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 »

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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 3

27 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

I was not expecting to pull a rosé out of the Vinebox collection, let alone (1) one from Spain that (2) is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but here we are — this box is already full of surprises.  The 2017 Castillo de Benizar Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé hails from the large dead-central Spanish region of La Mancha, the bullseye of the Spanish map.  It is an area known mostly as the workhorse of the Spanish wine industry and a generator of unspeakably large volumes of wine every year, thanks in particular to the Airen grape, the most prolifically planted grape you’ve never heard of, which makes up the largest acreage of plantings in the country.  But La Mancha is starting to be about more than just quantity, and the friendly climate allows for almost anything to be successfully planted, including King Cab.  Gems can be found.

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Castillo de Benizar is a brand of producer Bodegas Ayuso, whose massive new 15,000 m2 production facility allows for fermentation/tank storage of up to 35 MILLION LITRES of wine at once.  But this particular bottling (er, vialling) isn’t a mere commodity.  The Cabernet Sauvignon vines from which this rosé is created are planted on a separate plot specifically and unusually dedicated only to rosé production, making this no saignée afterthought or vinous byproduct.  Old-school Spanish rosé tends to be mellow and earthy and (intentionally) oxidized, but newer renditions buck that trend and focus on the freshness and fruit purity that are currently making rosé a universal global language.  This one follows suit.

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Castillo de Benizar’s pink Cab is a striking bright watermelon-flesh colour and gives off cool minty and herbal aromas (spearmint, chlorophyll, sage) along with mineral-laced bath salts and soft pink lemonade and raspberry fruit.  Even expecting a more modern pink take based on its colour, I was still unprepared for the level of perkiness and brightness that seeps into every pore of the wine.  There is zero hint of rustic Old World earthiness, which has been wholly eradicated and replaced by turbo-charged acid and vivid Pop Rocks, Thrills gum, strawberry smoothie, pink grapefruit, green apple Jolly Rancher and Welch’s white grape juice notes.  It continually jumps around on the tongue, making all neural synapses fire in rapid sequence.  Despite the confectionary nature of its flavours, the rosé finishes clean and comes across as fairly dry, although the piercing acid probably covers some dose of residual sweetness.  Look at that colour!  Not your grandfather’s rosado.

88 points

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12 Days of Vinebox: Day 2

26 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Happy Boxing Day!  Hopefully you are full of holiday cheer and post-holiday deals, have all of the presents you want to return neatly stacked in a corner and are ready to get down to business on the world’s coolest post-Advent calendar, one vial at a time.  Let me be the first to tell you that blogging 100mL of wine is a highly stressful experience — you get 2/3 of a glass to fully formulate an impression and write detailed tasting notes, so every drop matters.  It definitely aids the focus, as near-panic often does.  Hopefully you can be a bit more frivolous with your vial.

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I picked this test tube in my Vinebox blogging selection draft with Ray because I was highly curious to check out a Provençal red, a relative rarity in these parts.  Provence is globally known for being the pink wine hub of the world, and for good reason:  80-90% of the bottles that come out of the Cotes de Provence are roses.  They are a well-oiled pink buzzsaw of a production region, dialled into the patio trade in massive quantities…but they are also, more quietly, home to high-quality reds and whites, and in fact, the top producers in the area often make all three.  One such producer is the historic Chateau de Bregançon, centered around an 18th century castle built on a slope overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  The estate has been owned by the same family for over 200 years, which is now in its 7th generation of stewardship of the grounds, including 52 hectares of vineyards in prime growing areas, on exposed hillsides featuring tons of sun and surprisingly little rain given their oceanfront locales.  If you HAVE to make wine anywhere, why not make it the Mediterranean riviera?

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Quick tangent that may be of interest to only me:  Chateau de Bregançon is one of 18 estates to have been awarded the “Cru Classé” designation in Provence, which it turns out is the only French wine region besides Bordeaux to have a classification/ranking system tied to producers as opposed to vineyards.  The “Cru Classé” was conceptualized in 1947 by some of the longstanding wineries in the area, who commissioned a series of experts to research the winemaking chops and history of the local producers and create a listing of the best of the best.  They did so in 1955, and of the original 14 Bregançon made the cut and was therefore immortalized as elite (because once you’re named Cru Classé, you can’t be un-named).  Sadly, the designation doesn’t appear on the Vinebox vial, but I know it’s there in spirit.

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I had difficulty locating any information at all about this 2015 Bregançon Cotes de Provence, but based on the reds currently listed on their website, it’s a good bet that this one contains healthy proportions of both Syrah and Mourvedre, two of Provence’s principal red varieties (the others being Cinsault, Grenache and the lesser-known Tibouren).  What I can advise with more certainty is that the wine is surprisingly deep and rich in colour, especially after you’re used to yet another pale pink Provençal rose, a hefty ruby-purple that is just shy of opaque.  You can smell it as soon as you crack the bottle, flint and whetstone, blueberry and currant, hot rocks and sauna, flesh blood and ink (the latter set making Syrah seem ever more likely).  Sharply structured, the wine’s most prominent features on the palate are firm scrubby tannins and whiplash acidity, but these are softened and broadened by pure red fruit and violets arranged over this Cru Classé’s iron spine.  A thoroughly impressive Vinebox debut for me – can’t wait to see what the future holds.

90 points





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 24

24 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Merry Almost-Christmas!  We are now 24 days and nearly 24 bottles into December, the Bricks Half-Bottle Advent crate is empty, Santa is somewhere over the Atlantic and we’re into Advent reminiscing mode yet again.  I would say that it went by in a flash, but it didn’t — each bottle and each producer and each story took time to find and understand and tell, and after a dozen such efforts in a month I am wearing the effort of them all, but I would (and will) do it again.  Kudos to the fine folks at Bricks Wine Company, who I think clearly surpassed their inaugural wine Advent effort last year with this year’s magnificent beta model.  The bottles of 2018 were stronger almost across the board, impressively consistent and in some instances simply show-stopping; I feel quite comfortable that I got my money’s worth on this vinous adventure, and all of the work that went into finding and sourcing these two cases of month-long 375 mL glory did not go unnoticed.

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As Ray and I wrap up our run of daily holiday blogging (only to start into our next run of daily holiday blogging TOMORROW, as Vinebox’s 12 Days of Christmas kick off, because we’re deranged), just like last year, I thought we’d finish our Wine Advent run with a look at each of our podium wines, as well as our value Dark Horse.  As I expected, there was some clear overlap in our choices, as well as a second straight year of an unanimous Advent victor.

Ray Lamontagne’s Top 3 Wines

  1.  2015 Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 17):  Just a truly ethereal wine, good for the soul.  Deft yet flavoursome.  Fruity yet spicy.  A wine of a specific place yet timelessly delicious no matter where you are.
  2. 2014 Woodward Canyon Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon (Day 22):  Scratches a classic Cab itch without being tiresomely grandiose.
  3. 2012 Rocche Costamagna Barolo Rocche Dell’Annunziata (Day 15):  Taps into that rare middle-ground wellspring — can drink now or hold, and you won’t be bummed either way.  Still thinking about all those blue flowers.
  4. DARK HORSE – 2014 Bodegas Franco-Espanolas Bordon Rioja Crianza (Day 13):  Tiny cork notwithstanding, this similarly straddled two paradigms (in this case, modern and traditional Rioja) with aplomb.  This region never disappoints.

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My Top 3 Wines

  1. 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 17):  This just was not close for me — the Ken Wright towered over all other wines in the calendar.  Just impeccably balanced, driven and sure of what it was, while still being jaw-droppingly gorgeous from start to finish.
  2. 2016 Weingut Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner Kamptal Terrassen (Day 3):  The front half of the calendar is gone but not forgotten, and this Gruner (not to mention Ray’s streak of amazing Austria reviews) was about as classic and dexterous as it gets.
  3. 2014 Woodward Canyon Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon (Day 22):  As a Washington wine devotee and wannabe historian, getting to taste a pioneer of the region and understand why they drew so many more to make such great wines in Washington State is a unique thrill.
  4. DARK HORSE – 2016 Ferdinand Wines Albarino IN A CAN (Day 20):  I got confirmation via Instagram after posting this write-up, from the winemaker himself, that the Spanish-vareital-focused Ferdinand Wines IS in fact named after the big red bull of my childhood story times.  Investigative journalism is not dead.  Let’s change our views of wine vessels; I know we can.

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Just like last year, bottle #24 this year is a Champagne.  Entirely unlike last year, the Champagne is in pristine condition, and is determined to end off the calendar with a bang.  We wrap with the Pierre Paillard Les Parcelles Bouzy Grand Cru NV, and in that list of French words is a compelling story.  Pulling the threads one by one:  Pierre Paillard is a “grower Champagne” house with centuries of history in the region, having planted vines and made wines in Champagne since 1799.  Les Parcelles is one of their Champagne offerings, made from grapes picked from 22 different parcels all within the Grand Cru village of Bouzy, a key home of Pinot Noir within Champagne’s boundaries.  Although this is a non-vintage wine, meaning that the wines within the finished bottle hail from more than one growing season, I can’t help but notice that this particular rendition of Les Parcelles is designated “XIII” on the label.  This seems to refer to the primary vintage used in this specific batch:  this bottling is 80% made from 2013 vintage grapes, 14% from 2012 and 6% from…2004!  It is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, is made in minimally interventionist fashion, and sits for 4 years sur lie after secondary fermentation in Paillard’s 19th century cellars, located 53 feet underground on the winery grounds, where temperatures are a constant and eternal 10 degrees Celsius. 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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