Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 8

8 12 2017

I feel like I was slightly prescient yesterday when I said that most of the bottle picks in the first week of Bricks Half-Bottle Wine Advent were straight out of a Classic Wine Regions textbook, as today we hit probably the 2nd most likely remaining appellation in France to get the call in a Wine Primer All-Stars competition:  Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  (If Bordeaux shows up anytime in the next 3 days, we will definitely have cracked the code.)  Chateauneuf is the jewel of the Southern Rhone, spiritual birthplace of the GSM (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre) blend, and purveyor of bold, brash, rich yet layered wines that are an Old World gateway drug for many a Cali Cab or Aussie Shiraz lover.  The area’s regal approachability arises out of a combination of extensive sunlight, scorching summer temperatures (over 30 degrees Celsius on average) and a whipping northern wind so famous that it has its own name (the mistral), which cools the grapes, prevents rot and allows for longer hang times and prolonged ripening.

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Tonight’s Chateauneuf representative is the 2012 Domaine Chante Cigale, a 100+ year-old winery that recently turned its winemaking duties over to someone barely out of his teens.  In 2002, with his father suffering from health problems, Alexandre Favier, freshly graduated from viticultural studies at the age of 20 (he started wine school when he was 15) took the reins and hasn’t looked back since.  The Domaine owns 40 hectares of vineyards, but they’re not in an orderly square surrounding the winery, instead plastered and scattered throughout FORTY-FIVE different plots all across Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Favier relies only on ambient native yeasts present in the cellar for fermentation and ages his wines in an oddly endearing array of almost every type and size of oak barrel possible (foudres, demi-muids, barriques, mostly pre-used) as well as concrete tanks.

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This cork deserves its own picture.  See below.

This particular Chante Cigale is the Domaine’s entry-level CNDP (if there is such a thing), keeping with the classic varietal mix of the region at 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre and 5% Cinsault.  It is a deep ruby colour and immediately smells like something that has been preserved:  beef jerky, molasses, date, sunbaked earth, hickory and Sultana crackers, if these had been cooked down in an Instant Pot and then set on fire.  The wine’s hefty 15% alcohol is well-contained, but everything in its profile is stewed or baked, leaving it begging for a touch of primary freshness that never comes.  Malty, Port-y, fruitcake-y, it is neither thick nor heavy in body but constantly feels that way due to a dense sluggishness in its flavours.  Like a Wagyu beef burger left too long under the heat lamp before being served, the pedigree is there, but in execution it just hung on a bit too long.  As fellow PnP Advent author Ray Lamontagne puts it, “it’s like an old venison milkshake”.  There are no kind similes.

86+ points

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Cork Rating: 9/10 (What a monster. Coat of arms, complete with cicadas [singing grasshoppers, aka Chante Cigales – nice], killer intricacy and coverage; glorious.)

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 4

4 12 2017

Well, after a riotously successful guest author turn yesterday, you’re stuck back with me tonight.  Thankfully, there seems to be no “stuck” and no neutral gear in the Bricks Wine Advent Calendar, which just keeps churning out half-bottles of interest on the daily like it’s no big thing.  We’re at 4 for 4 in terms of legitimately interesting, well-made, high-quality, non-seat-filler wines, and I get the feeling there’s going to be 20 more where that came from.  I should have known that tonight’s producer would end up in this calendar, as Beaujolais’ Manoir du Carra (at least in my experience with them) seems to be the king of the small-format wine.  My first interaction with the winery was in the form of a highly rare but utterly magnificent (for those solo wine-drinker households like mine) 500 mL bottling of Cru Beaujolais, a format that I would like every winery in the world to emulate, as it ends up being either a glass-and-a-bit-each weeknight dinner almost-bottle for two or a vinous feast less the hangover for one.  Turns out MdC can bring it in 375 mL format too.

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Tonight’s offering is the 2015 “Montee de la Tonne” (which roughly translates to “The Rise Of The Ton”, which I don’t understand) from Fleurie, which is one of 10 top “Cru” sub-regions of Beaujolais, known for its elegant, almost pretty, wines.  Manoir du Carra owns 50 separate vineyard plots within Beaujolais, and Montee de la Tonne is one of them, a 1.5 hectare micro-plot of 50 year-old wines just recently acquired by the producer that it holds in significant esteem.  Like all red Beaujolais, the wine is 100% Gamay, fermented partly through carbonic maceration (an intra-grape fermentation process spurred by CO2 and an absence of oxygen that enhances bubble-gummy fruit flavours) and then aged in large natural oak barrels for 3-4 months before bottling.

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Cork Rating:  2/10 (Can we all agree to eradicate all “Mis En Bouteille” corks from existence?)

First impressions:  this is a surprisingly deep and vivid purple colour, still mostly transparent but pretty amped up for Beaujolais.  The crisp herbal, floral nose evokes roses (complete with stalks and thorns) and potpourri, softened by felt and spiked with pepper, surrounded by a mist of strawberry and raspberry fruit and just a whiff of banana skins, the latter likely a product of the carbonic fermentation process.  Powdery yet poised on the palate, kept haughty by emery board tannin and piercing rivulets of acid, the Montee de la Tonne flashes class and subtlety with a careful flavour mix of dusty currant, sidewalk chalk, dried flowers, rocks and rain, never quite letting you in but letting you admire its sophistication from afar.  Like a black and white movie star, this is cast in hazy heroic tones, admirable but not fully reachable, a true throwback.

88 points

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It’s probably not what led to the banana skin aromas in this wine, but isoamyl acetate can result in banana smells in some bottles.  The chemistry continues…





Cellar Direct: Summer Vibes, Part 2

9 08 2017

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

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There’s something to be said for obscurity.

Summer is the time of sequels, and when the original is good you look doubly forward to the reprise.  (I should know:  my wife and I watched Cars 3 on the weekend with my oldest and his mini-me brother.)  Last week we got a brief glimpse into what national wine club extraordinaire Cellar Direct has been offering up to its email arsenal of subscribers in 2017, but the hits don’t stop there, as I still have a quartet of temperature-control-shipped CD French gems to take out for a spin.  Bring on the encore.

If you missed the start of this ongoing review saga, click here to catch up on what Cellar Direct is all about (TL;DR:  they’re a weekly-offer Canadian e-merchant with an Old World network of connections bordering on the incredible and a passion for low-intervention hand-made wines).  The initial duo of offerings I tasted took us a little bit off the standard retail track, to Loire Valley Cabernet Franc and Cahors Malbec.  Tonight’s pair nearly gets us lost in the wilderness, starting with an obscure white Bordeaux from the lesser-known Entre-Deux-Mers and then dropping the compass and setting the map on fire with a wine made from 100% Fer Servadou grapes grown in the Marcillac region of southwest France.  I didn’t make up any of those words, and I can assure you that after trying the wine they reference, I won’t be forgetting them anytime soon. Read the rest of this entry »





Happy NYE 2016: Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV

30 12 2016

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

Quick – what’s the most festive thing you can think of to drink right now, right in the middle of this holiday season?  Champagne?  Close.  Champagne wrapped up like a present, complete with bright red bow, in its own custom bottle cozy?  Bingo.  I have long been a proponent of seasonally packaged wines (as long as they’re done right – when done wrong, they’re not pretty), and the holiday edition of the Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV Champagne nails the Christmas/New Year’s vibe about as well as anything I’ve ever seen in a bottle.  Seriously, just look at this thing, first wrapped up:

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Wait for it…

Then unwrapped:

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Oh yeah.  So sweet.

YES.  That is so, so clever.  And it’s reusable!  How can you go to a New Year’s party tomorrow and NOT bring this?  And it’s on sale online at the moment at Willow Park in Calgary, and maybe elsewhere, at a price that’s shockingly friendly for true Champagne from a historic house.  Oh, and most importantly, the juice lives up to the packaging.

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Joseph Drouhin Hospices de Belleville Beaujolais Duet

23 11 2016

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

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Great region, great wines, great story.

A few posts ago I was discussing the intractable dilemma of trying to locate value Burgundy, that nearly mythical beast of the wine world, and I’ve since realized that I neglected to mention the obvious solution to the problem:  just look for Cru Beaujolais.  The Beaujolais region is technically part of Burgundy, located just south of Macon and north of Lyon, and while it can produce its share of forgettable wines, the main difference between Beaujolais and the other zones of Burgundy is that its top wines are shockingly wallet-accessible.  In fact, Cru Beaujolais, wines from one of the ten top quality Cru subregions in the area, might be some of the greatest wine bargains on Earth, pinnacle expressions of a classic grape at absurdly reasonable prices.  Case in point:  the two bottles to be discussed below, which each clock in at $27-$30 retail and which combine old-vine vineyards in top locales, one of Burgundy’s best producers and a hell of a good back story, all for the price of a basic forgettable Bourgogne Rouge.

Unlike the rest of red Burgundy (which is crafted from Pinot Noir), red Beaujolais is made from Gamay, the thin-skinned and light-bodied red grape well known to Canadian wineries whose spiritual heartland lies in this region’s ten Crus.  True story:  Gamay used to be grown all across Burgundy until 1395, when the (likely self-titled) Duke Philip the Bold ordered the “very bad and disloyal plant” uprooted in favour of the more aristocratic and noble-approved Pinot Noir.  His decree was not all that impressively enforced way down in the south of Burgundy, so pockets of Gamay remained in Beaujolais, quietly, until the danger of extermination had passed and the region was officially recognized as a Protected Denomination of Origin.  While it’s true that Gamay may never quite reach the lofty heights of nuance and complexity that Pinot can, it can offer a pretty reasonable facsimile at an absolute fraction of the price. Read the rest of this entry »





Domaines Paul Jaboulet Ainé: The Next Level

5 08 2016

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

I recently tasted and discussed the entry-level Parallele 45 lineup from the Rhone Valley’s Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aine, which showcased the red, white and pink sides of the Southern Rhone in an impressive value-priced package.  Today we kick it up a notch.

FullSizeRenderJaboulet’s Alberta portfolio is supplemented by a quartet of upper-echelon bottles from a group of distinctive quality regions scattered across the Rhone, each of which has its own character and legend to live up to, and each of which, I’m happy to report, Jaboulet and winemaker Caroline Frey reflect to a tee in these beautiful offerings.  See my prior post for more details about this historic winery and its renaissance in our market; for now, we have a lot of wine to drink.

Read the rest of this entry »





Domaines Paul Jaboulet Ainé: Parallele 45 Trio

6 07 2016

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

There are not many producer names as synonymous with their home region as Jaboulet and France’s Rhone Valley.  From their pinnacle bottling La Chapelle from the world-renowned hill of Hermitage (which I have had once and vividly remember to this day) down through the rest of their lineup, the wines of Domaines Paul Jaboulet Ainé are known and revered the world over, although until recently they were decidedly under-represented in our market.  That has now thankfully changed, and Alberta once again has full access to some of the best wines the Rhone has to offer.

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The Jaboulet winery was first started by Antoine Jaboulet in 1834, who then passed it to his two sons, Paul and Henri, to carry on his legacy.  Paul, the older son, gave the winery his name (the “Ainé” in “Domaines Paul Jaboulet Ainé” literally translates to “eldest”), and it stayed in the family for almost 175 years before finally being sold in 2006 to the Freys, a family of French winemakers with properties in Champagne and Bordeaux.  Caroline Frey (fittingly the eldest daughter of the family), who is now 37 and so was in her late 20s at the time of the acquisition, assumed the mantle of winemaker and has instituted sustainable vineyard practices and carried forward Jaboulet’s reputation for classic quality.

Parallele 45 is Jaboulet’s entry-level lineup of Cotes du Rhone wines, so named because the 45th parallel of northern latitude runs right through the Rhone Valley, bisects some of the Domaine’s vineyards and is only a couple kilometres from its cellars.  The bottles all bear an inscription found on a monument in the nearby village of Pont de l’Isere (which, and I am not making this up, is at 45.0040 degrees N latitude):  “Ici Commence Le Sud” – The South Starts Here.  Post de l’Isere looks to be on the southern edge of the Northern Rhone as opposed to the northern edge of the South, but the mantra still fits, and Jaboulet’s wines straddle both sides of the Valley.  I got to taste through the full Parallele 45 lineup – white, pink and red, all of which share the same $18ish wallet-friendly price tag – and see how well they carried forward the tradition of this great name. Read the rest of this entry »








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