12 Days of Vinebox: Day 8

1 01 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Happy New Year!!  As we leave 2018 behind and stride into 2019, I think Vinebox might find itself in the midst of a bit of a rut, in need of a New Year’s resolution or two.  You know when the record groove glitches and the same loop of sound plays again, over and over?  We may be within that repeating loop of time now.  If you have a seasonal collection of wine that is 12 bottles large, I would resist having any two bottles in a row come from the same place.  When you hit THREE identically situated bottles in a row, and when the locale in question is Sicily, I start to wonder a bit.  This is not a slight against Sicilian wine, which is often quite wonderful, but it is a query about whether it should make up the whole of Act 2 of the 12 Days of Christmas, particularly when the drinking audience for this set is likely in large part unfamiliar with it.  Add that all 3 of the bottles in question appear to be made by the same producer, and I start to yearn for a little more variety.

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All that said, sometimes the variety can be found within the produce of the winery itself. To be sure, the leaner whites from Days 6 and 7 don’t give me a lot of common ground from which to judge this CABERNET SAUVIGNON.  Sicilian Cab?  It is rare, but it exists, and here is allowed to stretch its legs in 100% pure-varietal form.  This is the 2017 Cantine Grosso Baldovino Cabernet Sauvignon, made from grapes grown in northeast Sicily, a highly friendly area for viticulture thanks to tons of sun, moderating ocean influence and mineral-laden soils.  This is been a home to cultivated grapes since Roman times but is just now being rediscovered by modern audiences.  Cantine Grosso is now five generations into its stewardship of Sicily’s long vinous history, having been founded way back in 1887.  Maybe 3 straight Vinebox days aren’t too many after all. Read the rest of this entry »

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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 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 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 12

12 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Halfway!!  As in past years of blogging Advent, I arrive at the midway point of the calendar wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into and why on Earth I keep doing this every December.  The pre-Christmas pressure is getting to all of us, but we persevere — these wines aren’t going to analyze themselves.  The random division of blogging days is starting to coalesce into possibly pre-ordained wine patterns:  while Ray’s calendar selections tend to focus on things from 2013 and things from Austria, mine all seem trapped in calendar nostalgia, directly harkening back to bottles we pulled one year ago.  And here we go again:  tonight’s wine is a trip down memory lane squared.  When I first opened the wrapping paper I actually thought it WAS the very same bottle that kicked off the inaugural Half-Bottle Advent:  the 2016 Bella Wines Rose Brut Natural “Westbank”.  From the front it looks identical, but closer examination of the back label reveals that, while this is also a Bella traditional-method sparkling Gamay, it’s from a different vintage (2017 vs. 2016) and a different vineyard.  And what a difference both of those things can make.

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Bella Wines is uncompromising in its vision and is probably unlike anything the Okanagan Valley has otherwise seen:  a 100% bubbles-only natural wine producer that makes only single-varietal, single-vineyard offerings, most of which are from a single vintage.  They source grapes from organic vineyards, avoid any additives in the winemaking process, ferment only with indigenous yeasts and use cooler fall and winter outdoor temperatures to help with cold stabilization.  The goal is to create the purest and most transparent picture of the place and time that gave the grapes life; the flip side of that coin is that, when the land and the season do not want to cooperate, the picture painted may not be an appealing one.  But Bella is like a war-zone photographer:  the idea is not to appeal, it’s to reveal. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 8

8 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I am on a Chardonnay kick of late. Admittedly, though, California Chardonnay has not been on the docket much. If it were, Carneros would perhaps be one logical starting point for a guy who enjoys delicate renditions. This AVA spans both Napa and Sonoma counties, is moderately cool and windy, and enjoys a number of day degrees comparable to Beaune. Make no mistake, however. The sunshine is more intense and the growing season is longer than in Burgundy, leading to more prominent fruit flavours even as the grape’s acidity is preserved. A gentle winemaking hand yields a sip full of pure crystalline citrus and apple fruit character, gracefully lifted up by the acid and a distinct silky texture. A heavy-handed approach mars this regional signature almost completely, yielding a wine that might score points with some reviewers but that shows little distinction by way of place.

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With family roots in the Rheingau, Koerner Rombauer, his wife Joan, and their two children arrived in the Napa Valley in 1972. They became partners in Conn Creek winery, learning the wine business there and then staking out on their own in 1982. Rombauer vineyards was a run-away success, serving as an initial home base for numerous other up and coming California wineries (e.g., Duckhorn, Spottswood) while Koerner and Joan also made their own wines. Rombauer Vineyards purchased its first Chardonnay from the Carneros region in 1990, from the Sangiacomo family. This partnership fit lock and key, with Carneros grapes and Rombauer’s winemaking providing a synergy that resulted in numerous accolades, including four appearances on Wine Spectator’s “Top 100 Wines” list. The Rombauers purchased their own vineyard in Carneros in 2002, the same year that Joan tragically died from pancreatic cancer. Today a third generation of Rombauers remains employed at the winery. Carneros Chardonnay remains one of their standard bearers, with Wine Spectator claiming that “Rombauer defines the California Chardonnay style that so many adore”. So a big boozy white, ripe with tropical fruit aromas, buttery and decadent? Hmmm. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 5

5 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Once more into the breach, my friends, and on Day 5 of Advent 2018, once more into the bag of Advent 2017 synonyms:  a Moscato d’Asti from a strong producer, much like last year’s Day 10.  That wine (I maintain to this day) struggled with some bottle condition issues, and I am happy to say that this one is clean as a whistle and full of youthful spirit. It is the 2017 G.D Vajra Moscato d’Asti, and spawns stories of history, of production method, of flavour.  Which to tell first?

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Let’s start from the start, I suppose…which it turns out is much more recent than I expected.  Despite its highly traditional-seeming name and labelling, G.D Vajra is barely 45 years old, a complete baby by the standards of Barolo, founded in 1972 (albeit from family vineyards from a couple decades earlier) with its first commercial vintage not released until 1978.  It is named after founder Aldo Vajra’s father and was started because, in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air style, Aldo participated in a student protest revolt in the city where he lived at age 15 and was thereafter immediately sent out to the Barolo countryside to live with his grandfather on a farm for the summer, away from the sway of proletariat rebellion.  That summer in Barolo (as it likely would for all of us) triggered a deep and abiding passion for wine, which ultimately resulted in the bottle here before us.  One little fight and his mom got scared…

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My favourite thing about Moscato d’Asti, apart from its dangerous low-alcohol crushability, is the trivia behind how it’s made.  It is one of the few types of sparkling (or frizzante, in this case – lightly sparkling) wines that do not go through two fermentations:  one to vinify a dry base wine, the other to re-ferment that wine with additional yeast and sugar to create the bubbles.  Instead, it combines both processes into one through a highly ingenious process called the Asti method.  Fermentation begins as per usual, but in a pressurized steel tank that is sealed off from air partway through the process, with the result that the carbon dioxide that is a fermentation byproduct cannot escape the tank and is trapped in the wine.  Then, when the half-bubbly wine is still quite sweet and considerable amounts of yeast and sugar remain that would normally continue to make sweet magic and craft a higher-alcohol dry wine, the tank and the wine inside are chilled to near-freezing to halt fermentation (yeast don’t like cold much).  The yeast is then filtered out of the tank while it is still under pressure (so that fermentation with the remaining sugar does not continue when the wine warms back up) and the wine is bottled under pressure — only lightly bubbly, at 5-6% alcohol and with a bunch of residual sugar.  Brilliant.

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Stelvin Rating:  8/10 (That green is just beautiful, especially in person, and the powdery sheen works.)

This particular Moscato hails from a single vineyard in the perfectly named commune of Mango, located on a steep slope at elevation in the Moscato d’Asti region.  It is a gleeful tropical fruit salad on the nose:  mango (of course), kiwi, canned oranges and pears, banana leaf, star fruit, and onward down the orchard Rolodex, spiked with gobs of potpourri and spring flowers and chemically Alka Seltzer and city pool chlorine.  Lush and quite notably sweet, even for Moscato standards, it is lent a sense of airiness due to its sloshy frizzy bubbles, which are not quite as penetrating or scouring as you might anticipate, a product of the not-quite-sparkling frizzante fermentation process (which is also why this can be bottled in a normal bottle and closure as opposed to a thicker Champagne-style bottle — it’s under a lot less pressure).  All I can taste is pineapple Life Savers, cream soda and every single flavour of Gummy Worm on overdrive.  The finish is slightly cloying, thanks to acid that doesn’t quite stretch all the way to the end of the line and can’t quite balance out the Moscato’s immense sweetness.

As a beverage, this is freaking delicious.  It took no time at all for the entire half-bottle to disappear.  As a wine, I wouldn’t rank it among the top Moscatos I’ve had because the rest of the wine can’t quite keep up with the sugar levels, leading to things getting a little bit flouncy.  But it’s hard to be too unhappy after a couple glasses of Moscato.

87 points








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