Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 21

21 12 2017

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

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

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

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

92 points

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 15

15 12 2017

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

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

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

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

87- points





Wine Review: Buena Vista Social Club

16 08 2017

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

If there was a Most Interesting Man In The World designation for the history of wine, Agoston Haraszthy would be a strong contender for the crown.  I had previously come across his name in a book about the pioneering contributors of the California wine industry and had assumed that he was one of many 19th-century immigrants from Europe to the United States who brought Old World wine knowledge and tradition with him to his new home and helped it propagate.  And he was.  But his tale was anything but rote.

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Haraszthy was born in Hungary to a noble family in 1812, later becoming known by the honorifics “Count” and “Colonel” even though he was technically neither.  He carved his own path throughout his life, stringing together a series of firsts that would be near-impossible to top in this day and age.  He was the first Hungarian to move and settle in the United States; the founder of the oldest village in Wisconsin (and the planter of some of the first grapevines there); the first town marshal and elected sheriff of San Diego; and the founder of the first commercial winery in California (more on that in a bit).  From the time he first arrived in the United States in 1840 to the time he left in 1868, he was at various times a mill owner, an author, a steamboat operator, a butcher, a member of the California State Assembly, and a gold refiner and assayer at the US Mint.

Read the rest of this entry »





FEL Wines: Pinot Showdown

11 01 2015

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

Happy New Year!  I took a bit of a holiday blogging break after 24 straight days of whisky-induced Advent madness in December, but I always had it in my mind to start up 2015 (and return to actually producing wine-related content on this wine blog) with these two bottles of California glory.  Although they come from what might technically be considered a new producer, their roots and history are inextricably linked to a California stalwart…and, as it turns out, to my home province of Alberta too.

Great wines, plus new wine glasses - to be the subject of a separate post.

Great wines, plus new wine glasses – to be the subject of a separate post.

FEL Wines came into being less than a year ago, in March 2014.  It is the brainchild of Cliff Lede, whose eponymous Napa Sauvignon Blanc helped renew my faith in the grape a month ago.  Lede is well known for creating those rarest of beasts, Napa Valley value wines, and he’s also a born-and-raised Albertan who is well known outside of the wine world as one of the owners and senior executives of the Ledcor Group, which was founded by his father (how the construction lawyer in me failed to mention that in the last review is beyond me).  FEL represents Lede’s foray outside of Napa’s welcoming confines and into the cooler climate areas of California, and it also seems to be underlaid by a personal passion:  FEL is so named for Cliff’s mother Francis Elsie Lede, who helped kindle his love of wine as a child. Read the rest of this entry »








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