely also 8% Traminette, a lovably bizarre, slightly soapy, melony hybrid whose vinifera parent is Gewürztraminer (hence the name), which is normally added to the Doyle Chardonnay as a minority blending partner to rev up its personality.  (Fox Run also makes a varietal Traminette, which you absolutely must buy if you ever get the chance.  Traminette is amazing.)

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Cork Rating:  I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do with this.  2/10.  Nice tab.

First impressions:  spritz!  The release from the can causes multitudes of tiny bubbles to cling to the sides of my glass for a good ten minutes while a reductive matchsticks and smoke aroma blows off.  What remains is a chiselled aromatic profile of fresh lemon, smoked lime, honeydew, wet grass, pina colada and something oddly like boxed cake powder or Premium Plus soup crackers, the latter two of which I will credit to the Traminette.  The olfactory intrigue does not arise due to any lees stirring or barrel contact, of which there was none — Fox Run built the Doyle in as linear a fashion as possible, save only for the incorporation of this Chardonnay’s mischievous blending brother.  The regimented cool-climate style takes over on the crisp, lean, precise palate, whose relatively neutral flavours of Asian pear, underripe white peach, river rocks and chalk dust are energized by a tight line of acidity that is not undercut by any excess in body or weight.  I almost think this would have been better off being drunk straight out of the can as opposed to splayed out in a Burgundy glass — it is a straight-shot linear wine well-suited to patios and campsites, its low alcohol and pH priming it to provide immediate refreshment, but its mission not extending to unfolding in layers over time.  That said, its consistency and focus are a continual joy with each successive vintage, and, it turns out, with any given container.

87+ points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 2

2 12 2019

by Raymond Lamontagne

After yesterday’s solid start, my anticipation is running high. It turns out that anticipation and trepidation can co-exist in equal measure. How am I going to keep up with all these blogs? The same way I kept up the last two years, I suppose, via doses of careful scheduling and an iron resolve to do what I love: drink wine. As Peter mentioned, this year’s Bricks Wine Advent offering looks like a particularly diverse mélange of different bottle shapes and even alternative packages. The wrapping for Day 2 conceals another distinct bottle shape, this one lanky and elongate. This can only be a flute, speaking to its Germanic (or at least Germanic-influenced) origins.

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Voila. K.H. Schneider! This happens to be one of my all-time favourite German producers from the Nahe, a region whose stony soils continue to provide much inspiration; Nahe winemakers walk a stylistically taut rope between the cool mineral elegance of the Mosel and the riper fruits of the Pfalz and Rheinhessen. To be transparent, there are a few of us here in Calgary who will vociferously imbibe anything and everything K.H. Schneider. I justify this stance by appealing to winemaker Andi Schneider’s emphasis on organic viticulture and spontaneous fermentations, an approach that yields truly honest, authentic wines of place. Increasingly I am inclined to agree with Terry Theise when he argues that such authenticity is a quality criterion that must come before other important yardsticks such as balance and intensity. If the terroir Andi farms is a vinyl record, his deft “low intervention” winemaking touch is the phonograph needle that precisely decodes the soil’s music for our drinking pleasure. But do take note: this is not the expected Riesling. It is something much, much stranger. Are we, team Schneider, being pranked?

I love it already. Dornfelder was created in 1955 by German viticulturalist August Herold. As you can see from the diagram above, Dornfelder is in fact a cross between crosses (!), with some pretty big names among the original four parents. It has been suggested that Dornfelder has genes from every black grape grown in Germany up until its creation.  A rare example of a successful man-made crossing (note that it is not a hybrid, as all parent stock is vinifera), Dornfelder is less obscure that you might think, in recent years becoming the second-most planted black wine grape in Germany. Vigorous and high yielding, Dornfelder also has something that its ancestors Trollinger and Blauer Portugieser do not: loads and loads of colour due to high levels of pigments called anthrocyanins. Dornfelder stands alone in Germany for its ability to make wines that are almost black in their deep purple intensity, with a soft texture, decent acidity, and characteristic aromas that conjure up dark berries, cherries, and more unique herbal/spice notes that some compare to bitters. Unlike many grapes used predominantly as colouring ingredients, this one has its own rather assertive flavor profile. Dornfelder even made inroads into the United States, Canada, and South America. Have you ever been this excited about a viticultural cross? I thought not.

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The 2016 K.H. Schenider Dornfelder Trocken half-bottle features a particularly crumbly stubborn cork, or at least mine did. Ultimately worth the effort. This is dark purple alright, but not completely opaque. The nose conjures up all sorts of underripe blackberry and huckleberry for me right out of the gate, but a balancing woodsy halo of dried violets, allspice, clove, fennel seeds, rosemary, rhubarb, stinging nettles, crushed gravel, and (yes indeed) herbal bitters (orange peel? quinine?), which prevents this from being anywhere near histrionic. Fruits much redder (cherry Nibs, strawberry, cranberry) begin to wink through the strange blueberry-bog-meets-baroque-darkness that was my initial impression. The acidity is buoyant but far from cutting, and the tannins form a light powder. My mind keeps coming back to cough syrup: give this a decent chill to mitigate this effect, unless of course you dig this sort of thing. And don’t get me wrong, this could very well be the world’s greatest Dornfelder, or at least the prettiest. Although I would have to try a few more exemplars to firm up that take, this is clearly winking at me. It is pleasantly odd to feel that a bottle of Dornfelder is an old friend. Thank you August Herold.

89+ points

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Cork Rating: 3/10 (putting aside the difficulties I had extracting this, I like the font but am otherwise underwhelmed, if that’s a word.)





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 1

1 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

And we’re off.  This marks the SIXTH straight year that this site has run a daily play-by-play blog of a boozy Advent calendar (sometimes more than one at once, which inevitably leads to massive regret on my part).  For the last couple years, this has included following along with the wonderfully diverse Bricks Wine Company Half-Bottle Advent Calendar, a concept long considered and now gloriously fulfilled, finding new range with each passing year.  This marks the third annual edition of the Bricks calendar, and if the shapes and tops of the various gift-wrapped 375 mL entrants into this year’s Advent derby are any indication, we may be in for our most intriguing field yet.

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Case in point:  Day 1.  That is NOT a standard screwcap or neck foil that I feel under the wrapping paper.  The prior Bricks calendars have always ended off with bubbles on Day 24, but the wire cage and jumbo pressure-withstanding cork protruding from the gift wrap of this inaugural 2019 offering suggests that this year’s calendar may well be starting off with them too.  And so it is, as the tissue paper falls away to reveal…a hell of a good start.

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The 2016 Tawse Spark Brut hails from my personal favourite winery in Ontario, one that has won the prestigious award for Canada’s Winery of the Year four times (including an impressive three-peat from 2010 through 2012) despite only being 18 years old.  Tawse is a family-owned organic and biodynamic estate that is heavily focused on Burgundian grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (to such an extent that founder and owner Moray Tawse also has a project in Burgundy itself, a collaboration with the renowned Pascal Marchand called, unoriginally, Marchand-Tawse), although it first came to my notice for remarkable Riesling and Cabernet Franc.  Tawse’s focus in the vineyard is to make each swath of vines a complete self-sustaining ecosystem, one that is constantly in balance without the need for any chemicals or external artificial additives to do the balancing.  Animals play a major role in this effort, including chickens (who eat vineyard bugs), sheep (who eat away the lower vine leaves, exposing the grapes to more sunlight) and horses (who are used in lieu of tractors so as to avoid excessive soil compaction).

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The Spark Brut is a traditional-method Champagne-style sparkling wine, made by inducing a secondary fermentation of a previously made still wine within a sealed bottle, which traps escaping CO2 within the resulting wine that is created and allows it extensive contact with the dead yeast cells that remain after the bubble-inducing effort is successful, creating a myriad of textures and flavours not otherwise found in the world of wine.  This offering is made from a surprising 44% Pinot Gris in addition to Champagne stalwarts Pinot Noir (31%) and Chardonnay (25%).  Pinot Gris does not often get the Champagne treatment anywhere outside of Alsace, but Tawse sees fit to elevate it alongside its more renowned Pinot cousin; each of the varietals here are yield-thinned and hand-harvested, then left on lees for 12 months after secondary fermentation before a slight touch of sweetness is added back ahead of bottling.  Each grape used in this wine hails from a different Tawse vineyard, including the Chardonnay, harvested from the mighty Quarry Road (anyone who has had the Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Chardonnay will understand my singling it out).

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Cork Rating:  1/10 (Shiner cork AND shiner wire cage?  I thought this was Advent!!)

Day 1 emerges an extremely pale lemon colour amidst a steady stream of tiny bubbles, their size and energy a clear indicator of the traditional method at work.  The aromas are pleasantly vibrant for a Champagne-style wine, perhaps a sign of what Pinot Gris can add to a bubble party:  banana leaf, lime curd and honeydew, swirling across southern biscuits and struck match.  Instantly drying on the tongue, the Spark’s lees-induced flavours stand firm and take precedence over the fruit, reasserting the dominance of its winemaking method and erasing any perceptible trace of residual sugar; elastic bands and sourdough bread stretch over tangy melon, tangerine and Granny Smith apple, lending heft and gravitas to an otherwise-playful wine.  This is not ragingly complex, but it’s crispy and approachable and delicious, the kind of thing you would use to kick off a party that sees you crush 24 bottles in 24 days.  Here’s to another wine Advent.

88+ points





Yalumba: Introducing Samuel’s Collection, Part II

23 11 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Having already acquainted myself with the first half of Yalumba’s newly compiled seven-wine Samuel’s Collection (and made a mental note to track down the other whites in the Collection beyond the Viognier, as Eden Valley Chardonnay and Roussanne sound glorious), I was eagerly awaiting my turn on the back nine of this reorganized and rebranded assembly of mid-level bottlings, which for the first time let the Barossa’s calling card take centre stage.

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Each of the Yalumba Barossa Shiraz and Barossa Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon previously went by different monikers, aimed towards different audiences just emerging from the critter wine wave:  the former was known as the “Patchwork Shiraz”, while the latter was called “The Scribbler”.  At some point it was rightly decided that a more serious veneer and a highlight of place better suited these focused, linear wines than a kitschy name and the playful marketing that rode the length of the first Aussie wine trend; the outside of the bottle now more accurately reflects the liquid within.  Bring on the Shirazes. Read the rest of this entry »





Yalumba: Introducing Samuel’s Collection, Part I

19 11 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Yalumba is tidying things up a bit.  The Barossa stalwart, now on its 5th generation of family ownership dating back to 1849, traces itself back almost the entire length of the history of its region (whose first Shiraz vines were planted in 1847).  But 170 years of growth and development later, Yalumba’s impressive lineup of wines was starting to lack some internal organizational cohesion, with some forming part of a demarcated grouping or collection (the wildly successful Y Series being a key example of why this can be a boon to consumers) and others standing on their own, without clear delineation as to their place in the company hierarchy.  This would not be much of an issue for a smaller-scale producer, but when you make 52 different bottlings, it’s nice to know where things fit.  Enter Samuel’s Collection.

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This new mid-tier range is both a corporate reorg and a celebration, a way for a number of excellent but disparate Yalumba offerings to find a home as a tasteful homage to the winery’s founder Samuel Smith.  The Collection, featuring all-new clean, modern label art, features seven wines:  four reds from the Barossa Valley and three whites from the neighbouring Eden Valley.  The reds (Bush Vine Grenache, GSM, Shiraz, Shiraz Cab) all share measured ripeness, fermentation using ambient yeasts and a more lithe, transparent take on what can be a region known for muscle-flexing; the whites (Viognier, Roussanne, Chardonnay) are all similarly streamlined takes on sultry grapes, rooted in Eden’s cooler weather and acid spine.  I have had prior vintages of both of tonight’s reds, known back then as the Old Bush Vine Grenache and The Strapper GSM, and their packaging and branding was so divergent that it looked like they came from different wineries.  No longer.  The threads that unite now take centre stage…even the price, as every wine in the new Samuel’s Collection should hit the shelf at a $25ish mark.  As will be seen below, it is a group worth seeking out. Read the rest of this entry »








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