12 Days of Vinebox: Day 12

5 01 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Well, we’ve done it:  scaled the top of a 24-day Advent mountain, and without pausing for breath, immediately continued up to the summit of the second 12-day Vinebox mountain perched directly on top of it.  36 straight days of blogging later, here we are, weary and satisfied and very ready not to write about any goddamned thing tomorrow.  And we end the 12 Days of Vinebox with the wine that maybe surprised me the most in the lineup, not because there’s anything particularly weird about it (although in this age of wine weird-offs marked by escalating departures from the norm, maybe strait-laced in-its-lane Left Bank Bordeaux qualifies as odd in a post-hipster-irony sort of way), but because it appears to be a library offering.  This 2011 Chateau Hourbanon Medoc is easily the oldest wine in our set of test tubes, proving that even back-vintage wines can be relocated and settle peacefully in their new skinny Vinebox homes.

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I gently chided Vinebox yesterday for not supplying much information along with their wines, but tonight’s offering solves that problem itself by way of an information-packed, if insanely disorganized, producer website, wherein the current proprietor of Chateau Hourbanon tells you absolutely everything you would want to know about the history and current philosophy of the estate in nine different potential languages.  I find this sheer earnest desire to share and educate highly welcoming.  Thanks to this glorious fount of information, I can advise that Chateau Hourbanon has long been highly regarded — it was classified as a Cru Bourgeois (or its pre-official predecessor) back in the 19th century — but the subsequent 100 years were not as kind to it, and when reformed dentist Remi Delayat purchased it in 1974 it was all but abandoned, its winery buildings in complete disrepair.  Delayat made it his personal mission to rehabilitate the estate, and after his premature death in 1981 his widow Nicole carried on the quest, followed by  their son, current proprietor and website content-master Hugh, who now manages the estate’s 13 hectares of vines.  In the current more formalistic classification of the Cru Bourgeois wineries, Chateau Hourbanon’s name remains on the list. Read the rest of this entry »

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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 19

19 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Well, well. We appear to have ourselves an Advent “Battle of Oregon” this year… of sorts. After the current favourite for “2018 wine of the calendar” made its presence felt a mere two days ago, another iconic Oregon Pinot Noir comes out swinging. The present bottle, the 2016 Cristom Vineyards Mt. Jefferson Cuvee, keeps taking the crown in an annual Wine & Spirits poll to identify the “#1 Pinot Noir in America’s Best Restaurants” (five wins in total). However, most fascinating to me is that this wine represents a very different vinification philosophy from the Ken Wright approach from Day 17. Wright bottles a single-vineyard Pinot Noir from 13 different sites in the northern Willamette Valley. His overriding goal is capture the unique character of each plot. At Cristom, however, blending reigns supreme. Although the winemaking approach is informed by a traditional Burgundian ethos, grower and owner Tom Gerrie and winemaker Steve Doerner believe that the Willamette shows best when grapes from different sites are woven together into a tapestry, as opposed to enjoyed as single strands.IMG_2469

Steve Doerner had previously spent 15 years crafting world class Pinot Noirs with Josh Jensen at Calera, on remote Mount Harlan in California. Although this collaboration was fruitful, Jensen, a staunch advocate of site specificity much like Ken Wright, retained ultimate control over the winemaking. Doerner began to tire of working in such an isolated, lonely locale and was unable to persuade Jensen that blending could afford possibilities that single vineyard wines could not. As he told wine historian Paul Lukacs, “I just liked the idea of making something better, something more complete, than any of its components”. Doerner found the freedom he was seeking when he moved to Oregon and began working with Tom’s father, Paul Gerrie. The Gerrie family considers Doerner to be a blending ninja, a man able to sculpt characterful wines using grapes from all five of Cristom’s estate vineyards as well as quality sites from nearby in the Willamette Valley. Doerner makes the entry level Mt. Jefferson Cuvee first, tasting wines from the different plots and then synthesizing the finished wine using a non-obsessive, intuitive approach based on his tasting instincts alone: “I don’t agonize over it at that point. I just try to make the best I can.” Cristom does make site-specific bottlings, as the market is of course enamoured with terroir, and the Gerries are understandably proud of their estate vineyards. However, each year’s blend is the first priority, with consistency from vintage to vintage the final goal. 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 17

17 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

I can often tell how much I like a wine by how many notes I take.  Even when it doesn’t hit me at first how much I am taken by a bottle, I’ll suddenly look down and a whole notebook page is filled up of musings and guesswork and random sensory impressions, the various threads through which I eventually try to sort out the essence of the wine and how it speaks to me.  On blog days where the bottle doesn’t have much to say, or doesn’t quite spur the imagination, the pen moves very slowly.  Tonight I have three pages of notes in about 30 minutes, and I had to stop myself from writing more so that I could post this early enough for people to actually read it.  This was the first bottle in Advent history that had me autonomically exclaim “WOW.”, reflex-like, as soon as I opened the bottle.  I had never had a Ken Wright Pinot Noir before, but I was very well aware the level of quality it represented.  For my first bottle to be his 2015 Shea Vineyard, from the now-famous plot that he almost single-handedly put on the map, can’t be more perfect.  Welcome to the last week of the calendar, which almost surely can’t get better than this.

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Ken Wright was first exposed to wine as a waiter and student in Kentucky, and the regular staff tastings at his part-time job soon led to a complete change of vocation and an enrolment in the prestigious UC Davis viticulture program in California.  He spent close to a decade in the state honing his craft, but a single visit to Oregon in 1976 convinced him that his destiny lay there, where he felt North America’s pinnacle expressions of Pinot Noir could be made.  He loaded up his family and all his earthly belongings and founded his first Oregon winery in 1986 (Panther Creek Cellars, which still exists today, though Wright has since sold it), then his eponymous winery in 1994, which focuses entirely on single-vineyard expressions, mostly of Pinot Noir, from 13 different vineyard sites.  Shea Vineyard, the home of tonight’s bottle, is in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in the northern part of the Willamette Valley, a sub-AVA that Ken helped define and create (along with five others) back in 2004.  Ken also established his winery’s tasting room in the heart of the small town of Carlton, echoing his belief in the power of site for his grapes by connecting his business directly to their land of origin.  His was the first winery to take root in Carlton, and it has now been joined by a large tasting room in the town’s old train station. Read the rest of this entry »





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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