Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 24

24 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Another year, another Advent, another calendar complete, and another December blogging marathon brought to the finish line.  After 24 days and 24 different half-bottles, I am left partly eager to again regain access to my own cellar and my own agency in terms of nightly wine selections, but mostly impressed at the tremendous range and consistent quality of the 2019 Bricks Advent Calendar.  For my money, this third edition of Bricks’ December crate was by far the best to date, with no bottle (other than the one impacted by the Chateauneuf-du-Pape curse, a mystic force beyond mortal defences) a disappointment and all of them compellingly showcasing their varietal and region with admirable typicity, all for a price tag averaging a shade under $20 per split.  That’s not an easy feat, but it was accomplished with flair — mark me down for next year’s calendar already.

IMG_1137

Our annual Pop & Pour Advent tradition is to wrap up our calendar coverage with each author’s Advent podium wines, as well as a dark horse candidate that particularly captured their attention.  In order to ensure neutrality and avoid cross-contamination of opinions, all three of us separately wrote down and submitted our lists; any overlaps (and there were many) are a testament to the wines involved and not a function of any groupthink.  If you had a Bricks calendar for 2019 and have been following along, let us know your top 3 wines in the comments below!  Without further ado, our list of winners:

Ray Lamontagne’s Top 3 Wines

  1. 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 23):  A  pure, seamless meld of power and complexity.
  2. 2016 Kettle Valley Winery Pinot Gris (Day 11):  The freshest side of orange wine.
  3. 2017 Robert Biale Vineyards “Royal Punishers” Petite Sirah (Day 14):  A purple behemoth that is not without subtleties.
  4. DARK HORSE — Porto Quevedo 10 Year Old Tawny Port (Day 8):  An old style from a small yet classic house.

IMG_1138

Tyler Derksen’s Top 3 Wines

  1. 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 23):  Bold yet structured, this wine delivered at every level.  Perhaps a bit predictable after last year’s Top 3 lists from Peter and Ray, but this bottle deserves the top spot.
  2. 2016 Kettle Valley Winery Pinot Gris (Day 11):  Easily the biggest surprise of the calendar for me.  Mild disappointment (I’m not a huge fan of Pinot Gris) turned a complete 180 when I brought the glass to my nose.  Wonderfully balanced, this exemplifies what orange wine can be when done right.
  3. 2016 d’Arenberg “The Noble” Wrinkled Riesling (Day 22):  This made my list for pure hedonistic pleasure.  It may not be perfectly balanced, but a flower-shop nose keeps this from being one-note.
  4. DARK HORSE — 2017 Robert Biale Vineyards “Royal Punishers” Petite Sirah (Day 14):  This was definitely in the running for the podium until the last few days.  Evilly dark, the myriad of notes on the nose and palate made this both delicious and interesting.

IMG_1141

My Top 3 Wines

  1. 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 23):  A Ken Wright back-to-back calendar sweep.  He takes no Advent prisoners.  The biggest point of intrigue this year was the remarkably stark difference between this dark, rocky Freedom Hill Pinot and last calendar’s bright, elegant Shea Vineyard Pinot, especially since each hail from the same 2015 vintage!  Terroir indeed.
  2. 2016 Kettle Valley Winery Pinot Gris (Day 11):  Probably my most memorable calendar wine, that perfect combination of orange wine’s bitter phenolics and white wine’s purity of fruit.
  3. 2017 Robert Biale Vineyards “Royal Punishers” Petite Sirah (Day 14):  A true statement of identity, and a clarion call of Petite Sirah’s suitability in California.  A deep, dense, gritty, lasting experience.
  4. DARK HORSE — 2016 K.H. Schenider Dornfelder Trocken (Day 2):  The World’s Best Dornfelder™ is an old friend whose acquaintance I made a while ago, but it never ceases to thrill and impress.  Each successive bottle is a reminder of the potential of this grape when grown in the right spots and handled the right way.

IMG_1140

All I know is that I will be heading out and grabbing some Ken Wright (full bottle versions) during Boxing Week — no Advent calendar will ever be the same unless he’s involved.  As Advent reaches its zenith, consistent with Bricks tradition, we finish off the long and winding road of the calendar with both a toast to the journey of the past 24 days and a half-bottle of bubbles to allow us to make it.  Tonight’s wrapping paper slips off to reveal the Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV, probably the most compelling sparkler to grace a calendar to date, from one of my favourite Champagne houses.  I first tried Pol Roger in WSET class, where it was held up as an exemplar of what classic Champagne should resemble.  This Reserve version of Roger’s standard NV Brut bottling takes its status as comparison reference seriously:  it is a roughly equal blend of all three grapes of Champagne (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay), with 25% of older reserve wines from Pol Roger’s cellars added to the base vintage (2013 or 2014, if I had to guess).  After blending, secondary fermentation and disgorgement takes place 33 metres below ground after regular hand-riddling and around 4 years maturation on lees.

IMG_1145

Our collective Christmas Eve present is a deep straw colour run through with millions of racy pinpoint bubbles that continue their ascent to the top of the glass even after over an hour’s worth of exposure to air.  The eager and festive nose combines vanilla bean, tapioca, butter croissant, lemon drop, black jujube, aloe and toasted almond, albeit in a more focused and chiselled way than the largely confectionary descriptors might suggest.  Rich and almost custardy on the tongue, the Brut Reserve is firmly structured on rails of electric acidity, the only thing restraining the expansive flavours of salted butter, charred lime, matchsticks, Golden Delicious apple, crystallized ginger and fresh caramel.  An extended persistent finish allows for plenty of reflection on where are now are and how far we have come.  A delightful toast to the season, to the upcoming joys of tomorrow morning, and to the sheer lazy pleasure of not having to blog for the rest of the month!  Merry Christmas, all.  Until next Advent.

90- points

IMG_1142

Cork Rating:  7.5/10 (I love the little “PR” logos ringing the metal cork cap. Classy and classic.)





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 22

22 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Here’s a crazy stat:  this is my FIVE HUNDREDTH published post for Pop & Pour.  The blog itself passed this threshold some time ago thanks to the remarkable contributions of Ray and Tyler in recent years (as brilliantly evidenced by their kick-ass daily Advent coverage this month), but this is my personal milestone post.  It’s been close to nine years since I started this blog with limited direction or aspiration, as a vehicle for a passion I didn’t fully know how to express.  I don’t know what I was expecting out of it, but to still be dutifully doing it so many years later (and to have at minimum elevated myself to a self-professed connoisseur on boozy Advent calendars while I’m at it) probably already surpasses any initial blogging goals.  Thanks for reading along; if it wasn’t for you, this probably wouldn’t still be happening.

IMG_1118

Perhaps Bricks cosmically knew that this was going to be a more monumental night of blogging, or perhaps I subconsciously lined up my name on the Advent schedule to align with the one bottle in this year’s calendar that was definitively not like the others, but it became apparent almost immediately that this was not a standard half-bottle of wine.  First, it was taller than a standard-sized 750 mL bottle (!!), a good 3-4 inches taller than any other bottle in the Bricks crate.  Second, it was slender throughout, a thin lengthy cylinder without curves.  Before the wrapping even came off, only one style of half-bottle seemed to fit:  dessert wine.  But it wasn’t in a Germanic flute shape or a standard Bordeaux bottle, and I had my doubts that the calendar would culminate in ice wine, sooo…what’s left?

IMG_1123

The 2016 d’Arenberg “The Noble” Wrinkled Riesling, that’s what; a continuation of Australia’s surprisingly rich tradition of sweet winemaking.  This particular bottling began by pure circumstance:  in 1985, one of d’Arenberg’s Riesling vineyards was discovered to have become infected with the beneficial mould botrytis cinerea, which grows on the surface of the grape berries and gradually leaches the water out of them, leaving them shrivelled, dehydrated, fuzzy and rather gross-looking but internally composed of ultra-sweet, ultra-concentrated, ultra-flavourful essence (all of the acids and sugars and flavours of the grape, without the extra water to dilute them) that when vinified creates the most majestic sweet wines known to man (for my money, anyway).  There’s nothing to be done when you discover botrytis but to (1) make wine out of the result and then (2) try to duplicate the conditions to have it show up again next year:  humidity, especially fog, in the morning, followed by sun and drier conditions later on, so that the cinerea fungus attaches to the grapes but does not accelerate into full-blown grey rot.  It is a difficult balancing exercise that results in precious little wine (imagine pressing and vinifying juice out of a raisin to understand why), but the reward is emphatically worth the risk and the effort.

IMG_1120

Size comparison: a standard 750 mL bottle (L) and this freakishly tall half-bottle (R).

After their initial accidental introduction to the world of botrytized winemaking, d’Arenberg has become something of an old hand at it, now producing three different nobly rotted dessert wines under their “The Noble” lineup.  This bottling used to simply be known as The Noble Riesling before later being revised to the Wrinkled Riesling to reflect the physique of the grapes after botrytis has had its way.  I would have loved to be in the marketing meeting where that decision was made.  Not that I have any doubt about d’Arenberg or its branding, all of which is specifically selected to tell a story.  The winery is named for the maiden name of founder Frank Osborn’s wife Helen, who died tragically immediately after childbirth at the age of 31; the child who was born healthy just before this event was Frank and Helen’s son Francis d’Arenberg Osborn, who everyone simply called d’Arry, partly in honour of his mother’s lineage.  It was d’Arry who give the winery its current name (in 1959, well after Frank started growing grapes in 1912, or making wine in 1928), as well as its distinctive red label stripe on a white background, representative of the crimson and white striped school tie that d’Arry wore in college.  The d’Arenberg coat of arms features that stripe, a symbol of fertility, a bunch of grapes, and the motto “Vinum Vita Est” — “Wine Is Life”.  Says it all.

IMG_1125

Stelvin Rating: 9/10 (The colour, the coat of arms, the motto – pure poetry.)

Every single one of d’Arenberg’s myriad of wines is fermented via traditional basket press, including this one, and all the reds are foot-trodden to this day.  The Wrinkled Riesling is a 50/50 blend of McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills Riesling, hence the dual-appellation labelling that I’m not sure I’ve ever previously seen on any bottle.  The tech specs beggar belief:  a 2.98 pH and 10.8 g/L of Titratable Acid run smack dab into an astonishing 253.3 g/L of residual sugar at 9.5% ABV — this was surely the alcohol level where the fermenting yeasts simply gave up and died in such a densely sweet environment.  This is unbelievably viscous emerging from the bottle, like motor oil, and eventually settles in the glass a majestic steeped-tea-meets-maple-syrup deep amber colour.  Then the fireworks begin.

IMG_1126

An explosion of florals is the first sensation I record — Easter lily, daisy, marigold, daffodil.  Then comes the cavalcade of dessert aromas, in rapid-fire fashion:  key lime pie, Fuzzy Peaches, manuka honey, marmalade.  This intoxicating mixture is cut only by that telltale orange peel, lemongrass, apple cider vinegar citric/herbal tang that botrytis cinerea leaves behind at the scene of the crime, the calling card of its dehydration caper.  After I resign myself to the fact that I can’t possibly drink this all in one sitting, I settle into its exquisite, eye-opening sweetness and its sensual lusciousness, sliding in slow motion down the throat and coating every square inch with layers of lemon curd, salted caramel, rosehips, dried mango, apricot and pineapple upside-down cake, still pulsating for at least a minute after I swallow.  The recorded acid is elevated, but it is barely present in the field, not quite able to maintain a sense of liveliness in the face of the torrent of glorious sugar.  This leads to a slight yet growing sense of heaviness as the wine warms up and the sips multiply, so enjoy in moderation…but that can be the hardest thing to do when what’s in the glass is this unspeakably delicious.  Two days left and we’re headed to a crescendo.

90- points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 20

20 12 2019

By Tyler Derksen

After a long year, I am now officially on vacation until 2020.  As I look ahead with anticipation to days spent with family and friends, I also look back on Christmases past.  I was never bold enough to try to unwrap, and then re-wrap, presents under the tree to ascertain their contents in advance; however, I did pick them up and analyse the packages with an almost scientific determination.  This childhood habit has persisted into adulthood and I find myself doing the same with this Wine Advent Calendar.  Some are easier than others to determine with some level of certainty (for example, the bottle of Dr. L Riesling on Day 15 was taller than most full-sized bottles and unmistakably a bottle of German Riesling).  As I picked up today’s wine, still wrapped, from the ever-emptier crate in which the Advent Calendar wines were bundled, the packaging was unmistakable.  While canned wine is becoming a more common site in YYC wine stores (see also Day 3 of this year’s calendar), the producers and varietals are still limited and I found myself almost disappointed that I thought I knew what the wine was going to be.  That disappointment quickly vanished as the wrapping came off – Gruner Veltliner!

IMG_4689

It’s a puppy, isn’t it Mom?

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Gruner as it was the white wine I served at my wedding.  Gruner Veltliner, Austria’s national grape, is a dry white varietal grown primarily in Austria, Germany and surrounding countries, although in recent years it has certainly spread beyond its homeland (as evidenced by today’s bottle…I mean can).

This evening’s wine is the 2018 Companion Wine Co. Gruner from California.  Companion Wine Co. brings together experienced wine makers with the stated, and laudable, idea “that delicious, terroir-driven, natural wine from California could be sold at cost and in packaging that is accessible to all.”  This Gruner is made by winemaker Graham Tatomer of Tatomer Wines, well-known for its Rieslings and Gruner Veltliners.  Trained in Austria and making his home in Santa Barbara, California, Tatomer uses Old World winemaking traditions to produce a New World wine with the aim of showcasing its varietal characteristics and terroir.

The grapes used to make the 2018 Gruner come from Kick-On Ranch, a windy, cool-climate vineyard located to the northwest of the Santa Rita Hills in California.  The soil is primarily Eolian, which means soil comprised of particles that have been carried to their current location by wind (as opposed to alluvium soil, which is soil deposited by flowing water) and is typically made up of sand or silt.  More particularly, the soil of Kick-On Ranch is called Loess, which is predominantly silty soil containing very little clay or other binding agent. This site is considered by Graham Tatomer and others as being ideal for growing Gruner and Riesling (for example, Stirm Wine Company, which also makes wine for distribution through Companion Wine Co., sources grapes from this vineyard).

IMG_4693

I wasn’t able to locate much information on the production methods for the 2018 Gruner other than that malolactic fermentation (a process in which tart-tasting malic acid is converted into softer lactic acid, imparting, for example, the buttery popcorn taste found in some Chardonnay) was blocked and the fermented wine was then filtered before canning.  With this information in hand, the nose and palate are certainly not surprising.  The nose is citrusy, with notes of lemon, lime, apricot, mandarin orange peel, Himalayan pink salt, green bean (Gruner Veltliner translates to “Green Wine of Veltlin”) and a slight floral note.  The palate is tart with punchy acidity, matching the nose well, if a bit shy on complexity, with tastes of lemon, Granny Smith apple, tangerine, river rock, a hint of honey and a nutty, toasted almond finish.

Apparently the fruit making up this wine was quite expensive, and although a particularly great growing season for the Kick-On Ranch Vineyard prompted Graham Tatomer to make this wine, it may not happen again as a result.  This is too bad, as although it’s perhaps a bit lean for my tastes, I fully support any effort to bring Gruner Veltliner to a wider wine-drinking audience.

88- points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 19

19 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Some New World sites are unlike anything that came before them, with no obvious comparator from the Old World to help tell their story; Australia’s Barossa Valley and Washington’s Rocks District of Milton-Freewater are good examples of places that, to me at least, don’t taste like anything except themselves.  Other non-European regions have a clear cross-reference to a classic vinifera haunt, a reasonable facsimile in the Old World that allows for an easy introduction.  Think the Willamette Valley and Burgundy.  Australia’s Margaret River falls in the latter camp, and has the benefit of two different European doppelgängers:  its Cabernet-based reds are routinely compared to those of Bordeaux, but its other specialty, Chardonnay, is very Burgundian in essence, combining acid and texture and a regal sort of presence in a way that makes you understand why this recently maligned grape remains at or near the pinnacle of white wine expressions.  I have a massive soft spot for the wines of Margaret River, so it was with great delight that Day 19 was revealed to have come all the way from Down Under.

IMG_1104

Voyager Estate was one of the first wineries to be established in Margaret River, located south of Perth in the southwest corner of Australia.  Its first vineyards were planted in 1978, a decade or so after the inaugural winery in the region saw its start.  Voyager now has five different estate vineyards spanning roughly 110 hectares, all located in a privileged position:  in the Stevens Valley, a spit of land that protrudes directly out into the Indian Ocean, to the point where its vineyards are surrounded by water on three sides, in the so-called “Golden Triangle” of Chardonnay, according to James Halliday.  Voyager is one point of the triangle; its neighbours Leeuwin Estate (along with Vasse Felix’s Heytesbury, the makers of the finest Margaret River Chard I’ve had to date, courtesy of its Artist Series) and Cape Mentelle form the other two.  The vineyards in this area have the benefit of taking root in the oldest soils in the country, gravel-based lands dating back thousands of millions of years (!!), and being kept cool by continuous swirling breezes that help prevent rot and allow for longer hang time.

IMG_1108

The team at Voyager is meticulous to near-OCD levels in the vineyard, striving for absolute uniformity in each block of vines:  careful pruning aims for the exact same number of buds, shoots and bunches per vine to ensure even and contemporaneous ripeness.  The winery is serious about its non-interventionist approach and its goal to express the purity of its soils, which plays out across all steps of the planting, picking and winemaking process:  the vineyards are organic (or in the process of converting thereto), all fruit is from estate plantings, all grapes are hand-harvested, all fermentation is with natural yeasts, and the winery has recently become carbon neutral.  Tonight’s offering, the 2016 Voyager Estate Chardonnay, spent just under a year in tight-grained French oak barrels with only partial malolactic fermentation in an effort to hit that intoxicating combination of texture and acid that only this grape can do justice.

IMG_1109

Stelvin Rating:  6/10 (This screwcap is weirdly difficult to photograph in focus, but it’s a Stelvin + in my book.  I should really fix that dent in the table.)

Everything starts out in highly promising fashion:  the wine is a brilliant gleaming lemon-gold colour as it hits the glass and starts beaming aromas before my nose is even halfway there.  It is a Burgundian dream aromatically, toasty chestnuts (open fire included), coconut crisps, pecan pie and popcorn kernels joyously interweaving with lemon curd, fresh pear and apple crisp fruit.  There was some consensus amongst our Advent blogging group that this might be pretty close to the nose of the calendar so far.  Then a few seams start showing.  The acid is vicious but almost hyperactive, like a tiny lapdog constantly nipping at your ankles.  The broad, full texture seems like a disparate entity, hitting just a touch out of rhythm, almost like you’re drinking two wines at once.  It’s a vertigo-inducing feeling, like a bassist that’s half a beat behind the rest of the band.  Smoke, custard, bananas Foster, lemon meringue and toffee notes play an enticing song, but I’m too stuck wondering why the tempo isn’t in sync to be able to fully sink into it.  I know this is a winery of impeccable credentials, and I can tell this Chardonnay has all of the elements of a winner, but despite being delicious it currently comes across a little bit scattered.  By this point in the calendar, I feel the same way.

88- points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 18

18 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

Day 18 of this blogging campaign has me starting off the final week with a slight limp but head unbowed. It has been particularly fun this year, truth be told. The calendar has been superbly curated, considering the perfectly understandable constraints of price point and availability of half-bottles. But I don’t think it is just that. The last few bottles have sparked some enjoyable discussion and debate between the three of us responsible for this Advent blogging set, causing me to reflect on just what it is about wine that is so mesmerizing, so able to inspire passion. Upon reflection, I think for me it is the intersection between art and science. If one knows how wine is made, in a technical sense, one can better assess what is going on with a particular bottle. Maybe this is how I naturally veer, given my professional background… “OK, does this wine gel with how I know it was made?” This sort of conceptual funnelling can provide all kinds of helpful cues as to what I’m experiencing. But then again, what if I am pleasantly surprised? What if I just love the lines of this particular sculpture, heedless of how I know it should present? I think there’s room for both perspectives, within me and within the field of wine assessment more generally. I try to be cognizant of this dichotomy when I see that today’s bottle reads “Cotes du Rhone Villages”.

IMG_1386I’m not implying that I’m disappointed. In fact, this appellation is a deliberate step up in quality from the Cotes du Rhone per se. In the late 1960s, several villages successfully petitioned to include their names on wine labels, in exchange for being willing to submit to higher quality standards. These included the requirement that Grenache must comprise not less than 50% of any given red wine, with a further 20% consisting of Syrah or Mourvèdre in any proprotion. A maximum of 20% of other authorized varieties is also permitted, with these including various obscurities permitted in Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Cinsault, Muscardin, Vaccarese, Terret Noir) along with Carignan. At this point, the Cotes du Rhone Villages appellation has expanded to nearly 10,000 hectares, making it the second largest appellation in the Southern Rhone, half of which can add the name of a specific village to the label. Twenty villages can do this at the present time. This is starting to get the feel of the Dodo Bird verdict from Alice In Wonderland, where “everyone has won and all must have prizes”. Further reinforcing this notion is the fact that the other half of the appellation can distinguish themselves from generic Cotes-du-Rhône by adding the term “village”, albeit without a more specific moniker. The present bottle falls into the latter category, although the producer would certainly take umbrage with the notion that their wines are somehow worse than those labelled Visan or Roaix.

IMG_1387

Domaine Roger Perrin is on the young side for the region, founded in 1969. In what is starting to feel like an eerie theme for me during this December blogging run, Roger died unexpectedly during the harvest in 1969, with well-studied son Luc taking charge. Irked at confusion over his name with that of the famous Beaucastel Perrins, Luc embarked on a quality control campaign to distinguish his estate (the two families are friendly but not related). Tragically, Luc succumbed to a battle with cancer, with sister Veronique and son Xavier carrying on the traditions of hand-harvesting and aging in stainless steel (with the exception of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines). The present wine has been described as a “baby Chateauneuf-du-Pape”, consisting of 75% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 5% Mourvèdre, with a minimum vine age of 45 years. Interestingly, some earlier documentation suggests that the wine was once 5% Counoise and Vaccarese. This wine is made only in good years, with a fairly long maceration period and 20-50% de-stemming depending on vintage ripeness. All this converges on something that is supposed to be an everyday sipper, albeit a step or two above the rest.

IMG_1390

The 2016 Domaine Roger Perrin Cuvee Vieilles Vignes Cotes-du-Rhone Villages is mercifully devoid of faults, suggesting that the Advent Chateauneuf-du-Pape curse does not extend to any “baby” versions. Phew. This leads with a sweeping plush bramble attack of red liquorice, blackberry, and black raspberry, with a few spoonfuls of Mission fig jam and cherry preserve and a dusting of broken clay flower pot, the soil from said pot, juniper, lavender, pineapple sage, and fennel seeds. A cinnamon and ginger snap cookie spice emerges mid-palate, carried along by supple ripe tannins. If Tetley conjured up a black tea flavoured with currants, cacao nibs, and ripe strawberries… this is the sort of warm climate wine I can get fully behind. Neither flabby nor jammy, but hardly a lightweight. Science and art.

89 points    

IMG_1391

Cork Rating: 5.5./10 (Reasonably sharp Diam.)





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.

IMG_1094

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.

IMG_1097

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.

IMG_1099

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.)

IMG_1098

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 15

15 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

Yesterday saw an unexpected and very pleasing deep dive into Petite Sirah. Today we appear to have another half-bottle flute under wraps, albeit one that’s taller that your average 750 ml bottle! There had to be a Riesling in here, no?

IMG_1380Wine importer and writing hero of mine Terry Theise captures the magic of this grape when he describes how this variety stole his heart. A single inexpensive off-dry Mosel Riesling produced by a large co-operative winery captivated and mesmerized, ultimately propelling him into a successful career and forever changing his view of a beverage. It is worth noting that he describes this fateful bottle as essentially supermarket plonk. That’s what Riesling is capable of: even the “bad” ones are pretty damn tasty, and completely obliterating the grape’s distinctive character via mass market commodity winemaking is actually quite challenging. This grape demands to be known, even if it doesn’t always carry a big stick. Riesling often prefers the ethereal, conveying something much deeper than mere bombastic pleasure. Perhaps the Mosel, home to Riesling vines for at least 500 years, is the quintessential expression of this soul.

IMG_1381

Mosel Rieslings are renowned for their floral aromas, racy acidity, crystalline purity of fruit, and lightness of body relative to other German winemaking regions. Coming to the wine party when I did, I am accustomed to treating this region with considerable reverence, although there was a time not so long ago when oceans of dilute, sweetish wine from mediocre sites did damage to the Mosel’s reputation, and some are of the view that even the better producers were often guilty of making their wines too sweet. I recall trying to persuade a work colleague that Riesling is the king of white grapes, getting some pushback in the form of comments like “sorry, it’s way too sweet”. Sigh. I didn’t mean the cheap ones that come in the super pretty multicoloured bottles that look more like vases than storage containers for a serious beverage. Fortunately, the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer still produces more top-quality Rieslings than any other region in Germany, and Dr. Loosen is one of the producers that has done much to spread this quality far and wide.

IMG_1382

Ernst Loosen never intended to do much with wine. Alas, his father’s health began to fail in 1983, bringing him home from the University of Mainz, where he was studying archaeology. He took over running the Dr. Loosen estate in 1988, realizing that some changes needed to occur if quality was to become more consistent. Ernst did not wish his wines to be purely at the mercy of vintage conditions, as was previously the case. Vineyard yields were drastically reduced by abandoning chemical fertilizers, aggressive pruning, and harvesting selectively, with the goal of yielding wines of depth and weight. The present bottle, described on the Dr. Loosen website as “perfect for wine lovers new to Riesling, for everyday enjoyment and for occasions when you’re serving wine to a large number of guests”, would seem poised to take full advantage of these quality improvement initiatives.

IMG_1383

Stelvin Rating: 6.5/10 (I quite like the colour scheme.)

The 2016 Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling hails from various non-estate vineyards that fit the classic Mosel profile: steep with slate soil. Ernst and his brother Thomas work closely with these growers, who typically sign long-term contracts to supply fruit. The wine is fermented in stainless steel, with chilling used to stop fermentation at around 8.5% ABV, leaving 46.3 grams of sugar/litre in the finished wine. The result is vibrant and extremely juicy, with a few strands of fine chalky minerality doing little to mitigate the pure fruity character. Pale straw coloured in the glass. A few telltale floral notes of jasmine and white tea frolic lazily over trim green apple and pears, pink grapefruit, lime, nectarine, and starfruit, with all these fruits seamlessly meshing together as the sweetness flashes just a little burnt caramel (this is already a year past its vintage release, after all). I’m appreciating the additional acidity this time, as compared to prior experiences with this wine. This one is just beginning to develop some petrol character to boot. Honestly, this wine presents exactly as billed, nothing more and nothing less. It indeed represents a fine introduction to the grape. It is OK to outgrow such a wine over time, or, if you’re me, loop back on those occasions where you just want to crush a sweeter style Riesling.

88- points








%d bloggers like this: