Yalumba: Coonawarra Cabernet Classes

28 02 2019

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

Tonight’s bottle duet replicates one of the most common questions that plagues burgeoning wine consumers:  when it is worth it to jump a tier?  If you’ve tasted and enjoyed the entry-level offering from a given producer, should you invest the extra few bucks to try their next level up?  Will you get more in return, enough more to justify the additional expense?  Value judgments and personal preference are always at least somewhat subjective, but objectively, when you move from a winery’s starter bottle to the next level up, and when you pay more for that privilege, it’s often because you’re getting one or more of:  (1) better, more consistent, more carefully sorted grapes, (2) better vineyard sources, or older vines from within the same vineyard, (3) more estate fruit grown by the producer itself, (4) better (or at least more expensive) winemaking and maturation practices, including more time aging in oak barrels (my legal career confirms that, in some ways at least, time is in fact money), and/or (5) better lots, blends or barrels from the results of the winemaking process.  You can see the similarities in style, region and approach common to the producer between the entry-level or next-level bottles, but in theory at least, due in part to the factors above, you should see some elevation in quality and product as you climb the hierarchy.

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That isn’t to say that pricier is always better; diminishing returns are real in the world of wine, particularly when you enter the realm of luxury wines that cannot hope to deliver the value per dollar of their earthbound affiliates.  But in my experience, the price jump from the cheapest offering of a given brand to its next level up almost always pays off in quality; the patience and precision and commitment required to make truly good wine can be strained when you’re also trying to keep below a $20 price tag, and even the slightest bit of economic leeway can make a massive difference.  Neither of tonight’s offerings fall fully into the entry-level category, but they represent the first and second rungs of Yalumba’s Coonawarra Cab quality tiers, so they will serve nicely to illustrate the considerations that go into whether to make the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

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12 Days of Vinebox: Day 3

27 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

I was not expecting to pull a rosé out of the Vinebox collection, let alone (1) one from Spain that (2) is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but here we are — this box is already full of surprises.  The 2017 Castillo de Benizar Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé hails from the large dead-central Spanish region of La Mancha, the bullseye of the Spanish map.  It is an area known mostly as the workhorse of the Spanish wine industry and a generator of unspeakably large volumes of wine every year, thanks in particular to the Airen grape, the most prolifically planted grape you’ve never heard of, which makes up the largest acreage of plantings in the country.  But La Mancha is starting to be about more than just quantity, and the friendly climate allows for almost anything to be successfully planted, including King Cab.  Gems can be found.

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Castillo de Benizar is a brand of producer Bodegas Ayuso, whose massive new 15,000 m2 production facility allows for fermentation/tank storage of up to 35 MILLION LITRES of wine at once.  But this particular bottling (er, vialling) isn’t a mere commodity.  The Cabernet Sauvignon vines from which this rosé is created are planted on a separate plot specifically and unusually dedicated only to rosé production, making this no saignée afterthought or vinous byproduct.  Old-school Spanish rosé tends to be mellow and earthy and (intentionally) oxidized, but newer renditions buck that trend and focus on the freshness and fruit purity that are currently making rosé a universal global language.  This one follows suit.

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Castillo de Benizar’s pink Cab is a striking bright watermelon-flesh colour and gives off cool minty and herbal aromas (spearmint, chlorophyll, sage) along with mineral-laced bath salts and soft pink lemonade and raspberry fruit.  Even expecting a more modern pink take based on its colour, I was still unprepared for the level of perkiness and brightness that seeps into every pore of the wine.  There is zero hint of rustic Old World earthiness, which has been wholly eradicated and replaced by turbo-charged acid and vivid Pop Rocks, Thrills gum, strawberry smoothie, pink grapefruit, green apple Jolly Rancher and Welch’s white grape juice notes.  It continually jumps around on the tongue, making all neural synapses fire in rapid sequence.  Despite the confectionary nature of its flavours, the rosé finishes clean and comes across as fairly dry, although the piercing acid probably covers some dose of residual sweetness.  Look at that colour!  Not your grandfather’s rosado.

88 points

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 22

22 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

This is my penultimate entry for this project. It has been a long run. I am glad you are still with us. We told you it would be opinionated. Pretending that everything tastes the same or somehow manages to land on the same quality benchmark as everything else would be disingenuous. Rest assured, though, I very much appreciate the fine work ALL of these grape growers and vintners have put into this beverage, this agricultural product, this work of art we call wine. I was pleasantly surprised by today’s reveal. For you see, I am a Pinot Noir guy who still manages to really loves Cab, in all of its decadent, rich, lavish glory.

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Woodward Canyon was founded in 1981 by Rick Small and his wife Darcey. Named for the canyon where Rick’s family has farmed the land for multiple generations, Woodward was the second winery to be bonded in the Walla Walla Valley, with the Smalls playing an integral role in the process by which the Walla Walla AVA was created in 1984. The focus has been largely on Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends, with some grapes grown on estate vineyards while others are sourced from select growers in the Columbia Valley. This emphasis on farming first typically yields wines of place, although Woodward Canyon is not averse to blending across sites to yield a particular style. Enter the present bottle. Read the rest of this entry »





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





Wine Review: 2016 Buena Vista North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon

17 10 2018

By Peter Vetsch

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

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A rare sighting.

The $25 California Cabernet Sauvignon is an endangered species nowadays; once a stalwart gateway drug for luring novice wine drinkers into a lifetime of vinous enlightenment, it has now been superseded in that endeavour by numerous other New World crowd-pleasers that are managing to offer similarly accessible and overt pleasure at wallet-friendlier prices.  The combination of rising land costs, fire- and drought-inspired production difficulties and the utter shredding of the Canadian dollar as compared to the US greenback on world currency markets has more or less eliminated California as a source of solid value wine in our market.  Buena Vista Winery is trying to change that, but with this series of factors arrayed against it, it’s fighting an uphill battle.

I have previously written about the remarkable, riotous, barely credible but actually true history of Buena Vista, the proud owner of the label “first commercial winery in California”.  It is well worth refreshing your memory about, but the Coles Notes version must at least mention:  (1) Agoston Haraszthy, who may have been the first Hungarian to emigrate to the United States, who founded the winery and who essentially crammed six lifetimes of zaniness and adventure into one shortened 19th century thrill ride; (2) 1857, the year Haraszthy founded Buena Vista, part of a major ambition to establish high-quality vitis vinifera grapes in hospitable California soils; (3) Nicaragua, where Haraszthy fled barely a decade after Buena Vista was first established, with angry and misled company investors potentially at his heels; and (4) alligators, which apparently ate him there.  Never a dull moment at Buena Vista in the 1850s and 60s. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Tom Gore Vineyards, A Tale of Two Sauvignons

14 07 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]IMG_1713

Cabernet Sauvignon remains the most widely grown quality wine grape in the world, so it is perhaps appropriate that in at least one regard, “Cab” started me off on the path to becoming a serious scholar of wine.  I had previously acquired a taste for certain Canadian Gewurtztraminers, spellbound by how a grape could smell and taste so exotic, although hard-won experience has taught me that many such wines recall one of those chemically augmented gym nuts who can flip a giant tire from a mining truck once or twice, only to catastrophically gas out immediately thereafter: initially powerful but ultimately quite flabby.  Rather wary of this focus, I then snagged a few wine books from a local book sale, thinking that this subject’s unique combination of history, geography, botany, technology, and gustatory delight would give my brain something new and compelling over which to obsess. I noticed right away that in these sundry tomes, blackcurrant or cassis was an aroma descriptor frequently associated with Cab. As someone who adores this particular flavour, I did further research. Not just cassis, but cedar, “cigar box” (I’ve always been intrigued by this one), blackberry, even vanilla and cola and chocolate cake. Wine smells like these things?! I was officially hooked, all this before even seriously tasting a Cab.

Once the actual drinking started in earnest, I rapidly encountered one of Cab’s parents: Sauvignon Blanc. My dad ordered a New Zealand example one nice evening in a Calgary steakhouse, as an aperitif, telling my mother:  “It’s one of those really grapefruity ones you like.” Grapefruit, you say? A cursory look at a tasting wheel for Sauvignon Blanc ultimately reveals a whole litany of “green” aromas, with these ultimately outnumbering the also prominent citrus and sometimes tropical fruits. There are classics like grass, gooseberry, and green bell pepper, along with rather more esoteric takes such as matcha, lemon grass, apple blossom, or even “cat pee”. Maybe we should stick with grapefruit or “tomato leaf”. Go crush and sniff a tomato leaf… You’ll probably get at least an inkling of pipi du chat, if nothing else in the form of a vague association with “funky” or “rank”. Some claim that this character, driven by organic compounds called thiols, is in fact a fault due to vineyard overproduction. Maybe so, although I experience cheap Sauvignon Blanc as something more akin to dilute lemonade in which a few broken fluorescent bulb filaments have been macerated, largely devoid of character across the board. A quick spray of thiols would often do this stuff a favour.

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From http://socialvignerons.com/2015/12/10/infographics-guide-to-sauvignon-blanc-wine-grape-variety/.  This thing is comprehensive and rather fascinating…and there it is, cat pee, complete with schematic depiction.

So in addition to capturing aromas that I find pleasant (maybe at this point forget I mentioned cat pee), Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are both associated with formative memories in my quest to experience as much of the wine world as possible. Fitting then that I drew this assignment to review these two varietal bottlings, which interestingly enough hail from the first California wine label named after a grape grower.

Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Red Blends of the Eternal Ice Age

20 03 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

Happy first day of spring.  Spare me.  Yeah, I’ve seen all of the (obviously non-local) articles and Instagram pics and Twitter updates about new rosé and bubble releases and patio beers and T-shirt weather.  Meanwhile I have snowbanks bordering each side of my driveway that are taller than each of my children and still see the minus sign side the thermometer heading to work every morning.  It’s supposed to snow again on Thursday morning and there is no god and we are in some kind of forsaken meteorological time loop that will have no end.  So forget you, frizzy pink refreshing splashes and dainty Prosecco; I’m gearing up for blustery Armageddon, armed with a pair of full reds that scoff at the entire concept of spring.  I need to find joy somewhere, after all.

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Forget you, “spring”.

2014 Gerard Bertrand Corbieres (~$20)

I know from past experience that Gerard Bertrand is a value wine savant, and that his legend in the south of France is ever-growing.  I also knew that this particular bottle of Corbieres, part of his “Terroirs” regional collection of bottlings, hit the wine awards mother lode in 2016 by landing the #55 spot in the much-anticipated Wine Spectator Top 100 list — not bad for a $20 bottle from a little-known region.  What I didn’t know about Bertrand was that he was a prodigious professional rugby player before he followed in his family’s footsteps and turned to winemaking, even juggling a pro career with vigneron duties in the aftermath of his father’s death as he took over the reins of his ancestors’ business.  He has now hung up the cleats for good but brings some of his sport’s scrappiness to all of the wines that bear his name.   Read the rest of this entry »








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