Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 1

1 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

It is again the most wonderful time of the year, and the busiest time in the Pop & Pour blogging calendar — booze Advent.  For the second year in a row, we will be live-blogging every 375 mL day of the Bricks Half-Bottle Wine Advent Calendar, from today until Christmas Eve (following which we will immediately start blogging the 12 Days of Vinebox Christmas beginning Christmas Day…because, well, we’re crazy like that).  Last year, Bricks Advent began with a bubbly bang, so I was wondering if this year might start the same way; I was quite thrilled not only to find out that it did indeed, but that the bubbles in question were already indelibly seared into my memory, a monument to possibly the single greatest moment of my 2018.

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It begins…

I am a Washington Capitals fan.  Always have been.  I don’t know why.  I was born in 1980 in Gretzky-era Edmonton, to Edmonton-area parents, and from the age of 3 or so, from the time I understood what hockey was, Washington was my team.  Those of you with a passing knowledge of NHL hockey will understand that this was not previously a recipe for contentment.  Washington went from being what is still the worst expansion team in the history of the NHL (8-67-5 record in 1974) to being good-but-not-good-enough to being that team whose heart always got broken in a more novel and unbelievable way every playoffs to being that flashy run-and-gun early-Ovechkin squad that “didn’t know how to win” to being clearly the best team in the NHL until it really mattered to being past their window for success.  They pushed all their chips in the season before last, loaded up their team for their last shot at glory – and lost.  To Pittsburgh.  Again.  Last season was supposed to be the start of a slow descent back into irrelevance.  Until it wasn’t.  On June 7th, I watched in tearful disbelief as my team, that I watched fail over and over for 38 years, somehow won it all and raised the Stanley Cup, the culmination of a literal lifetime dream.  I promptly reached for the first bottle — or half-bottle — of bubbles I could find.

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And lo and behold, 6 months later, I peel back the Day 1 2018 Advent wrapping paper, and am greeted with:  my Stanley Cup wine.  I am instantly transported back to watching Ovechkin shrug off the doubt and unfair criticism of the hockey world and hoist the Cup over his head, screaming in triumph.  I remember the stream of excited messages filling my phone, the post-game interviews, the order of players who got their turn to lift the Cup, as soon as I see the label.  Wine, man.  Barone Pizzini and I will forever be connected because of that finally-captured moment of glory.

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I would not have necessarily predicted that my bottle of Stanley Cup victory elixir would be Franciacorta, but the pursuit of wine can take you down interesting paths.  Franciacorta is located in the top centre of Italy’s boot, in the larger area of Lombardy, and has been a sparking wine stalwart for over 500 years, although it only received formal DOC status in 1967 before becoming Italy’s first-ever sparkling wine DOCG in 1995.  It is also the first Italian region to require its bubbles to be made in the traditional method of Champagne, which mandates that the secondary fermentation producing the bubbles take place inside of each bottle as opposed to in larger tanks (known in Italy as metodo classico, because the wine world doesn’t already have enough vocabulary).  Traditional method fermentation results in the dead yeast cells (lees) from the process being trapped in the bottle until they are ultimately disgorged, and contact with these lees give the wines telltale autolytic yeasty flavours and creamy textures.  Surprisingly, Franciacorta requires even longer minimum lees contact than Champagne does pre-disgorgement (18 months vs. 15 months), and the wines can’t be released to market until a minimum of 25 months post-harvest.

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The three permitted grapes for Franciacorta (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc/Pinot Bianco) have just been recently joined by a fourth, Erbamat, a late-ripening indigenous varietal, which helpfully retains acid in this era of climate change and can now form up to 10% of the Franciacorta blend.  It doesn’t in this case, however, as this Barone Pizzini Animante Extra Brut NV sticks with the classics:  78% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot Noir and 4% Pinot Bianco.  The wine is initially fermented in stainless steel tanks, where it spends 6 months, and after secondary fermentation it hangs out on the lees for 20-30 months before disgorgement and release to market.  The Animante hails from 25 different vineyards owned by Pizzini, a Franciacorta pioneer that predates the formal DOC appellation by a century and was the first in the area to switch to natural farming practices, an effort noted by the organic certification on the bottle.

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Cork Rating:  7/10 (I’m digging the activity on all parts of the cork, and that cage topper is classy.)

The Stanley Cup Champion Animante is a vivid lemon colour and is constantly active thanks to racy powerful bubbles that reach to the very back of the palate with each sip.  Extended lees contact is immediately evident on the flavour Rolodex of the nose, which features (at least) malt, tangy sour cream, golden apple, roasted chestnuts (open fire included), charred lemon and Parmesano Reggiano.  The wine somehow retains an omnipresent viscosity despite raging straight-line acid and that constantly swirling, roiling mousse, giving a constant impression of restrained opulence.  It finishes with a rush of leesy brine, bread dough, cardboard and cheese rind, the fruit somewhat subdued by the autolytics but the pedigree undisturbed.  Tastes like victory.

89 points

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