12 Days of Vinebox: Day 12

5 01 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Well, we’ve done it:  scaled the top of a 24-day Advent mountain, and without pausing for breath, immediately continued up to the summit of the second 12-day Vinebox mountain perched directly on top of it.  36 straight days of blogging later, here we are, weary and satisfied and very ready not to write about any goddamned thing tomorrow.  And we end the 12 Days of Vinebox with the wine that maybe surprised me the most in the lineup, not because there’s anything particularly weird about it (although in this age of wine weird-offs marked by escalating departures from the norm, maybe strait-laced in-its-lane Left Bank Bordeaux qualifies as odd in a post-hipster-irony sort of way), but because it appears to be a library offering.  This 2011 Chateau Hourbanon Medoc is easily the oldest wine in our set of test tubes, proving that even back-vintage wines can be relocated and settle peacefully in their new skinny Vinebox homes.

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I gently chided Vinebox yesterday for not supplying much information along with their wines, but tonight’s offering solves that problem itself by way of an information-packed, if insanely disorganized, producer website, wherein the current proprietor of Chateau Hourbanon tells you absolutely everything you would want to know about the history and current philosophy of the estate in nine different potential languages.  I find this sheer earnest desire to share and educate highly welcoming.  Thanks to this glorious fount of information, I can advise that Chateau Hourbanon has long been highly regarded — it was classified as a Cru Bourgeois (or its pre-official predecessor) back in the 19th century — but the subsequent 100 years were not as kind to it, and when reformed dentist Remi Delayat purchased it in 1974 it was all but abandoned, its winery buildings in complete disrepair.  Delayat made it his personal mission to rehabilitate the estate, and after his premature death in 1981 his widow Nicole carried on the quest, followed by  their son, current proprietor and website content-master Hugh, who now manages the estate’s 13 hectares of vines.  In the current more formalistic classification of the Cru Bourgeois wineries, Chateau Hourbanon’s name remains on the list. Read the rest of this entry »

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12 Days of Vinebox: Day 11

4 01 2019

By Peter Vetsch

It’s the penultimate day of the Vinebox 12 Days of Christmas calendar, and while Christmas feels like a long time ago, there’s never a bad time to use the word “penultimate” when you have an occasion in need of its natural meaning.  Thanks to the outcome of the one-by-one Vinebox vial draft that I had with Ray, I ended up with the last two days of this miniature vinous adventure, and I certainly sat up and took notice when I pulled a 100 mL test tube of Chateauneuf-du-freaking-Pape out of the box and knew that it had to be mine.  When Vinebox says that they quality-control like crazy and look to represent the best in their sets, it’s not just marketing talk; the level of the wines across this dozen tastes has been consistently legit.

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Where I might give Vinebox a bit of constructive feedback is in the relatively slim amount of information that comes along with each vial.  The Vinebox reveal website for this calendar (which I might as well give you now that it’s the penultimate day of our countdown — see how useful and awesome that word is??) tells me only that tonight’s wine is the “Graveirette Chateauneuf de Pape”; the label of the tube adds that this is the 2014 rendition of this wine.  As the current vintage of this Chateauneuf is the 2015, and as it is not a widely known producer or wine in this market, it is next to impossible to track down any information about this specific bottle, which can be exceedingly frustrating when you’re the Type A kind of person who wants to know these things but can’t find them.  If future reveal sites could at least include the vintage, blend, vineyard details and winemaking and aging regime for the wines, it would be of tremendous assistance in bringing crucial context to the sensory impressions that this wine has in spades.

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Here’s what I can tell you:  Domaine de la Graveirette was founded in 2005 by Julien Mus, a native of the small southern Rhone village of Bédarrides, located in between Orange and Avignon in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, immediately east of the famed new castle of the Pope itself.  Mus was a relative rarity in that he left home to pursue a formal wine education in Beaune, Burgundy, and was perhaps even more rare in that, after said certified advancement of his profession, he came back to his very same tiny hometown to work, first growing grapes which he sold to the local cooperative, but then in 2005 founding his own estate that would allow him to forge his own winemaking path.  This estate, Graveirette, has been organically farmed since 2012 and Demeter-certified biodynamic since 2015.  Under the Graveirette name, Mus makes everything from prestige-cuvee CNDP to experimental micro-vat offerings (100% Marselan, anyone? I’m in) that are intentionally downgraded to the Vin de France designation to allow for creativity and flexibility in how the finished product comes about, freed from restrictive appellation legalities. Read the rest of this entry »





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 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 »








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