Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 17

17 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a week left in Advent.  As our December wine journey starts wending its way to the finish line, Tyler yesterday rightly complimented the calendar on its diversity and variety to date, commenting on how every day has been a fresh and exciting adventure to a different place, grape or style.  Perhaps that triggered the jinx, or perhaps we fell into a trap set by the 7s, but tonight’s Day 17 reveals a strikingly familiar face, one just seen back on Day 7:  Clarence Dillon’s Clarendelle.  Whereas our first week of Advent ended with the Clarendelle red, our last week of the calendar starts with the 2018 Clarendelle Bordeaux Blanc.

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Tyler covered the history of Clarendelle in detail in Day 7’s entry, noting that it was a recent effort of Clarence Dillon Wines to create a brand-based and price-conscious Bordeaux wine “inspired by Haut-Brion”, another winery forming part of the Dillon empire, with some help from the Haut-Brion winemaking team.  I’m not sure I fully buy this motto, which is notably plastered on this half-bottle’s front label; “inspired by Haut-Brion” is largely code for “I also own Haut-Brion and can say this without being sued”.  That said, if I owned Haut-Brion I would probably put its name on everything else I owned too.  The man who purchased the great First Growth in 1935 has a few impressive buys on his resume:  a legendary financier, Dillon pulled the Goodyear company out of receivership, and then later bought Dodge, and then Chrysler, all within the span of six years and all before dropping 2,300,000 francs on Haut-Brion.  He was basically the Monopoly man.  His son, also named Clarence Dillon, was the US Secretary of the Treasury and the Ambassador to France.  And the prince of Luxembourg is in the family tree somewhere.  You get the idea.

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White wines used to make up half of Bordeaux’s production not even 60 years ago; now they are less than 10%, as a combination of soil-based vineyard replanting and shifting consumer tastes have seen the region focus more and more on Cab- and Merlot-based red blends.  Most of Bordeaux’s whites are blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, with a smattering of Muscadelle here and there (I initially thought these three were the only permitted white grapes of Bordeaux, only to be roundly corrected by the following Rolodex of allowable white varietals:  Sauvignon Gris, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Merlot Blanc (??), Ondenc and Mauzac [at least possibly made-up], Albarino, Petit Manseng and Liliorila).  There are less than 1,000 hectares of Muscadelle planted in all of Bordeaux, the bulk of which is used as a floral-accented blending component to sweet wines like Sauternes. It is a delicate, fragile and discreet grape, not known for prominence either in any part of its flavour profile or in any notable white Bordeaux blends.  Its name notwithstanding, it is not related at all to the Muscat grape family, instead arriving on the scene as a crossing between an unknown vinifera parent and Gouais Blanc, a grape that’s utterly un-noteworthy on its own but has some remarkable procreation skills, acting as parent for a large swath of vinifera grapes (like Chardonnay) that we currently know and love.

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I mention all of this because my first thought when I saw the blend composition on this bottle, uttered out loud in spite of myself, was:  “That is a sh*t ton of Muscadelle.”  The Clarendelle website helpfully advises that they sometimes add “a touch of Muscadelle in certain vintages” of their Bordeaux Blanc; the 2018 vintage is 42% Semillon, 30% Sauvignon Blanc and 28% Muscadelle.  I have never seen that much Muscadelle in a single wine ever (although there is apparently a 100% Muscadelle Bordeaux Blanc out there, which I now must track down).  The combo of Muscadelle and Semillon means that 70% of this white is made up of restrained, reticent varietals — can the Sauvignon Blanc minority pump up the volume and bring out the extrovert in this wine?  (Spoiler: no.)

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Cork Rating:  5.5/10 (Elegant font and graphics, although the composites aren’t my favourites.)

The 2018 Clarendelle is a pale but vibrant lemon colour and emerges elegantly if cautiously in the glass.  Its strikingly alpine, floral nose conjures up crystal clear images of that mountaintop field of flowers in every Sound of Music poster or Ricola commercial, honey-lemon Halls meets honeysuckle meets liquid nitrogen, with hints of crystallized pineapple lurking around the edges.  This delicate Swiss chorus is joined on the palate by white grape (maybe Muscadelle is like Muscat in actually bringing out grape flavours), pear, tonic water, lime popsicle, rock dust and white tea flavours, laced with a touch of Semillon’s lanolin, the acid quietly tremulous as if unsure where to cut in.  The overall combination is pleasantly neutral, if sort of self-effacing as a result, the wine not really flashing its personality until a finish that lasts way longer than you might expect.  Haut-Brion it is not (percentage of Muscadelle in the 2018 Haut-Brion Blanc:  0%), but as far as introductory signposts to Bordeaux blanc go, it strikes the right chords, if in a slightly tentative manner.

87+ points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 3

3 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Three days into this year’s half-bottle extravaganza and we haven’t seen a standard-shaped Bordeaux or Burgundy bottle yet.  First off was the reinforced bubbles bottle, followed by the Germanic flute (which trickily held a red), and tonight it became immediately clear that the streak was going to continue.  Can we roll with the punches?  Yes we can.

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This is also the third straight day that I’ve peeled off the tissue paper to find a familiar friendly face:  Day 1’s Tawse has been my go-to Ontario stalwart for years, Day 2’s K.H. Schneider makes the best goddamn Dornfelder in the world, and Day 3’s can is brought to you by the wonderful, hospitable, salt-of-the-earth people at Fox Run Vineyards, from New York State’s gorgeous Finger Lakes area, a winery and a region that I was lucky enough to visit back in 2016.  That was the same year that this wine — sort of — was named the feature white of the Calgary Stampede.  Meet the Fox Run Vineyards On The Run Unoaked Chardonnay, can edition.

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Fox Run is a New York State institution.  This pastoral property on the western shores of Seneca Lake was originally a dairy farm before grapes were first planted there in 1984.  Fast forward 35 years and the winery now owns 50 acres of east-sloping vineyards and focuses on crafting a wide variety of estate wines under the watchful guidance of longtime winemaker Peter Bell.  While they rightly take pride in their excellent Riesling lineup, their Chardonnays are in my mind an equal part of their house identity, both the spritely unoaked Doyle Family Chardonnay and the marvellous barrel-fermented Kaiser Vineyard Chardonnay.  I believe that this can is made up of the former, although the can itself gives away no hints of its specific identity.  The can also strangely does not indicate a vintage, perhaps to avoid the annoyance of having to re-print can labels for each successive harvest; however, I am told that it is most likely not a NV wine and is instead probably the 2018 edition of the Doyle.  This is excellent news, because it means that it is likely also 8% Traminette, a lovably bizarre, slightly soapy, melony hybrid whose vinifera parent is Gewürztraminer (hence the name), which is normally added to the Doyle Chardonnay as a minority blending partner to rev up its personality.  (Fox Run also makes a varietal Traminette, which you absolutely must buy if you ever get the chance.  Traminette is amazing.)

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Cork Rating:  I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do with this.  2/10.  Nice tab.

First impressions:  spritz!  The release from the can causes multitudes of tiny bubbles to cling to the sides of my glass for a good ten minutes while a reductive matchsticks and smoke aroma blows off.  What remains is a chiselled aromatic profile of fresh lemon, smoked lime, honeydew, wet grass, pina colada and something oddly like boxed cake powder or Premium Plus soup crackers, the latter two of which I will credit to the Traminette.  The olfactory intrigue does not arise due to any lees stirring or barrel contact, of which there was none — Fox Run built the Doyle in as linear a fashion as possible, save only for the incorporation of this Chardonnay’s mischievous blending brother.  The regimented cool-climate style takes over on the crisp, lean, precise palate, whose relatively neutral flavours of Asian pear, underripe white peach, river rocks and chalk dust are energized by a tight line of acidity that is not undercut by any excess in body or weight.  I almost think this would have been better off being drunk straight out of the can as opposed to splayed out in a Burgundy glass — it is a straight-shot linear wine well-suited to patios and campsites, its low alcohol and pH priming it to provide immediate refreshment, but its mission not extending to unfolding in layers over time.  That said, its consistency and focus are a continual joy with each successive vintage, and, it turns out, with any given container.

87+ points





Yalumba: Introducing Samuel’s Collection, Part I

19 11 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Yalumba is tidying things up a bit.  The Barossa stalwart, now on its 5th generation of family ownership dating back to 1849, traces itself back almost the entire length of the history of its region (whose first Shiraz vines were planted in 1847).  But 170 years of growth and development later, Yalumba’s impressive lineup of wines was starting to lack some internal organizational cohesion, with some forming part of a demarcated grouping or collection (the wildly successful Y Series being a key example of why this can be a boon to consumers) and others standing on their own, without clear delineation as to their place in the company hierarchy.  This would not be much of an issue for a smaller-scale producer, but when you make 52 different bottlings, it’s nice to know where things fit.  Enter Samuel’s Collection.

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This new mid-tier range is both a corporate reorg and a celebration, a way for a number of excellent but disparate Yalumba offerings to find a home as a tasteful homage to the winery’s founder Samuel Smith.  The Collection, featuring all-new clean, modern label art, features seven wines:  four reds from the Barossa Valley and three whites from the neighbouring Eden Valley.  The reds (Bush Vine Grenache, GSM, Shiraz, Shiraz Cab) all share measured ripeness, fermentation using ambient yeasts and a more lithe, transparent take on what can be a region known for muscle-flexing; the whites (Viognier, Roussanne, Chardonnay) are all similarly streamlined takes on sultry grapes, rooted in Eden’s cooler weather and acid spine.  I have had prior vintages of both of tonight’s reds, known back then as the Old Bush Vine Grenache and The Strapper GSM, and their packaging and branding was so divergent that it looked like they came from different wineries.  No longer.  The threads that unite now take centre stage…even the price, as every wine in the new Samuel’s Collection should hit the shelf at a $25ish mark.  As will be seen below, it is a group worth seeking out. Read the rest of this entry »





Amulet Wines: Vinous Talismans

6 11 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

When the intrepid Dwight Sick left his longtime position as winemaker at Stags Hollow Winery and took up the same role at the Naramata’s Moraine Winery, he took two things with him:  (1) a trailblazing sense of adventure, forcing drinkers to check their premises regarding which grapes can work best in the Okanagan Valley, and (2) access to the best and most established plantings of Grenache in Canada, from the Kiln House Vineyard near Penticton.  That combination could never lie dormant for too long.  Sick helped plant the Kiln House Grenache vines over a decade ago, and he nurtured them into the Okanagan’s first bottling of varietal Grenache after years of effort and patience.  It didn’t seem right to let the red Rhone dream die, so soon after it had been realized.  So Sick didn’t.

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Enter Amulet Wines:  a special new side project that Sick has undertaken in collaboration with Dylan and Penelope Roche of the thrilling recent Okanagan venture Roche Wines, fulfilling a vision 15 years in the making.  Amulet is focused solely on Okanagan-grown Rhone varietals, a lesser-known but burgeoning (and shockingly effective) subset of British Columbia’s melting pot of grape influences.  The inaugural Amulet release is a duo of bottlings, both blends, both heavily featuring the Kiln House Vineyard, both aimed at proving that Canada is (or at least can be) a New World Rhone haven.  As Dwight Sick was one of the first to make me believe the truth of this latter proposition, I was eager to see how far an entire brand focused on this goal, and inspired by his vision, could carry it.

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First things first:  god damn are these visually commanding bottles of wine.  I don’t know how gripped I am by the “good versus evil” thematics that pervade the Amulet branding, but I am entirely enthralled by the bottles themselves, which harken back somewhat to Sick’s old Cachet bottlings from Stag’s Hollow in their transparent monochrome-and-red colour scheme.  However, what particularly elevates these new offerings are their centrepieces:  the curved golden metal coins emanating from the heart of each bottle, which are apparently replicas of Elizabethan-era “Gold Angel” coins, depicting St. Michael slaying a dragon, that were carried or worn as amulets to ward off evil.  Whatever these coins added to the overall production cost of the bottles, it was worth it — they are simply stunning.  I tried to pry mine off the bottles once they were empty, but to no avail.  I’ll look for a dragon next time.  Were the wines equally as compelling as their packaging? Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Road 13’s Rare Whites

12 07 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

This may be the last post from me for a while, as I imminently prepare to head off of the continent for a little bit on a proper Viking vacation.  (If anybody knows a great wine shop in Copenhagen or Billund, let me know immediately.)  But fear not, Ray will still be here to keep the blog alive for the rest of July, and I have one last gasp of Canadiana in me before I bolt the country.  Tonight’s trio of whites from the Golden Mile Bench’s Road 13 Vineyards makes me realize that I should have been following this winery more closely before now, but I will try to make up for lost time.

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Clean and classic labels, eye-opening wines – but not sure about 2018’s italics.

Road 13 has had an interesting last 12 months, as it was named the Winery of the Year at Wine Align’s National Wine Awards of Canada in 2018 and was then promptly sold before the year was out.  Long-time proprietors Pam and Mick Luckhurst, who acquired the winery (then-called Golden Mile Cellars) and were responsible for first renaming it and then building it into a well-respected national brand, decided to move into retirement (the winery itself having been their first, not-that-relaxing-as-it-turns-out attempt to retire) and accepted an offer from Mission Hill’s / Mark Anthony Brands’ Anthony von Mandl to purchase the company.  The winemaking team remains intact, however, as does the winery’s vision and present focus on the potential of Rhone varieties in British Columbia, an endeavour that I back fully, having had enough marvellous Okanagan Syrah recently to make me wonder what else from the south of France would flourish here.  As it turns out, the white Rhone side of the equation is just as compelling as the red.  But we start with a scion of a Road 13 classic. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Moraine Winery Spring/Summer Set

28 06 2019

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

Wine is indelible.  It can leave impressions and fasten itself onto moments or events with surprising, graceful ease.  Show me a bottle or producer that I’ve had before and I will often be immediately taken to the scene where I had it last, even if it was otherwise unmemorable.  In the case of Naramata’s Moraine Winery, the scene already had memories to spare, and every bottle since has carried them back to me.

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My first encounter with the wines of then-up-and-coming Moraine was almost exactly six years ago today.  I remember because Calgary was underwater, as the great flood of 2013 wreaked havoc on the heart of my hometown.  I also remember because I had become a dad for the second time ten days prior, on Father’s Day; the power and energy of the tempests that made the waters rise seem to have imbued themselves in my son Max ever since.  The white, black and red labels of Moraine marked my first return to the blog after Max’s birth.  He just finished kindergarten two days ago.  The wheels of time continue to spin, but our wines mark our occasions.

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Moraine was founded by current owners Oleg and Svetlana Aristarkhov, ex-Albertans who headed west to follow their passion into the world of wine.  Their two estate vineyards, the older and larger Anastasia and the younger Pinot Noir-devoted Sophia, are named after their two daughters; the winery name reflects the glacially deposited rocks that form a key part of the terroir at their Naramata site.  When I first came across Moraine it was in its early stages of life, just finding its way as a new winery.  In this current encounter it is in a different phase of life, and in the midst of a significant transformation:  a new winemaking facility and cellar is being built, a new larger tasting room and hospitality centre has just opened, and as of last year the wines are being crafted by a new winemaker, albeit one who is a familiar face on the BC wine scene.  Dwight Sick, who spent the last decade as the winemaker at Stag’s Hollow, came to Moraine just before the 2018 harvest, the final critical piece to this next stage of the winery’s growth and development.  Yet Moraine’s focus still remains anchored in Anastasia and Sophia, and the ever-maturing vines they hold.  I got the opportunity to taste some of Sick’s first Moraine releases, as well as an early single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Sophia, to get a sense of how far Moraine Winery has come. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Culmina Spring Releases, Part 1

30 05 2019

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

IMG_0135You have to admire a guy like Don Triggs.  After co-founding the eponymous Jackson-Triggs, taking the brand to meteoric heights and carrying the cause of Canadian wine along with it, Don parted from the brand in 2006 when it was subsumed into the massive Constellation empire, his finances and legacy secure, a career in wine that started shortly after his graduation in the late 1960s drawing to a close, retirement beckoning.  But instead of choosing that comfortable path, he threw himself back into the breach once more, this time thinking smaller in scale and fixated on quality.  This next quest started, literally, from the ground up.  With the aid of legendary vineyard consultant Alain Sutre, Triggs spent a year scouring the Okanagan Valley for just the right site, one that could reliably and properly ripen red Bordeaux varietals, including Canada’s white whale, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Finding a promising spot with southeast-facing exposure on what is now the Golden Mile Bench, the Okanagan’s first legally recognized sub-Geographical Indication (GI), they carried out a slew of temperature and soils tests and discovered that the microclimate of the site (at least in terms of degree-days, a measurement that tracks relative aggregate temperature over the course of a growing season) was very similar to that of Bordeaux.  Arise Bench, the inaugural estate vineyard of Culmina Family Estate Winery, was acquired, and Don Triggs’ newest project came to life.

Having located a potentially ideal site for big, chewy reds, Triggs and Sutre only had to look up to find complementary cooler spots for elegant whites.  Two separate and increasingly higher-altitude benches a short hike up the adjacent hillside completed the Culmina vineyard collection:  Margaret’s Bench, at almost 600 metres of elevation a truly unique Okanagan location, welcomes Riesling, Chardonnay and Canada’s top plantings of Gruner Veltliner, while mid-level Stan’s Bench splits time between these whites and Malbec and Petit Verdot to round out Culmina’s Bordeaux blends.  This three-tiered vineyard elevation stairway is the foundation of everything Culmina does, every square inch mapped and studied to maximize the location of each vine planted.

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As Culmina established its identity in the Okanagan, its lineup of releases began expanding: its base Winery Series line, culminating (no pun intended) with Hypothesis, the Bordeaux blend that was the mission statement for the venture, has now been joined by two other sets of releases.  The light-hearted R&D line (which stands for either “research and development” or Don and his twin brother Ron, who are featured in childhood form on the labels) allows Culmina to let its hair down a bit and focus on budget-friendlier wines that are a joy to drink; the limited-release Number Series is a set of small-lot one-offs that push the boundaries of possibility on Culmina’s trio of sites.  I had the opportunity to taste some of the winery’s latest releases, which have just started to hit shelves now, and track the continued upward trajectory of one of Canada’s most exciting wine projects. Read the rest of this entry »








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