Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 24

24 12 2017

Well, the children are tucked all snug in their beds — not sleeping yet, of course, as that would be asking for a miracle — so the time has come to close the curtain on a riotously fun Wine Advent experience and give some kudos to the bottles and people that made it all happen.  The first thank you obviously goes to the remarkable team at Bricks Wine Company, who eagerly took on this half-bottle Advent challenge and then went all out foraging through a not-all-that-overflowing 375 mL market to put together 24 quality bottles reflective of their identity as a shop and their value proposition to their customers.  Way to go — all of your effort clearly showed through over the course of this month.  I would also be remiss not to thank my ultra-awesome co-collaborators Dan Steeves and Ray Lamontagne for their blogging prowess and oh-so-necessary assistance that allowed PnP to forge through two parallel booze Advent calendars at the same time. I’m hoping this won’t be the last time you see their work on this page.

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As for the bottles that shone brightest, I asked each Wine Advent writer to give me their thoughts about their 3 favourite wines of the 2017 calendar and separately made up my own podium of winners for comparison purposes.  There was a lot of jostling in the silver and bronze spots, but the gold medallist was a runaway unanimous victor:

Ray Lamontagne’s Top 3 Wines

1.  2011 Raventos i Blanc “De La Finca” (Day 12):  Buzzsaw acidity is the lens through which all that spiced sourdough and fruit is focused.

2.  2015 Frog’s Leap Zinfandel (Day 15):  A down-home BBQ in a bramble patch.

3.  2010 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant (Day 22):  Peppered blueberries baked into a gingersnap, this can hover by anytime.

DARK HORSE – 2014 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Rouge (Day 20):  Oh look, another Pinot from…Sancerre??  Don’t injure yourself on all those stony outcroppings.

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Dan Steeves’ Top 3 Wines

1.  2011 Raventos i Blanc “De La Finca” (Day 12):  Beautiful acidity with complex layered nutty and toffee flavours with an exceptional finish.

2.  2015 Gruber Roschitz Chardonnay TBA (Day 23):  Great balance for being lusciously sweet, with mouthwatering acidity and an incredibly long and lingering finish.

3.  2015 Schug Carneros Pinot Noir (Day 13):  Beautiful fruits with powerful structural elements that showcases the value that New World Pinot Noir can offer.

DARK HORSE – 2012 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino (Day 2):  The later wines are fresher in my memory, but this was a beautiful bottle.

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Cork Rating:  7/10 (Score bumped by the awesome shade of blue on the metal cap.)

My Top 3 Wines

1.  2011 Raventos i Blanc “De La Finca” (Day 12):  Just a clear notch above the rest in terms of complexity, structure, power and soul.  A true emotive experience.

2.  2015 Krutzler Eisenberg Reserve Blaufränkisch (Day 14):  So effortlessly refined, luxurious yet precise, an eye-opening reason why you should all be drinking more Blaufränkisch.

3.  2015 Stuhlmuller Vineyards Chardonnay (Day 21):  California Chardonnay is largely responsible for giving itself its own reputation for blowsy, overoaked, overripe, overblown wines, but bottles like this show why everyone made such a fuss about it in the first place.

DARK HORSE – 2016 Bella Sparkling Rose “Westbank” (Day 1):  This showed me something that I hadn’t yet seen in Canadian wine; I can still vividly picture its live-wire energy.  It was our first bottle and I remember it more than most of the others.

The fact that three generally like-minded wine lovers picked nine completely different wines to round out their podiums after all zeroing in on the same winner gives you some indication of the overall quality of the wines in this calendar.  The diversity of great bottles in this 24-day span has been phenomenal.

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Merry Christmas from my family to yours!!

There’s not much time or space left to talk about bottle #24, which was the De Venoge Cordon Bleu Brut Select NV Champagne, an appropriately celebratory finish on the night before Christmas.  That ends up being a blessing in disguise, as my bottle was not showing I expect it should have.  It was a VERY dark gold coming out of the bottle and had almost no mousse or carbonation to speak of, smelling heavily of dulce de leche, Kraft caramels and hot sandpaper and tasting flat and roasted and bitter, like coffee left too long on the burner.  Blowtorched black jellybeans, soggy parchment and molasses rounded out a Guinness-like flavour profile.  If I had to guess, I would say this cork didn’t sufficiently hold its seal as the wine sat for some time after bottling but before sale; it’s not as ragingly faulted as my unlucky Brunello on Day 2, but since I highly doubt it’s in condition, I’m not going to score it.  I will instead set it aside and remember the other remarkable bottles that I enjoyed so much, and hope that we’ll get to do it all again next year.  Until then, thanks for following along!

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 21

21 12 2017

This is my second last wine post of Advent 2017:  the coming two days will see Dan and Ray post their Bricks calendar wrap-ups, and the next time you hear from me will be on Christmas Eve, for the grand half-bottle Advent finale.  It’s almost hard to believe our countdown to Christmas is almost done; it’s almost harder to believe that I actually survived it (though perhaps I shouldn’t say that yet).  And Bricks appears determined to send me off in style, because Day 21’s wrapping comes off to reveal an absolute firecracker of a Chardonnay:  the 2015 Stuhlmuller Vineyards from Sonoma’s Alexander Valley.  I think this grape is still in a down phase when it comes to much of the consumer world, but we seem to be entering a period where many of the regions previously responsible for Chard’s worst oaky boozy excesses have started to dial it in just right, at least on the quality wine side of the spectrum.  And there is no better representative of this evolution than California.

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Stuhlmuller Vineyards was founded by a husband and wife team who got their start in 1982 growing and supplying grapes to neighbouring wineries.  They didn’t become a full-fledged estate winery until 2000 but have already developed a reputation in the crowded California wine scene, particularly for Chardonnay, which makes up over half of its acreage.  The Alexander Valley is in the northeast corner of Sonoma, inland from the coast and due north of the better-known Russian River Ralley; its eponymous Russian River runs up and along the eastern edge of Stuhlmuller’s vineyards in Alexander’s southwest corner, where it and the Russian River Valley come together with Dry Creek Valley.  Much like Napa, the grape-growing conditions in the Alexander Valley are helped by two separate ocean-induced effects:  morning fog coursing in daily through the Chalk Hill gap, and cool nights spurred by ocean breezes, both of which provide the grapes relief from the scorching California heat, help preserve precious acidity and lead to more balanced ripening.  This bottle shows the results of all that climatic effort, clocking in at 13.9% abv.

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Cork Rating:  3/10 (Friendly advice – no phone numbers or websites on corks. This has both.)

This is Stuhlmuller’s “entry-level” Chardonnay, but it’s clear from the start that no shortage of care went into its creation.  It was fermented sur lie (on its spent yeast cells) over 8 months and matured in French oak, mostly small-barrel barriques but only 5% new.  It is a rich golden colour in the glass and finds that perfect harmony between Chardonnay’s careful fruit and oak’s at-times exuberant influence, mixing fresh pear, peach and Granny Smith apple pie with ginger chews, almond shortbread, oatmeal cookies and rubber boots.  Simultaneously full and cutting on the palate, the Stuhlmuller’s oak-aided roundness is run through with a table saw of slicing acidity.  It is beautifully poised on the tongue without losing the weight and body that is a defining feature of Chardonnay, a honeyed swirl of caramel apple, white flowers and a bracing quality on the finish like a cool sea breeze.  Refined and restrained but still California in essence — exactly what New World Chardonnay should be.

92 points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 15

15 12 2017

Tonight’s wine might suffer from a disconnect between actual and anticipated identity.  When the first words you note on a label are “California Viognier” and the listed alcohol clocks in above 14%, you think you’re in for a fun, flouncy, slightly provocative stone fruit and flower party.  When the label in question is from an Oakville winery, based in the heart of Napa, which is the heart of big, brash, Cali wine, you doubly brace yourself in anticipation of something raucous.  This bottle is solidly drinkable but has none of that carefree, sultry attitude.  It’s Viognier without joy.

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Miner Family Winery was founded by a husband and wine team in 1996, making this 2015 Miner California Viognier their 20th anniversary vintage bottling.  They make an astonishing array of wines, from Cab and the other Bordeaux varietals to Burgundy’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to the reds and whites of the Rhone Valley to Tempranillo and Sangiovese.  There are multiple bottlings of most of these, so their winemaker obviously stays busy.  The winery’s pride and joy is likely its 20,000 square feet of underground cellaring caves carved into a Napa rock face, which were dug at great expense shortly after Miner came to be.  Despite being Napa-based, they source from across the state of California, as evidenced by the straight “California” designation on this particular bottle.  62% of this Viognier comes from a single vineyard in Paso Robles, while the other 38% comes from the Sierra Foothills; since the wine crosses appellations, it has no choice but to revert to the broader state-wide statement of origin on the label.

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Stelvin Rating:  8/10 (Love the gold, love the sun god logo, love the interest yet simplicity.)

The 2015 Viognier is a surprisingly pale lemon colour coming out of the bottle, partly due to the lack of any oak treatment (which deepens the colour of white wines).  It is almost shockingly lean and citric for a 14+% abv California Viognier, leading with lemon zest and mountain stream aromas backed by frozen honeycomb, Tums and talcum powder.  It broadens slightly in waxy, watery ways on the tongue, adding tart pear fruit and some kind of tropical musk, but retaining an overall sense of distance and a prevailing greenness — fresh leaves and flower stems, grass and baby spinach — finishing with a touch of astringency.  Viognier’s trademark bouncy peachiness and sensual mouthfeel don’t make an appearance, almost like these grapes were picked before those elements got there (harvest dates: August 19th-27th); despite significant sugar ripeness, the phenolics and ultimate character of the wine never quite caught up.  I had no issue crushing the bottle, but this would not be the expression that Viognier sends with its cover letter to land a job interview.

87- points





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 15

15 12 2017

By my count this is “Glen” whisky #5 (well, 4 1/2) in 15 days of 2017 Advent, after Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, Glentauchers and Dailuaine-Glenlivet all the day back on Day 1.  But the more important number for this particular Glen, Highlands’ Glenglassaugh, is three.  The distillery was founded in 1875, but like so many others it was mothballed in the 1980s (1986 to be exact), only to be near-miraculously purchased and re-opened 22 years later in 2008 (then purchased again by BenRiach in 2013, but that’s not part of this story).  I had never heard of Glenglassaugh back in 2014, when on December 7th I opened the KWM Advent Calendar door and discovered the very first whisky it had released after opening its doors again, aptly named the Revival.  The next year, on December 8th, 2015, we were treated to the SECOND ever whisky from the new Glenglassaugh, the Evolution.  And now we arrive to today, December 7+8 = 15th, and back to the number three:  today’s Glenglassaugh Torfa is the third new whisky to come out of the distillery’s doors.  The difference with this one is that it’s peated — according to the label, RICHLY Peated, although at 20 ppm (less than half of The English Smokey’s 45, which itself wasn’t over the top) it might be exaggerating things a bit.

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The rather odd name of the whisky, Torfa, is a nod to its burnt-moss-imbued nature, as it is an old Norse word for peat (turf).  It is an orangey golden colour and certainly exhibits some of its namesake on the nose, beaming out the shoe leather, moss and marsh bog aromas associated with peat, but measuring those with a honeyed sweetness and a lingering grassiness…despite its “Richly Peated” boast, it doesn’t come close to overwhelming.  Coming closer is the flamethrower of a palate that takes no prisoners at 50% abv, even with added water, but behind the alcoholic rage lies more careful peat balance, the smokiness never bullying the other notes of apple crisp, sandpaper, tangerine, black pepper and fallen leaves.  But the telltale slithery griminess shows up on both the attack and the finish, bookending a fun and fascinating dram.  Here’s to a fourth and fifth and many more, Glenglassaugh.





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 14

14 12 2017

The name of this whiskey basically encapsulates what I’m feeling right now, just over halfway through Advent, with 26 posts in the books and 2 more on the way tonight, not quite soon enough to feel close to the finish but far enough along to make me wonder what the heck I was doing.  Writers Tears was so named to be evocative, in honour of those 19th century Irish writers who would descend on their favourite pub to soothe their frustrations and as a global boutique brand that did not need overt Irish references to find its niche in the whisk(e)y world.  (That said, the lack of any apostrophe in “Writers” makes it hard to come to any sensible grammatical conclusion about the name choice.  It just looks like two plural words standing awkwardly beside each other at a bus stop.)  Writers(‘) Tears is a refreshingly modern story:  it is the creation of Walsh Whiskey Distillery in southeast Ireland, a company which was only founded in 1999, and then only to make (seriously) Irish Coffee.  Walsh didn’t launch a solo whiskey until 2007 (made via supply agreements with other distillers) and didn’t have a physical distillery space of its own until LAST YEAR.  Writers Tears came into being in 2009, making it a shade younger than my dog (good boy, Eli).

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This Writers Tears Copper Pot Irish Whiskey bottling is 60% Single Pot Still Whiskey and 40% Single Malt Whiskey, though it comes from 100% Irish barley and contains no grain whiskey.  Let me explain.  Single malt whiskey refers to any whiskey made by a single distillery from malted barley (malting is a process where the raw barley is soaked to get it to germinate before being dried, helping the starches in the barley convert to fermentable sugar).  The limited distinction between this and single pot still whiskey (a purely Irish concept) is that single pot still whiskey features both malted AND unmalted barley in the mash (the liquid that ends up being fermented and distilled), which is distilled in a copper pot still.  The raw barley is supposed to lend spiciness and texture to the mix; I got more of the second here than the first.  This blend is a brilliant medium-amber colour and emits toasty honey, celery sticks, carrot cake, wheat field and vanilla cream aromas, any spiciness certainly of the baking variety.  Cream is also THE word to describe the palate, rich and smooth like steamed milk, soaked through with languid burnt sugar/creme brûlée flavours along with mocha frappuccino, star anise and Werthers’ Originals, all overlaid by a light maltiness.  Yeah, it’s as delicious as it sounds.  An absurd value for $52 — Irish whiskey now fully has my attention.





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 12

12 12 2017

We are here, my friends:  at the midpoint of Advent, 24 posts in (including this one) and 25 to go, about to hit Advent Hump Day tomorrow (on a Wednesday, natch), with two columns of the Bricks Wine Advent crate vaporized and another two left to go.  I’m late posting this tonight not because I got started late, but because tonight’s bottle is so damn fascinating that I’ve just spent the better part of the last hour reading about it instead of getting down to business.  It’s a Cava, but not really.  It has a history dating back either millions (for the land) or hundreds (for the family) of years, but it’s also so new that it has yet to obtain an official designation.  I looked at the label for a good long time trying to figure out what was going on before resolving to dive deeper on this one.

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The label says “2011 Raventos i Blanc Conca Del Riu Anoia De La Finca”.  I recognize it to be a sparkling wine from eastern Spain, but it doesn’t say “Cava” (the only widely known bubbles appellation in the area) anywhere on the bottle.  It’s also vintage-dated, which a lot of Cava is not.  Um.  Starting with the only one of those label words that I knew, and the only one with its own website, I pulled on that thread and started unravelling the mystery.  Raventos i Blanc is one of the top quality sparkling producers in Spain, an estate that has been family-owned and -run for TWENTY-ONE GENERATIONS, since 1497.  The Raventos family is intimately connected with the creation and rise of Cava:  it was Raventos ancestors who first established the indigenous grapes that would form part of the Cava blend (Macabeu, Xarel-lo and Parellada) and who actually made the very first bottles of Cava in 1872.  The Cava DO has since stretched, however, now encompassing a half-dozen areas that aren’t at all geographically connected and now permitting Champagne grapes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to also be used in the bubbly blend.  The current generation of the Raventos family were not a fan of these changes.  So in December 2012, they left the Cava appellation and started their own.

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The estate and vineyards are still based in the very heart of classical Cava, of course, in the core of Penedes near Barcelona.  But Raventos pulled the name of the region off its bottles and instead added the name of a proposed new location-focused appellation:  Conca Del Riu Anoia, named for the nearby Anoia River.  Their proposed requirements for this new region are strict, ranging from a commitment to organic viticulture to minimum purchase prices for fruit bought from growers to longer minimum aging periods.  I keep saying “proposed” because the Conca Del Riu Anoia “region” has no legal or formal existence but is still just a vision; but it has some kind of existence, because I see it on the label of this leading light. Read the rest of this entry »





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 12

12 12 2017

It’s been a frenetic start to Advent, both in terms of the 22 posts that have graced this blog over the past 11 days and in terms of the kaleidoscope of countries and new whisky experiences to which Kensington Wine Market has treated us so far.  Maybe at this point, at the halfway mark of the calendar, we can stop and take a breath and revel in a dose of familiarity before launching ourselves again into the unknown.  Enter the safest low-cost whisky you can buy when you’re stuck somewhere out of town and the only accessible shop is Superstore:  Tullibardine.  I have had the same “hey, this is actually pretty good!” reaction to many a suspiciously cheap Tullibardine scotch and have come to the conclusion that they can deliver on a budget far better than most in the spirit world.  You will often come across a “1488” logo on the distillery’s packaging, and their website hints at their illustrious history…sort of.  It turns out their site was previously a brewery in the 15th century that King James IV once visited, which is impressive, but for the fact that the distillery had nothing to do with the brewery and wasn’t a thing until 1947.  The website does not discuss the intervening 450 years in detail.

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Take a breath.

Through its entire whisky lineup, Tullibardine only uses first-fill casks (barrels that were only previously used once before, so the interior toasting and wood grain is still receptive to liquid contact) for maximum flavour transference.  This Sovereign bottling is the foundation of the portfolio, a Highland Single Malt matured only in first-fill Bourbon casks, at $65 probably the price baseline for a proper single malt scotch.  It is a grainy pale gold colour and comes across somewhat aromatically muted, its baked apple, banana Runts, grass and honey aromas slightly shy and stunted.  Bourbon’s characteristic sweetness wakes it up on the first sip, however. launching flavours of vanilla bean and creme brûlée laced with char and toasted marshmallow skin, those scorched-barrel notes echoing into a smoky finish.  This is not a dynamic whisky, but it is easily an enjoyable weeknight sip, which is all it has to be to justify this price tag.








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