Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 11

11 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

One certainly learns a lot working through an advent calendar. Providing a detailed commentary for each wine puts this learning into hyperdrive. There are producers and methods to investigate. Sometimes there are grape varieties that I need to research further before delving into the tasting per se. This is one of those times, although this grape is far from rare and I know I’ve had it before. Learning a little beforehand or refreshing one’s knowledge base provides scaffolding for those treasured “in the moment” experiences. This enhances memory for what you taste and smell. The act of paying careful attention on purpose is hard work. Although I prefer to share actual tasting impressions with others after I’ve partaken, to avoid (added) sensory bias, I am a firm believer in having this framework of semantic knowledge ready to go beforehand. This allows one to note the expected structural features and aromas quickly, freeing up mental processing resources for focusing on anything that seems out of place. One could debate the merits and drawbacks of this approach. It works well for me.


Party up top, business below.

In his encyclopedic opus of Italian wine grapes, Ian D’Agata makes a solid case for Verdicchio being Italy’s greatest native white. Versatile, capable of aging, full of aromas described as lemony and almond-like, and showing an affinity for oak, this bright green wonder typically produces lighter and highly floral wines in Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, one of the major DOCGs in the Marche. The latter has been described as producing “cheerful and simple” fare, although this may downplay how good these wines can be. The New York Times recently identified Verdicchio as a “hip varietal”. Yields have dropped and the region is starting to shed its reputation for frivolity due to a previous emphasis on cheesy amphora-shaped containers. These latter vessels look like a cross between King Tut’s scepter and something one could find in an adult novelty store. Circuitous geographical musings and botanical studies of both genetics and morphology have revealed that this grape is identical to the well-regarded Trebbiano di Soave and therefore probably originated in Tuscany, brought to current alternative stronghold the Marche by Tuscan farmers who resettled the land after a severe bout of plague.


Italian wine label with an f-ton of script. Don’t sweat it. Key details explained below!

D’Agata and myriad wine critics regard Villa Bucci as one of the finest di Jesi producers. Bucci offers age-worthy bottles full of finesse, floral perfume, and primary fruit. “Classico” means the grapes were grown in a traditionally favored hilly area near the town of Cupano. Grapes hail from four organically farmed high altitude vineyards (Villa Bucci, Bellucio, Montefiore, and Baldo), each vinified separately. Vines are about 45 years old. Although DOCG rules allow for up to 15% Malvasia Toscana to be included, this is 100% Verdicchio. Grapes are gently crushed under cold temperatures and aged in large used oak barrels for four months, permitting micro-oxygenation but minimal seepage of flavors into the wine.


Cork Score = 8.0 … Actual winery is named with decent font. Some empty space but lofts are still “in”, no? Not depicted: A funky graphic intended to evoke a very pleasant farm.

The Villa Bucci Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore 2016! Nose features a stark minerality right out of the gate … Wet gravel with flecks of table salt and potash. Some low key fruits emerge next: Green apple (including a slight whiff of brown apple oxidation), lemon rind, maybe green tangerine, white blossoms (gardenia, a personal favorite scent, or the aforementioned apple). Palate largely echoes the nose but with more tangy fresh fruits: Bitter orange and almonds, lime, lemon, Granny Smith. Like a Five Alive or similar beverage without any sugar, if said beverage featured a few additional flagellations of acid and some serious added calcium. This has more minerals than it does vowels in the entire handle that I typed out above. Crisp, taut, and broad, with enough primary fruit to save it from an experience not far off rock climbing in a glass. I dig. Or rather, I chip away at a frozen orange entombed in gypsum. We’re back, baby.


You cannot deny that it was an effective marketing tool … From

89 points


Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 9

9 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

The series of odd coincidences continues during my debut blogging gig, as on day nine I draw a Riesling to complete the “favorite grape triumvirate”, and my second offering from Markus Huber. Perhaps Markus should put me on staff. An Austrian Riesling no less, a curveball tossed just as we were starting to think that we could accurately soothsay this superbly curated array of classic regions and styles. Stuart Pigott (see book in photo, a quaint but scholarly little tome) describes the Austrian persuasion as the most underrated Riesling in the world, stating that these are more crisp and fruity than Alsace, and more full-bodied, aromatic, and balanced than those of Germany. Lofty praise indeed. Although such sweeping generalizations are easy to puncture with counterexamples, particularly where Riesling is concerned, the claim is not entirely without merit. Austria’s warmer climate means that the grapes can reach greater physiological ripeness, a state more challenging to reach in colder northern regions. Less acidic, riper grapes mean that wines can be fermented completely dry, in contrast to many of the sweeter German examples. Or so goes the argument. Dry is far from rare in Germany these days.

IMG_0496Riesling constitutes 15% of Huber’s production. This one hails from the Berg site, an east facing vineyard with dry gravely and chalky soil stained red by iron and manganese oxides. The vineyard lies at high elevation, allowing a lengthy ripening process, and hot days and cool nights provide a Burgundian type climate, which according to Markus Huber yields “very fine aromas and spicy finesse”. Note that this is an Auslese, the German/Austrian category for a later harvest wine, with grapes picked when they are shrivelled and high in concentrated sugars. Although this means that most Auslese wines contain residual sugar, they can be fermented dry, with dryness representing a typological dimension separate from the Pradikatswein categories that capture ripeness. The Huber website makes mention of botrytis or noble rot being desirable for Auslese wines. I’ve heard and read different musings regarding the issue of botrytis and the Auslese designation. The final word seems to be that while many such wines are free of noble rot, a fair number do contain some botrytized grapes. Rest assured that any Auslese is going to be large and formidable, heedless of the presence or absence of noble rot character.


Besties hugging it out.

Here we go: 2015 Huber Riesling Auslese. I should note that I have a very low detection threshold for petrol or kerosene notes. I occasionally get these even in non-Riesling white wines, and research on other grape varieties supports the notion that I am not having olfactory hallucinations (in this case). Perhaps atypically for such a sensitive individual, I very much enjoy these diesel tractor aromas caused by 1, 1, 6-trimethyl-1, 2-dihydronaphthalene, or TDN (you can see why the acronym is an absolute must … Just a little vinification pun to keep ya on your toes). Low key to moderate TDN greets me right at the door, and then I am introduced to notes of honeysuckle and yellow asters, elderflower, furtive pink grapefruit and lemon-lime, chalk, Epsom salts, starfruit, a pinch of cinnamon and mace. The nose is mellow but rewards close scrutiny. Take your time here. The aromas are exquisitely fresh and the prominent yellow flower notes evoke a mountain meadow. The amateur botanist in me adores all these weedy wildflowers. A sip provides a sluice of tinned mandarins, fruit cup peaches and pears, dried papaya spears, candied grapefruit, Kraft caramels, a slight drizzling of honey. Not a dry Auslese (as supported by the 6.5% abv). I enjoy switching my focus between the floral nose and the focused sweetness on the palate. Fortunately there is enough acid to prevent this from being cloying. This golden deity features the somewhat clipped Huber professionalism also apparent in the Gruner from the number three spot: very precise, clean, elegant, even somewhat delicate for the style, and full of finesse. I love this winemaker and this region, but surely there isn’t a third hobgoblin of a bottle lurking in that crate, with me in the crosshairs.


92 points

Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 6

6 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

Some scenarios just have a way of falling into place, as if the cosmos itself simply knows what must occur from a karmic standpoint. Other times life is total cluster- … errr … bomb. This is fortunately one of the former occasions. After drawing my favorite white grape for my first blogging stint of the Bricks Wine Advent extravaganza, I have now landed my favorite red: the enigmatic, protean, finicky, and sometimes sublime Pinot Noir. Oh, Burgundy. Pinot reaches its loftiest heights here and yet detractors are quick to point out how many “horrible” Burgundies are routinely encountered. Yes, quality is massively variable in this (in)famous region. My view is that a word like horrible drastically overstates the case. A cheap Burgundy is often a pleasant sip, rather like how mediocre pizza is still pretty good hangover food. The allure of Pinot for many (myself included) is correlated with this metaphorical roll of the dice. Will the elegant red liquid in your large-bowled glass be superlatively sophisticated, characterized by a solid core of red or perhaps black fruit, yet earthy and herbaceous, redolent with what the French call “sous bois” or “forest floor”?  Or will it be rustic, crude, elemental and untamed, perhaps reeking of “animale”, another evocative French term that refers to aromas and flavors of funky wild game: well-cured meat with a slight seasoning of fur and bile. You will know this characteristic right away if like me you grew up around hunters and hunting. Or, just maybe, you’ll get a wine that splits the difference between refined and bucolic. These latter offerings can be marvelous from a complexity standpoint. If you do your research, and Burgundy requires more research than any other wine region, you should be able to divine what’s in your bottle. To a point. You might still be surprised.


Well … What happened here?

Burgundy is about terroir. Unfortunately, making sense of a Burgundian wine label can be daunting (also looking at you, Italy). The only way to untangle the Gordian knot is to study up on the mess of subregions, domaines, villages, premier crus, grand crus, and climats, so that you have some schematic for how these concepts all fit together. Why? I suppose for academic interest. But perhaps more importantly, this will also enable you to gauge potential quality. Let me walk you through this label right here on Advent wine #6. “Vin de Bourgogne” means “wine of Burgundy”, a helpful starting point. “Vendanges” means “harvest” or vintage, right there above “2014”. The absence of the phrase “Bourgogne Rouge” or something similar means that this wine is not at the lowest quality tier. However, seeing “Bourgogne” in such large print is an important clue that you are not looking at a highly prestigious wine from a specific vineyard (a premier or grand cru). These titles speak for themselves, or so goes the logic. If you have managed to memorize the villages and crus, and a hardcore Burgundy lover WILL attempt to do so, you should notice that no such names appear here. At this point you can calibrate your expectations downward but hopefully still keep an open mind.  “Cote Chalonnaise” and the associated appellation text is the key to cracking this case. This is a regional appellation that covers more territory than a village or vineyard, but sitting one tier above generic Burgundy. Voila. You now have a rough indication of quality. I wish we were done. One can now deduce that “Vignerons de Buxy” is the wine producer, and it turns out that “Bussonnier” refers to a range or line of wines from said winemaker, a trade name I suppose, which one could learn only by researching the specific wine in question. An aside: It is rather uncommon to see Pinot Noir named on a Burgundy bottle. Another indirect quality indicator, perhaps? Or maybe just marketing due to the lingering aftershocks of the Sideways effect and the New World’s unmitigated success in selling varieties? Read the rest of this entry »

Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 3

3 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

I should begin by emphasizing just what an honour it is to join Peter and Dan on this Bricks Wine Co. Advent journey. I remain a relative newcomer to the Calgary wine community yet have had the pleasure to meet so many knowledgeable, friendly, and dynamic people over the past year or so. It has been immensely moving and powerful to be welcomed into this community with open arms …  I wish to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart, and beg your continued tolerance as I haunt your shops, standing around the tasting bar, making random comments about terpenes or field blends and almost certainly distracting you from more important business.


The evidence …

I am ecstatic that my inaugural foray into the world of wine blogging is a Gruner Veltliner. Gruner is likely my favorite white grape. I say likely because Riesling sometimes bumps it from that lofty perch, as a function of day, my mood, producer or region in question, etc. This is a great microcosm for the reality in Austria, where Riesling continues to carry more status and prestige while Gruner toils away, sometimes in the doldrums of plonk for “wine pubs” but also at the pinnacle of age-worthy sips capable of winning prestigious tastings against world-class Chardonnays. I like well-crafted Gruner so much that one of my cats was nearly christened “Veltliner”. My partner swiftly vetoed this notion (but was ultimately OK with “Spatburgunder”). Why the obsession? Simply put, Gruner can get weird. A good tasting wheel will depict all manner of curious aroma attributes rarely experienced elsewhere, including green beans, lentils, root cellar, compost bin, lovage (a savory “old country” herb that vaguely recalls soy sauce or Maggi seasoning), old socks, the less polarizing apples and limes, and above all, white pepper. Peppery aromas in wine are due to a compound called rotundone, also found in a few other varieties (most famously Syrah). Although rotundone levels are notoriously susceptible to various wine-making decisions, Gruner can deliver a zesty, earthy vortex that garners an occasional comparison to Sauvignon Blanc but which in my view is wholly unique.


Rotundone … One of the aforementioned terpenes and a much better molecule than TCA.

So what of this 2016 single vineyard Huber Obere Steigen? Markus Huber has expanded a 250 year-old family operation into a big success story with international reach, seemingly without compromising his focus on precise, elegant wines that express their origins. Huber gives Gruner its just due, with the latter comprising 75% of varieties handled at the winery. The Traisental DAC is a small wine region south of the Danube river, below the famed Wachau, and here terrior reigns supreme. Full of chalk and conglomerate rocks, the soils yield full-bodied wines with firm mineral structure. Gruner from this region is known to be particularly fruity as well, yet not at the sacrifice of that all-important peppery spice. The Obere Steigen site enjoys its own unique microclimate due to its terraced nature. This emphasis on terrior or place is relatively new in Austria. Historically, more emphasis was placed on variety alone. Controversy around this difference in emphasis remains, but Markus Huber appears more than happy to let his DAC flag fly.

IMG_0489This is a pleasing yellow hue with a slight green tint. Nose hints at the crystalline mineral power within. I’m getting yellow apple, fresh parsley, snap peas, mango, and a potent undercurrent of musty white peppercorn. The herbs are more vibrantly green than umami in character. On the palate this is precise and linear, with acids brisk but not punishing … Although hang on, there’s some tangy lemon juice bite after a few sips. A compost bin funk, like old apple cores and lawn clippings, starts to creep in around a fundamentally solid core of green pears and apples, white peach, and lemon-lime zest resting on a chalk and wet slate base. This gentleman is dressed in a dapper suit but there’s something off, perhaps some mud on his dress shoes. Fruit? Check. Minerals? Check. Rotundone? Check. I’ve had Gruners that bounce around a lot more than this one, flopping around like a fish in a boat and always changing their look. This one is less dynamic and more cohesive and laser sharp, with just a slight halo of corruption … Not a bad thing in this case.


90 points

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