Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 13

13 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Rioja!  I stand to be corrected, but I believe this is the first bottle of Rioja in which we have ever partaken in an Advent calendar…thus my Groundhog Day Advent 2018 curse comes to an end and I get to dive into something sui generis to close out my blogging week.  In.  After last night’s more eclectic offering, tonight seems as safe and comforting as a St. Bernard with a collar barrel of brandy, and it barely misses continuing the 2013 vintage trend we’ve seen a lot of over the past week, although the 2014 vintage designation on this bottle suggests it’s a year beyond the likely current vintage of this wine.  “This wine”, in this case, is the 2014 Bodegas Franco-Espanolas Bordon Rioja Crianza, which is a mouthful to say, let alone type.  But as with so many things wine-related, the name tells a story.

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If you were reaching for your Spanish phrasebook or your Google Translate bookmark, I will save you the trouble:  yes, the producer’s name actually DOES mean “The French-Spanish Winery”.  The winery was founded back in 1890, when a great deal many Frenchmen in the viticulture and viniculture industries were fleeing a country where their livelihoods were literally being eaten away by the phylloxera louse, a scourge that absolutely decimated the vineyards of entire regions in France before the antidote of grafting native vitis vinifera vines onto American bug-resistant vine rootstocks was discovered.  One such Frenchman was Bordelais (and remarkably French-sounding) Frederick Saurat Anglade, who was one of many winemakers from Bordeaux to find refuge in Rioja and then like it so much that he decided to stay.  Along with Spanish partners, he founded his multinational bodegas, perched in prime territory on the banks of the Ebro River, which has since grown into one of Rioja’s biggest.

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This might be the first old-school wine from Rioja that I’ve seen use varietal labelling, but there’s the word “Tempranillo” plain as day on the front label.  This dose of consumer informational assistance is not quite as helpful as it seems, because the 2014 Bordon Crianza is actually only 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha.  Close enough?  The wine spends 15 months in the traditional Riojan staple, American oak barrels (which the winery website is kind enough to advise come from the oak haven of Ohio), followed by additional time (minimum one year) in bottle before release in satisfaction of its legal “Crianza” designation aging requirements.

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Cork Rating:  5.5/10 (Amazing coverage and graphics, but major deduction for being, by FAR, the shortest cork of December to date – see corkscrew evidence above.)

The result of this regimented aging process is a gorgeous rich ruby hue and a slate of classic Spanish aromas, from tobacco and new leather jackets to wet beach, smoked meat/chorizo and cedar with quietly fresh purple fruit overlaid with the dried red berry rendition most commonly associated with 100+ year-old Riojan wineries.  Bright and juicy, the Crianza hums with vibrant acid, its luxuriant round fruitiness a nod to modern influence but its wood-aided papery tannin and its cigar smoke, dust and char flavours a throwback to the good old days.  The two eras of this legendary region dance together marvellously here, and to this day I still haven’t met a Rioja I didn’t like.

90 points

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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 9

9 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Before getting into tonight’s wine, allow me a brief moment of self-reflection.  I realized partway through the current Advent blogging blitz that one of these recent half-bottle calendar posts marked the 500th piece of posted content in Pop & Pour’s history.  I have been writing this blog since March 2011, and never in my wildest dreams did I think it would reach half a thousand articles.  So much has changed in my life, my work and my family since then, but PnP has remained a constant, and it has been immensely gratifying to see it grow and expand with new writers, each with their own new approaches and perspectives.  It has been even more gratifying to have people engage with the site and remind me that I’m not just writing into a vacuum, screaming into the void.  See you all in a few years at post #1000, I hope.

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Back to tonight.  After Ray enjoyed consecutive new takes from Moldova (of all places) and cool-climate Cali, I jump back into the fray and seem to continue the Advent 2017 nostalgia tour, with yet another bottle that takes me right back to last year around this time.  Day 8 of 2017 was the 2012 Chante Cigale Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a bottle that I felt was already markedly past its prime, a surprising disappointment from a top-end region.  Tonight brings another five year-old half-bottle from CNDP, this time the 2013 Domaine de Cristia Chateauneuf-du-Pape, from which I hope for better things.

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This family estate started 70 years ago with 2 hectares’ worth of Grenache plantings owned by founder Etienne Grangean.  Etienne’s son expanded the property and added Syrah and Mourvedre to the varietal mix a few decades later (although Grenache remains 85% of the total acreage), and a decade ago Etienne’s two grandchildren came on board.  Now the Domaine has 58 hectares under vine, 20 of which are in Chateauneuf-du-Pape proper, in the eastern sandier part of the appellation. The parcels there face northeast, away from the afternoon sun, promising slower ripening and longer hang-time.  Domaine de Cristia was certified organic in 2008 and use no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides in its vineyards; it also focuses on indigenous yeast fermentation in the cellar, at lower temperatures in an effort to preserve freshness.  “Of prime importance are finesse and elegance”, says their website.  Sounds good to me, but the proof, as always, is in the bottle. 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





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 2

2 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Day 2.  The spirit is still strong, the Advent joy still coursing through my veins, and now the Christmas decor is up and running in my household, so we are officially in the season.  I’m not sure what I was expecting when peeling back the wrapping paper on the sophomore bottle of this calendar, but Cru Bourgeois Bourdeaux wasn’t it.  This could bode well.  Let’s find out.

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Chateau Caronne Ste. Gemme was THIS close to the big time.  As far as global wine locales go, it is quite nicely situated in Bordeaux’s esteemed Haut-Medoc region, but through a misfortune of cartography it fell a scant 500 metres from where they drew the border for the much more esteemed sub-zone of St. Julien, home of legendary classed-growths Leoville-Las Cases, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Leoville-Barton, Gruaud-Larose, Langoa-Barton and other pricy hyphenated estates.  Its vineyards are actually right beside Gruaud-Larose’s, but on the other side of the appellation tracks and thus on the outside looking in of the 1855 Classification and Bordeaux’s power hierarchy.

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That said, it’s not the legendary estates where the bargains are found; it’s their neighbours.  Caronne Ste. Gemme has been owned by the same family since 1900, but in the last 25 years the current generation of owners has overseen a quality explosion thanks in part to a renewed focus on their 45 hectares of Gruaud-adjacent estate vineyards, planted on a mound of Cabernet Sauvignon-friendly gravel over sandstone.  The wines are fittingly largely Cab (60%), rounded out by Merlot (34%) and Petit Verdot (6%) and see around a year in barrique (20-25% new barrel) and further time in bottle before release.

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Cork Rating:  3/10 (Better idea: put the CHATEAU name on the cork, not the proprietor’s name.)

This is SUCH a textbook, classic Bordeaux.  The 2014 Ste. Gemme is a deep thick ruby-purple colour and smells as though it’s just starting to trace the contours of its aging curve:  blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, tomato leaf, juniper, new pennies (back when those were a thing), pink erasers, campfire embers and topsoil.  An interesting beam of supporting raspberry red joins the chorus once the wine hits the tongue, joined by pipe tobacco, cedar shavings, moss and leather, surrounded by still-scratchy tannins that frame rather than block the flavour symphony.  This is a wine that could simply be nothing else.  It is a dream tasting wine, because it purely and accurately displays exactly what it is without overdoing it; varietal and regional typicity squared.  The Bordeaux that I own I’m trying to age, so I haven’t cracked a bottle of youthful Bordeaux in some time.  This makes the argument that I should, while simultaneously making me mull over what it might taste like in another 5 or 10 years.  Value Bordeaux, I have found you.

89+ points





The Vinebox Cometh: 12 Nights of Wine

14 11 2018

After 7+ years of blogging about and immersing myself in wine, I am in many ways an open book about what I like and don’t like, vinously speaking — there are now over 450 posts on this site, and other musings elsewhere, that spell out exactly what gets me pumped about a new product or wine experience.  Three of the things that rank high on the good side of my ledger, backed up emphatically by past history, are (1) savvy labelling and branding (my love of which is the basis for every Cork Rating I’ve ever done), (2) clever alternative packaging (bring me your wines in cans, your 1L bottles, and everything in between), and (3) Advent calendars.  If you rolled your eyes about the last one, feel free to consult PnP’s 125+ December postings over the past four years and then get back to me…if I’m not a boozy Advent authority by now, I never will be.  As we approach another holiday season, little did I expect to be dumbfounded by a sleek, shiny, downright sexy combination of all three of these things.  Meet Vinebox:

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Oh yes.  It gets better.  Take a look inside:

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OH YES.  Bring it.  That’s what I’m talking about.

Vinebox is a San Francisco-based company that, up until right this minute, was a US-only subscription service for by-the-glass-sized portions of new, interesting, high-quality wines.  This special holiday release box marks their first foray into the Canadian market, and luckily for us locals, it is exclusive to Richmond Hill Wines and a select few other boutiques right here in Calgary.  Given my prior history of Advent proselytizing, I would be remiss if I did not point out that Vinebox’s 12 Nights of Wine holiday kit is not technically an Advent calendar, as it offers 12 different holiday wine offerings instead of the classic Advent 24-day December countdown to Christmas.  It is instead intended to mirror the 12 days of Christmas (which, I was shocked to discover, all actually occur AFTER Christmas — they run from December 25th through January 5th, marking the time in Christian lore that it took the three wise men to arrive and visit the newborn Jesus…mind formally blown).  Practically speaking, this means that you can either crack a glass on every even day in December as a sort of quasi-Advent replacement (or get two and create your very own full-scale Advent calendar, with a critical revisit of each offering every second day) or get the coolest Christmas gift ever for somebody to enjoy on Christmas Day and the next eleven following.

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In recent years, because the progress of the species is a real and abiding thing, we have seen a proliferation of wine, beer and spirits-based Advent and holiday calendars in a variety of shapes and sizes.  What sets the Vinebox addition to this growing December lineup apart is the unique and patented way the wines are delivered, in Stelvin-enclosed, test tube-like — yet still amazingly labelled and producer-branded! — 100 mL glass cylinders that make a stunning visual impression. Read the rest of this entry »





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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