Wine Review: July Patio Samplers

6 07 2019

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

As I sit here writing this on a rainy summer evening (pre-publication, but I bet it’s raining when this goes live too), Calgary has just struggled through a sodden June, and the tide doesn’t seem to be turning.  It is grey, dreary and continually drizzling.  We’ve had hailstorms, windstorms, thunderstorms — all separately and all in the last three weeks.  My kids have declared their nascent skepticism for outdoor sports — who would willingly place themselves outside for an hour at a time in an environment such as this?  Our northern world is free of snow for at most six months a year, and a third of that winterless period for 2019 has been underwater. You get the picture.  It’s bleak.

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So rather than wait for the appropriate meteorological scene to christen this long-planned summery-wine review set, I have decided to pre-emptively invoke summer by publishing it anyway, in the hopes that this trio of deck-and-BBQ-friendly refreshment will nudge our weather towards more appropriate activities.  I will try anything at this point.  Tonight’s bottles will set a blog record that may never be broken, bear a striking resemblance to each other until they don’t, and confirm that even trendy wines can be old-school sometimes.  They may also be the first time since the Tournament of Pink that we start off with back-to-back rosés, but hopefully we can make that a bit more of a recurring pattern.  Game on. Read the rest of this entry »

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Yalumba: Coonawarra Cabernet Classes

28 02 2019

[These wines were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Tonight’s bottle duet replicates one of the most common questions that plagues burgeoning wine consumers:  when it is worth it to jump a tier?  If you’ve tasted and enjoyed the entry-level offering from a given producer, should you invest the extra few bucks to try their next level up?  Will you get more in return, enough more to justify the additional expense?  Value judgments and personal preference are always at least somewhat subjective, but objectively, when you move from a winery’s starter bottle to the next level up, and when you pay more for that privilege, it’s often because you’re getting one or more of:  (1) better, more consistent, more carefully sorted grapes, (2) better vineyard sources, or older vines from within the same vineyard, (3) more estate fruit grown by the producer itself, (4) better (or at least more expensive) winemaking and maturation practices, including more time aging in oak barrels (my legal career confirms that, in some ways at least, time is in fact money), and/or (5) better lots, blends or barrels from the results of the winemaking process.  You can see the similarities in style, region and approach common to the producer between the entry-level or next-level bottles, but in theory at least, due in part to the factors above, you should see some elevation in quality and product as you climb the hierarchy.

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That isn’t to say that pricier is always better; diminishing returns are real in the world of wine, particularly when you enter the realm of luxury wines that cannot hope to deliver the value per dollar of their earthbound affiliates.  But in my experience, the price jump from the cheapest offering of a given brand to its next level up almost always pays off in quality; the patience and precision and commitment required to make truly good wine can be strained when you’re also trying to keep below a $20 price tag, and even the slightest bit of economic leeway can make a massive difference.  Neither of tonight’s offerings fall fully into the entry-level category, but they represent the first and second rungs of Yalumba’s Coonawarra Cab quality tiers, so they will serve nicely to illustrate the considerations that go into whether to make the jump. Read the rest of this entry »





12 Days of Vinebox: Day 9

2 01 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Sicily update:  the streak is over!  Ask and ye shall receive.  After a rather bizarre run of three straight bottles in this dozen from Italy’s most prolific wine island, our request to the cosmos for variety has been granted with fervour, as we are off to the German-est (and thus potentially the best) part of France, Alsace…where, incidentally, my Vetsch family ancestors apparently hailed from five or six or seven generations ago.  Maybe that’s why I love Riesling so much.  Alsace is something of a mystery to me from a vinous perspective, because despite producing solidly priced and consistently high-quality wines, and despite being one of the few Old World locales to actually consider the casual-drinking consumer enough to place grape varietal names on their labels, the region is almost always a hard sell in our market.  Perhaps adopting the white wine focus, gothic scripts and tall fluted bottles from its German forefathers was not the best marketing decision after all.  But when the wine is in a test tube as opposed to a flute…now we’re talking.

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The non-Sicilian wine in question is the 2016 Pierre Henri Ginglinger Riesling, yet another Vinebox offering about which Internet information is strangely nigh-unavailable.  Maybe they are so eager to give you a surprise in the box that they have shut down all worldly sources of data about the bottlings they select.  Maybe their chosen producers have to sign the mother of all NDAs.  Either way, I speak of family estates and generational turnover with admiration quite a bit, but THIS…this is that on an absurd scale.  The Ginglinger family first planted vines in 1610, and generation number TWELVE is currently at the controls of the estate.  Come on.  Their winery building looks like something out of Hansel and Gretel, nestled in the centre of the medieval town of Eguisheim, which is closer to Freiburg in Germany than the Alsatian hub of Strasbourg and is the birthplace of wine in Alsace; the winery’s appearance may have something to do with the fact that it was built in 1684, trivia so good that it makes an appearance on not only Ginglinger’s bottles, but even its Vinebox vial:

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Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 21

21 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

I will admit it, Advent team:  I am nearing the end of my blogging rope.  The culmination of the calendar, Christmas shopping, pre-holiday work deadlines and child sport activities has me completely drained, so as half-bottle Advent peaks to its climax, I am beginning to wear down.  Nevertheless, we aren’t about to stop with the end so near.  We fight with words and persevere.

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So out of the wrapping paper tonight comes…ANOTHER Pinot?  That oddly makes three in five days, after Monday’s Day 17 Ken Wright Oregon masterpiece and Wednesday’s Day 19 Cristom Oregon encore.  This one is…not from Oregon, I guess?  That’s not entirely fair.  If I had pulled this from the calendar on Day 4, or in the midst of the weird run of 2013s, I suspect I would have been pretty psyched about it.  The 2016 Shaw + Smith Pinot Noir from Adelaide Hills is a $50+ bottle retail, from an exciting new-wave producer known for quality.

The winery was founded in 1989 by Michael Hill Smith and his cousin Martin Shaw, both of whom were impeccably credentialed for the venture:  Smith was initially part of the family ownership of Yalumba before being bought out in 1986, and is also a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and Australia’s first-ever Master of Wine, while Shaw was himself a well-known wine consultant who was sought after by many producers needing winemaking assistance.  They grounded their venture in the chilly Adelaide Hills, which is in central-southern Australia near Barossa but 4 degrees cooler on average during the day and a whopping 8 degrees cooler at night, allowing for longer, gentler ripening and the preservation of precious grape acidity.  Grapes have been planted here for two centuries, but it wasn’t until my lifetime that viticulture really came alive on a global scale (not that I can take any credit).  “Higher, colder, wetter” is how Shaw + Smith summarize their Mount Lofty Ranges subregion as compared to nearby Barossa; while only a half hour from coastal Adelaide, it is at 700 metres above sea level…things go up in a hurry. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 20

20 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

From the very first day I bought this year’s Bricks Half-Bottle Advent Calendar, it was eminently clear that one of these neatly wrapped things was not like the others.  This is that thing:

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Why settle for a half-bottle when you can have a full can?  Although alternative wine packaging has developed quite the stigma over the years (whether cans, or bag-in-box, or tetra-packs, or anything other than tall glass bottles), and although it has often been relegated to the purview of forgettable plonk, a few forward-thinking and quality-minded producers are slowly starting to try to take it back.  As a huge proponent of wines in novel containers, I think wines in cans are utterly brilliant.  Cans offer a number of advantages over bottles:

  1. Aluminum is much, much lighter than glass, which saves on shipping costs (often charged by weight), takes less energy to transport and at least theoretically should reduce the shelf price of the product accordingly.
  2. Cans are fully opaque and do not let any damaging UV light through to the wine (which can cause chemical reactions and form sulphurous compounds within the wine that are notably unpleasant).  Glass, on the other hand, especially CLEAR glass…
  3. A sealed can allows no oxygen penetration into the wine and thus acts as a foolproof preservative.  There’s a reason why all your bomb shelter food is canned.
  4. No corks mean no risk of cork taint and closure-based wine spoilage.  Away, TCA!
  5. Cans are easily portable and allow for casual (and, as needed, discreet) enjoyment wherever you happen to be.

The increase of halfway-decent wines in cans is one of the best vinous developments of the decade, and the inclusion of this one in the calendar is at least partially indicative of the growing popular acceptance of the can as a wine-holding medium.  Not a moment too soon. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 18

18 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Well, any wine was going to have its hands full tonight, following on the heels of the toughest act to follow so far in the 2018 calendar, last night’s masterpiece single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Ken Wright.  Like a schedule loss on the second night of a back-to-back home-and-home set in the NHL, Bricks may have strategically selected what I would guess is the least expensive bottle in the whole calendar ($15ish for a full bottle) to take one for the team right after we all revelled in the most expensive bottle in the calendar.  The Advent backup goalie in this case is the 2016 Ram’s Leap Semillon Sauvignon Blanc from New South Wales, Australia, a bottle that continues what is now a Bricks Advent tradition of vinous animals leaping, after the highly tasty Frog’s Leap Zin from 2017.  Stag’s Leap next year?  Most definitely.

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Ram’s Leap is part of the Canonbah Bridge range of wines, a producer with which I was not previously familiar, possibly because the place where their estate vineyard is planted is not even a recognized wine region!  It forms part of the broader appellation of New South Wales, but so does 30% of the Australian wine industry.  The 80-acre vineyard was strategically planted on an old riverbed in the middle of a 30,000-acre sheep farm near Warren, slightly west of the Hunter Valley, a couple hours northwest of Sydney.  Half of the plantings are Shiraz, and the other half are, well, everything else:  Merlot, Grenache, Mourvedre, Semillon, Verdelho, Chardonnay and Tempranillo.  It remains the only commercial vineyard in this highly arid area, with scorching hot days and cool nights that facilitate the practice of organic viticulture (there are no plant-attacking fungi, mildews or moulds in the desert, so less need for herbicides).  Canonbah Bridge takes their organic principles one step further by aiming to avoid any intervention with the vineyard soils whatsoever:  no tilling, all weeding (and much fertilizing) performed via wandering sheep service, cover crops preventing the spread of unwanted plant life, etc. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 4

4 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Well, Ray got his blast from Wine Advent past yesterday, continuing his baffling streak of Austrian dominance (which I believe is now at FOUR Austrian calendar wines in a row, somehow).  Mine came today.  Last year, I was a fresh-faced Wine Advent newbie on December 4, 2017 when I pulled a Manoir du Carra Cru Beaujolais from the Bricks calendar.  Tonight, on December 4, 2018, I unwrapped my designated Advent bottle to find…a Manoir du Carra Cru Beaujolais.  I quickly checked my calendar to ensure I had the right year.

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To be clear, it’s a different Manoir du Carra Cru Beaujolais this time around.  This producer is on its fifth generation of family ownership and has accumulated 34 hectares of vineyard land in an astonishing FIFTY different plots scattered throughout Beaujolais. Last year’s wine was from one of the better-known of the 10 Beaujolais Cru subzones, Fleurie; tonight’s option is from the larger but lesser-known (or at least less visible on shelves here) Brouilly, the biggest and southernmost of the Crus which by itself comprises 20% of the Cru vineyard land in the region.  Brouilly is so named for a massive volcanic hill at the heart of the area, Mont Brouilly, which is itself named for Brulius, a lieutenant in the Roman legion who apparently liked naming volcanoes after himself.  This particular wine comes from the Combiaty lieu-dit (or small plot/area bearing a traditional wine) in the village of St. Etienne le Varenne, located in the south of Brouilly and known best for its dry, nutrient-poor pink granite soils.

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I have a strange relationship with Manoir du Carra, in that I have had their wines on at least a dozen different occasions, but NEVER yet in a full-sized bottle — I’ve had a few splits, a number of glass pours, and a strange but incredible 500 mL bottle (which is a remarkably effective size for a bottle of wine and should be produced in greater quantities).  I assume they actually make normal bottles but cannot confirm.  The Terre de Combiaty comes from Gamay vines that average 50 years of age which are hand-harvested (like everything in the Manoir du Carra portfolio), treated with minimal intervention in the cellar and fermented using semi-carbonic maceration, where the intracellular fermentation processes within the individual grape berries from the carbonic maceration process are joined with simultaneous normal alcoholic fermentation from the crushed berries at the bottom of the fermentation tank, resulting in more colour and tannin than pure carbonic maceration and a scaled-back version of the bubble-gummy carbonic flavour set.

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Cork Rating:  1.5/10 (Further deduction from last year’s edition for not changing the nondescript “Mis en Bouteille” nonsense after being blog-warned.)

This sort-of carbonic Brouilly is a sharp purple colour in the glass but thins quite markedly at the rim.  It is initially much darker than expected aromatically, date and slate and dirt emerging first, with black cherry and chalk peeking through underneath.  Over time, a Banana Runts (with banana leaf?) top note emerges, a nod to its carbonic half, as well as the more anticipated raspberry-rooted Gamay sense of joy.  Fresher and plummier on the palate, the wine showcases its clean, squeaky tannins almost immediately, and fairly laissez-faire acidity results in this Gamay seeming more broad and expansive than its standard varietal signature, albeit while retaining a feathery, wispy sort of texture.  The mineral streak noticeable on first smell lasts throughout, iron and rock dust and magnets, but red fruit blooms as you go along to keep anything from seeming severe.  Bricks, I’d say you are 4 for 4.

88 points








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