Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 22

22 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Here’s a crazy stat:  this is my FIVE HUNDREDTH published post for Pop & Pour.  The blog itself passed this threshold some time ago thanks to the remarkable contributions of Ray and Tyler in recent years (as brilliantly evidenced by their kick-ass daily Advent coverage this month), but this is my personal milestone post.  It’s been close to nine years since I started this blog with limited direction or aspiration, as a vehicle for a passion I didn’t fully know how to express.  I don’t know what I was expecting out of it, but to still be dutifully doing it so many years later (and to have at minimum elevated myself to a self-professed connoisseur on boozy Advent calendars while I’m at it) probably already surpasses any initial blogging goals.  Thanks for reading along; if it wasn’t for you, this probably wouldn’t still be happening.

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Perhaps Bricks cosmically knew that this was going to be a more monumental night of blogging, or perhaps I subconsciously lined up my name on the Advent schedule to align with the one bottle in this year’s calendar that was definitively not like the others, but it became apparent almost immediately that this was not a standard half-bottle of wine.  First, it was taller than a standard-sized 750 mL bottle (!!), a good 3-4 inches taller than any other bottle in the Bricks crate.  Second, it was slender throughout, a thin lengthy cylinder without curves.  Before the wrapping even came off, only one style of half-bottle seemed to fit:  dessert wine.  But it wasn’t in a Germanic flute shape or a standard Bordeaux bottle, and I had my doubts that the calendar would culminate in ice wine, sooo…what’s left?

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The 2016 d’Arenberg “The Noble” Wrinkled Riesling, that’s what; a continuation of Australia’s surprisingly rich tradition of sweet winemaking.  This particular bottling began by pure circumstance:  in 1985, one of d’Arenberg’s Riesling vineyards was discovered to have become infected with the beneficial mould botrytis cinerea, which grows on the surface of the grape berries and gradually leaches the water out of them, leaving them shrivelled, dehydrated, fuzzy and rather gross-looking but internally composed of ultra-sweet, ultra-concentrated, ultra-flavourful essence (all of the acids and sugars and flavours of the grape, without the extra water to dilute them) that when vinified creates the most majestic sweet wines known to man (for my money, anyway).  There’s nothing to be done when you discover botrytis but to (1) make wine out of the result and then (2) try to duplicate the conditions to have it show up again next year:  humidity, especially fog, in the morning, followed by sun and drier conditions later on, so that the cinerea fungus attaches to the grapes but does not accelerate into full-blown grey rot.  It is a difficult balancing exercise that results in precious little wine (imagine pressing and vinifying juice out of a raisin to understand why), but the reward is emphatically worth the risk and the effort.

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Size comparison: a standard 750 mL bottle (L) and this freakishly tall half-bottle (R).

After their initial accidental introduction to the world of botrytized winemaking, d’Arenberg has become something of an old hand at it, now producing three different nobly rotted dessert wines under their “The Noble” lineup.  This bottling used to simply be known as The Noble Riesling before later being revised to the Wrinkled Riesling to reflect the physique of the grapes after botrytis has had its way.  I would have loved to be in the marketing meeting where that decision was made.  Not that I have any doubt about d’Arenberg or its branding, all of which is specifically selected to tell a story.  The winery is named for the maiden name of founder Frank Osborn’s wife Helen, who died tragically immediately after childbirth at the age of 31; the child who was born healthy just before this event was Frank and Helen’s son Francis d’Arenberg Osborn, who everyone simply called d’Arry, partly in honour of his mother’s lineage.  It was d’Arry who give the winery its current name (in 1959, well after Frank started growing grapes in 1912, or making wine in 1928), as well as its distinctive red label stripe on a white background, representative of the crimson and white striped school tie that d’Arry wore in college.  The d’Arenberg coat of arms features that stripe, a symbol of fertility, a bunch of grapes, and the motto “Vinum Vita Est” — “Wine Is Life”.  Says it all.

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Stelvin Rating: 9/10 (The colour, the coat of arms, the motto – pure poetry.)

Every single one of d’Arenberg’s myriad of wines is fermented via traditional basket press, including this one, and all the reds are foot-trodden to this day.  The Wrinkled Riesling is a 50/50 blend of McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills Riesling, hence the dual-appellation labelling that I’m not sure I’ve ever previously seen on any bottle.  The tech specs beggar belief:  a 2.98 pH and 10.8 g/L of Titratable Acid run smack dab into an astonishing 253.3 g/L of residual sugar at 9.5% ABV — this was surely the alcohol level where the fermenting yeasts simply gave up and died in such a densely sweet environment.  This is unbelievably viscous emerging from the bottle, like motor oil, and eventually settles in the glass a majestic steeped-tea-meets-maple-syrup deep amber colour.  Then the fireworks begin.

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An explosion of florals is the first sensation I record — Easter lily, daisy, marigold, daffodil.  Then comes the cavalcade of dessert aromas, in rapid-fire fashion:  key lime pie, Fuzzy Peaches, manuka honey, marmalade.  This intoxicating mixture is cut only by that telltale orange peel, lemongrass, apple cider vinegar citric/herbal tang that botrytis cinerea leaves behind at the scene of the crime, the calling card of its dehydration caper.  After I resign myself to the fact that I can’t possibly drink this all in one sitting, I settle into its exquisite, eye-opening sweetness and its sensual lusciousness, sliding in slow motion down the throat and coating every square inch with layers of lemon curd, salted caramel, rosehips, dried mango, apricot and pineapple upside-down cake, still pulsating for at least a minute after I swallow.  The recorded acid is elevated, but it is barely present in the field, not quite able to maintain a sense of liveliness in the face of the torrent of glorious sugar.  This leads to a slight yet growing sense of heaviness as the wine warms up and the sips multiply, so enjoy in moderation…but that can be the hardest thing to do when what’s in the glass is this unspeakably delicious.  Two days left and we’re headed to a crescendo.

90- points


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