12 Days of Vinebox: Day 10

3 01 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

My final vial of this inaugural Canadian Vinebox run hails from a producer with which I am familiar, at least in an academic sense: Chateau Gillet. The Nadau family has made Bordeaux wines for around 150 years. The Gillet vineyards fall smack dab on the limestone plateau that comprises the heart of Entre-Deux-Mers. Although Gillet makes red, rose, and white wines, the Entre-Deux-Mers region is best known for white Bordeaux. The area is vast, sandwiched between the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers (hence the name), and you will only see “Entre-Deux-Mers AOC” on white wines, with reds from this region labelled with the generic “Bordeaux AOC”. Confusingly, though, many producers of whites from the area now eschew the more specific regional appellation in favour of “Bordeaux Blanc AOC” or even just “Bordeaux AOC”, as is the case for the present vial. Ugh. According to Stephen Brook in his omnibus The Complete Bordeaux, there is little point in trying to navigate this morass of tedious bureaucracy and confusing regional laws. At least for today, I am inclined to agree. Suffice to say, Entre-Deux-Mers is too large and too flat to yield consistently great wines, although here and there are pockets of limestone that can elevate the grapes that comprise the typical white Bordeaux blend.

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Chateau Gillet’s white consists of 60% Semillon and 40% Sauvignon Blanc from 25 year-old vines. This is rather “old school” at a time when more and more white Bordeaux is dominated by Sauvignon Blanc, presumably in an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of this grassy, tart varietal in the New World. Traditionally Semillon provides the body and some texture. Personally I am fond of this grape’s rather unique aromas, which can be reminiscent of fresh linens and other textiles, candle wax, and so-called “wet wool”. Although the best white Bordeaux typically sees oak, many entry-level bottlings from less prestigious appellations are made in a fresher style. Such is the case here, fermented and aged in stainless steel. It would seem that Vinebox and oak do not mix, eh? Have we had even one oaked wine in this thing?! Maybe Day 2. I wonder how strategic this state of affairs might be. Read the rest of this entry »

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12 Days of Vinebox: Day 7

31 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Day 7 finds us sampling different wines from the same winery in close succession, presenting us with another native Sicilian grape, from the very same producer as Day 6. Or is it grapes, plural? What I’m glomming onto right away is the name “Inzolia Catarratto” on the vial. “Inzolia” is reminiscent of “Trebbiano”, in that this name actually refers to numerous white grape varieties that are in fact distinct. Most commonly this word is an incorrect but still commonly used moniker for Ansonica, a widely planted, golden-skinned, low acid Sicilian variety that has also made some inroads into Tuscany. Which brings us to Catarratto. This is another broadly planted Sicilian white grape, in this case in the high-acid camp. Yup, this is a 50-50 blend of Ansonica and Catarratto, two workhorses, presumably intended to capitalize on a balance between Inzolia’s relative bulk and Catarratto’s fresher edge.

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Ansonica is interesting in that it is so prevalent in the hot Sicilian climate despite being a low acid variety. On the plus side, it is drought-resistant. Turns out that Tuscany might be a better locale for it despite this grape’s Sicilian roots; in Sicily the wines tend to be citrusy and light-bodied, whereas in Tuscan island regions such as Elba the grape yields sturdier, richer wines that recall golden orchard fruits with a saline bite. In either case, Ansonica is also a rare example of a naturally tannic white grape. The name Catarratto (or Catarratto Bianco) means “waterfall”, which refers not to some pretty landscape feature but rather to the effusive quantities of wine this grape is capable of producing. Hoooo boy… When a grape name refers to a wine lake rather than some unique aspect of of its vinous personality, one has to wonder how it’s going to show in the glass. In any event, Ian D’Agata compares Catarratto to Chardonnay, stating that it can conjure up notes of savoury herbs, banana and butter. He also acknowledges that these conceits might have more to do with wine-making technique than they do with any innate characteristics of the grape itself (which, hey, actually does sound rather like Chardonnay). The technical sheet on the Feudo Solaria website reassures us that we can pair the wine with snapper, “with no fear of being banal”. Hmmm… Maybe there’s at least a little fear. Read the rest of this entry »





12 Days of Vinebox: Day 6

30 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

We are halfway through Vinebox. And back in Italy, albeit this time in the deep south, Sicily. Like its more northerly counterpart Puglia, Sicily grows tremendous quantities of grapes, most of which go into “IGT Terre di Sicilia” or “Terre Siciliane IGP” commodity wines. The heat and relatively flat, fertile land lend themselves to mass production of fruit-forward, easy-drinking and (most importantly) cheap wines, beverages to enjoy without need for much in the way of weighty analysis. And this is all well and good. There is a place for plonk, I suppose. Fortunately though, Sicily is like most Italian wine regions in that it is also a storehouse of unique, fascinating native grape varieties as well as some interesting terroir. In fact, Italy on the whole has more indigenous grape varieties than any other wine-producing country. The good news for wine nerds is that this heritage is being increasingly nurtured, protected, and celebrated. Enter the present grape, Frappato.

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Frappato is a Sicilian native and apparently enjoys a parent-child relationship with Sangiovese (although the specific direction of this relationship remains unknown). The grape is known for rather low acidity/high pH, low levels of delicate, soft tannins, low sugars, and (you guessed it) relatively low levels of colour compounds. This grape of diminutives was once rare as a varietal, instead used as a softening component in blends with heftier grapes such as the better-known Nero d’Avola. Although Frappato is challenging in the vineyard, it is rather forgiving in the winery. Its reductive nature does require exposure to enough oxygen during fermentation to avoid the production of sulphurous off-odors (for example, by frequently pumping of the must over the cap, a technique which also aids extraction of what few colour compounds and tannins are present in the grape). The resulting wines are typically light, fresh, aromatic, and meant to be drunk young. “Don’t expect the colour of Merlot”, says one viticulturist quoted by Ian D’Agata in his book Native Wine Grapes of Italy. (By the way, if you are any sort of wine nerd who is at all intrigued by Italy, this book is essential reading.) Read the rest of this entry »





12 Days of Vinebox: Day 5

29 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

The westernmost wine region on a map of the Loire Valley in France is Muscadet, maritime stronghold of the relatively neutral but late-ripening, frost-resistant grape variety Melon (or Melon de Bourgogne, or Melon Blanc). I might propose that this wine deserves a better fate than the shrinking total vineyard areas that characterize its current struggle to survive. Melon is a regional speciality and frankly as a grape might not be capable of achieving much more, although the wine world needs to hold on to this sort of heritage, lest everything homogenize into “hedonistic fruit bomb” oblivion. I’m therefore pleased to see such a wine in Vinebox. In theory, Muscadet should be popular for many of the same reasons Pinot Grigio is an international superstar: it’s neutral and hence unobjectionable (said to taste of “subtle green fruit”), approachable, and food-friendly, albeit with considerably more provincial character. I mean, how many wines can taste of the sea itself? Then again, this is the sort of wine that is built to pair well with local cuisine and is therefore supposed to represent but a shard of viticultural diversity, as opposed to stepping up as the next candidate for world domination. Perhaps it is mediocre to great right where it is.

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Muscadet Sevre et Maine is the largest appellation within the broader region, representing around two-thirds of total production. Wines from the broader Muscadet appellation are rarely seen outside the region, made in fairly small quantities, and deemed insipid by international critics. Sevre et Maine refers to a couple of small rivers that flow through the area, which roughly comprises the eastern half of the region. At their best, Sevre et Maine wines are light-bodied, tautly acidic, tangy, and saline in character, although there is some interesting regional variation in them that would be fun to explore. Although traditionally fermented in large old oak vessels, nowadays stainless steel and concrete have become more common. More recently winemakers are seeking to designate unique terroirs within the region, and are even experimenting with Burgundian techniques such as small barrel fermentation. Perhaps the region isn’t going anywhere without a fight. Read the rest of this entry »





12 Days of Vinebox: Day 4

28 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I’d say we have had an auspicious first quarter of Vinebox. A few surprises, and three rather good wines. We enter the second quarter with heads held high and hearts open, albeit fatigued from all the (self-imposed) indentured servitude that comes along with blogging BOTH Advent and post-Advent calendars. This much wine writing in such a concentrated span of time is invigorating, inspiring, exhausting, and maddening in approximately equal measure. But the wine dudes abide. It is a good sign that I still feel the wine post-Advent love this afternoon. Ask me if this is still the case next Tuesday. As I somewhat hazily recall, this wine was an early draft pick of mine when Peter and I divvied up the vials.

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Corbieres is a smaller appellation within the much larger and obscenely diverse Languedoc. Yes, we are back in the south of France, but across the Golfe du Lion from Provence. Corbieres is one of the Languedoc sub-appellations that has steadfastly forged its own reputation. Corbieres itself is further sub-divided (but of course!) into 11 regions based on climate and soil topography, with basic distinctions drawn between coastal zones that enjoy a Mediterranean influence, a northern strip contiguous with the equally well-known appellation Minervois, relatively cooler western high altitude vineyards that experience some Atlantic influence, and finally an enclave of very rugged lands in the south and centre. Really then, we are looking at a minimum of four distinct wine regions fused into one political entity whose purpose is to provide a reasonably well-known signifier on wine labels. I can nevertheless comment on a few rough constants. Corbieres on the whole is hilly and relatively warm. The heat is conducive to grape ripening yet is tempered by maritime winds and altitude, so that the grapes retain enough acidity to yield fresh aromatic wines as opposed to something purely jammy. This is a classic recipe for oenological success, although now I must attempt to dial in the specific nature of today’s offering. Or should I say “vial in”…thank you, thank you, I’m here for the next four days! Try the (sustainably farmed cruelty-free) veal.  Read the rest of this entry »





12 Days of Vinebox: Day 1

25 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Merry Christmas! And welcome to Vinebox. Amidst all the unwrapping of presents, preparing meals, and dealing with relatives (at least some of whom you like, presumably), hopefully you can find the time to join me in crushing just under half a glass of…Pinot Grigio!? I suppose one has to start somewhere. Although I do not naturally gravitate towards this style, I freely admit that premium offerings often show some interest, perhaps even a little charm, certainly far more than the oceans of antiseptic acid water that comprise the commodity Pinot Grigio market, which is demolished in vast quantities at cafes, bars, dinner tables and bridal showers around the world. Although climate and other viticultural decisions such as yield play a role in separating the wheat from the chaff, most premium PGs from northern regions such as Alto-Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia come from a small-berried clone of the grape with more flavour concentration than the much larger, thin-skinned berries that hail from the vast prolific vineyards of the Veneto plain. As Peter mentioned in his comprehensive preview of this attractive package of super fun wine-laden test tubes, the Vinebox team has assembled this lineup solely for its Canadian audiences from the wares of various European artisanal producers, working only with about 1% of the wines they tried so as to keep quality high. I am cautiously optimistic.

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Although the Vinebox reveal website (hey, no cheating now!) states that this is “Friuli Pinot Grigio”, the vial is actually marked with “Delle Venezie IGT”. This is an older appellation that actually ceased to exist in 2017, being renamed “Trevenezie IGT”. (The word “Triveneto” also appears near the top of the vial!) The new appellation “Delle Venezie DOC” was then carved out of the Trevenezie IGT to primarily encompass Pinot Grigio, and this, I presume, is where the present wine would now be classified. Detective work complete. Delle Venezie DOC includes not just Friuli but also Trentino and the entirety of the larger Veneto plain, meaning that the grapes in this vial could hail from any of these regions. The producer, Vinicola Tombacco, has a website that does not appear to feature this particular wine, or if it does, said wine appears under the guise of one of the numerous sub-labels that fall within the Tombacco stable. Tombacco does produce a Delle Venezie DOC Pinot Grigio labelled “Collezione Privata”. My guess is that this is the very same wine, or something similar. OK, so the detective work was not quite complete. Good enough. Let’s taste. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 23

23 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I was hoping there would be a fortified wine somewhere in this calendar. Eureka, and it is a Port. I do not hate Sherry, but I LOVE Port. Making Port involves adding grape spirit to stop fermentation of (usually) red wine just before its midpoint, usually two or three days into the process when about 5-6% alcohol has been produced. Enough spirit is added to bring the alcohol level up to around 20%, halting the fermentation and leaving residual sugar in the wine. I am also excited to see some of Dirk van Der Niepoort’s work represented. These labels remind me of vintage soda bottles. More importantly, Dirk is an eccentric, dynamic, and highly animated wine producer who is known for innovation, and for saying (as well as doing) certain things that might enrage the more traditionally-minded, even as he never forgets his family’s five generation history of making wines in the Douro Valley. Before launching into what will be my last Advent entry for this particular calendar, some background information about Tawny Port is in order.

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High quality tawny Ports (or “aged tawnies”) typically rest in partially unfilled wooden barrels for at least six years, the wine exposed to oxygen so as to become browned and mellow before bottling. This is how such wines acquire certain classic aroma and flavour descriptors, including nuts or toffee. In this case oxidation is not a wine-making fault but rather a deliberate tool used to produce a particular style. However, so-called tawny Ports run a gamut from these sometimes venerable wines made from grapes all harvested in a single vintage (dubbed “Colheitas”) or average-aged across multiple vintages (10/20/30/40 Year Tawnies) all the way down to light-coloured waifs that have seen scarcely more aging time than their ruby counterparts, made with less ripe (and hence less darkly coloured) grapes from the cooler Baixo Corgo subregion of the Douro Valley or subjected to other winemaking techniques to keep the colour pale. The present wine would seem to fall roughly in the middle of this continuum: this has seen some genuine barrel aging, but less than that typically seen for an “aged tawny”. Read the rest of this entry »








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