Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 21

21 12 2019

By Tyler Derksen

Although this is my first year joining the Advent Calendar blogging team, I read the blog faithfully during its coverage of the inaugural Bricks Wine Advent Calendar in 2017 and then followed along with my own calendar last year.  Almost 70 Advent Calendar bottles have been unwrapped in that time and even though we’ve seen some truly standout bottles, I still find myself caught by surprise today when I pull back the wrapping and see…Brunello di Montalcino, and a critically acclaimed one at that!  A Brunello di Montalcino hasn’t been seen in the Advent Wine Calendar since Day 2 of the first year!  [Editor’s note: let’s not talk about how that one ended up.  Fingers crossed that we avoid a TCA repeat.]

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Brunello is undisputed Sangiovese royalty, exemplifying the very best that the varietal has to offer.  The Brunello di Montalcino D.O.C. (Brunello from Montalcino) was established in 1966 and was given D.O.C.G. status in 1980 when this elevated designation was first created.  With this status comes strict rules governing production.  For example, there are limits to grape yields in the vineyard and the wine produced must be aged for a minimum of two years in wood barrel and four months in bottle and cannot be sold until five years after harvest. It is thanks to this time-intensive aging method that we get to enjoy a wine that has already seen some aging (and avoids, at least somewhat, the eternal struggle of keeping a bottle in the cellar to age when all I really want to do is try it).

Tenuta Il Poggione, the producer of today’s bottle, has a very long history (spanning five generations) producing Brunello di Montalcino.  Il Poggione was founded in the late 19th century and was one of the first three wineries to produce and market Brunello di Montalcino in the early 1900s; later they were one of the founding members of the Brunello di Montalcino Consortium, which was founded in 1967, and it remains a member to this day.

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The vineyards from which Il Poggione sources its grapes are located in Sant’Angelo in Colle, approximately 10 km south of the town of Montalcino.  I am always thankful to wineries that make available details of their winemaking process.  The grapes for the 2012 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino were harvested, by hand, from vines that are more than 20 years old and then vinified over 15 to 20 days in stainless steel tanks using the “submerged cap” method.  Red wines acquire much of their colour and complexity from contact with the grape skins and stems.  During the fermentation process, a cap of these skins forms and naturally rises to the surface of the fermenting liquid.  By using a process that keeps this cap submerged during the fermentation process, the resulting wine is able to keep in better contact with the skins and benefit more fully from the characteristics that they impart.  After fermentation, the wine was then aged in large French oak casks stored five meters underground followed by bottle aging (unfortunately, the winery does not specify these periods on its website for the 2012 vintage, though I have seen other sources state that the barrel aging was three years).  

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The age on the bottle is already apparent, as the edges show pronounced brick colouring.  As I put the glass to my nose and lips, I lament the fact that I’m not sitting in front of a plate of Italian food.  The nose is beautiful: cherry, red currant, pepper, tobacco, grilled steak, dried flower petals, nutmeg, Worcestershire sauce and wet dirt coming together in what may be one of my top 3 favourite noses of the calendar.  The palate is highly structured, perhaps a bit too structured on first opening, with flavours of sour cherry, raspberry, cedar, fresh leather, blood, black olive and balsamic vinegar.  The acidity is what one would expect from Brunello di Montalcino, but the flavours seem tightly wound.  I suspect that this will change over time and that the wine will improve with a few more years of age.

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Cork Rating: 7.5 out of 10.  Great use of space with the logo and borders.  Very short though (yes, I know this was a half-bottle).

This is my final post for this year’s calendar and I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing my thoughts on each bottle and look forward to Peter’s and Ray’s writing on the final bottles to come.  Wine is always better when shared, and it has been a pleasure sharing with you.  Whatever your plans over the next days and weeks, I hope they are filled with happiness, family, friends and, of course, good wine!

89- points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 16

16 12 2019

By Tyler Derksen

After a bit of a hiccup on Friday (the 13th, so you’d think I would have seen it coming), things quickly got back on track with the Bricks Advent Calendar, and today continues that trend.  Over this past weekend, I was speaking with a friend and extolling the virtues of a wine Advent calendar.  The obvious benefit is that I get a couple glasses of wine every evening to help me get into the holiday spirit.  The other benefit is that the wine world is so varied and this year’s calendar is taking full advantage, allowing for a vast exploration of styles, grapes and regions over a quick 24 days.  And so it is that on Day 16, we get to taste yet another classic varietal from a storied wine-making area.

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Tonight’s wine is a Nebbiolo from Langhe in Piedmont, Italy.  While Barbera and Dolcetto are also grown in Piedmont, the true star of the region is Nebbiolo.  The wines made from this grape can vary in style depending on where it is grown, even within Piedmont, but it is the grape from which both Barbaresco and Barolo, true all-stars of Italian wine, are produced.  Interestingly, the wines produced in Piedmont are very often single varietals, as compared to much of the rest of Italy where the wines are often blends (much in the same way that Burgundy differs from the rest of France for this same reason).  Langhe is a region within Piedmont that itself includes Barolo and Barbaresco.  The more general Langhe designation is given to wines that do not adhere to the strict  geographical or production requirements of Barolo, Barbaresco or other D.O.C.G. requirements.

La Spinetta, the producer of today’s libation, is one that is well known to me.  I was first introduced to the winery when I tried its Bricco Quaglia Moscato d’Asti.  Truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of bubbles (aged Champagne excepted of course), and so this was a revelation to me.  Inexpensive and low in alcohol, the Bricco Quaglia quickly became my go-to bottle whenever bubbles were needed, and it has become a bottle of choice for my extended family for pre-dinner drinks.  As it turns out, there is very good reason for this, as La Spinetta began its life as a Moscato d’Asti producer.  While it may not have the lengthy multi-generational history that some of the producers highlighted in the past couple of weeks have had, it has been in operation for over 40 years.  The winery was founded in 1977 by Giuseppe and Lidia Rivetti in Castagnole delle Lanze in the Italian province of Asti, and it remains a family-owned and -run winery to this day.  In 1978, it produced its first Moscato d’Asti (the aforementioned Bricco Quaglia), which was the first ever single-vineyard Moscato d’Asti in Italy.  It was not until 1985 that the first red wine was produced.  Since that time, after purchasing several other vineyards in Piedmont and Tuscany, La Spinetta now produces wines from a range of varietals, making approximately 650,000 bottles of wine per year: 30% Moscato d’Asti, 24% Sangiovese, 22% Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba, 10% Nebbiolo, 8% Barbaresco, 4% Barolo (note: Barbaresco and Barolo are also made from the Nebbiolo grape) and 2% Chardonnay.

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Anyone familiar with La Spinetta’s line of red wines will immediately recognize the image of the rhinoceros on the label (the winery’s bottlings of Barolo use a lion on the label instead).  La Spinetta’s website has a page dedicated to the label rhino and I was excited to learn the significance.  Remarkably, there isn’t one, which kind of makes the use of the rhino on so many of La Spinetta’s wines that much more amazing.  The lead winemaker (and son of founder Giuseppe Rivetti) Giorgio Rivetti has always been fond of this rhino woodcut by German artist Albrecht Dürer and decided that it would be used on the labels.  I love that the story behind the image is actually a non-story and, as with so much when it comes to wine, “because I like it” is the only reason needed.  [Note: After I wrote this, I looked back at last year’s calendar and realized that much of this was already covered with great eloquence by Ray Lamontagne when he wrote about this wine’s sibling, the 2013 Ca’ Di Pian Barbera d’Asti.]

That’s all well and good, but we’re here tonight to talk about the 2014 La Spinetta Langhe Nebbiolo.  The grapes for this bottle are harvested from vineyards in Starderi and Neive, which are located south of Asti and just slightly to the northeast of Alba, from vines approximately 19 to 22 years of age.  After being harvested in early to mid-October,  the wine is aged for 12 months in used French barrels that have been medium toasted.  From there, the wine is aged for two months in stainless steel vats before being bottled.

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Cork rating: 3 out of 10.  It gets points for correctly identifying the region and varietal…that’s it.

The wine is a light transparent red in the glass and at just five years of age is already starting to show some brick colouring at the edges, a clear characteristic of the varietal.  The nose is classic Piedmontese Nebbiolo: newly paved roadway, dark cherry, liquorice, leather upholstery, fresh dirt, ammonia, dried roses, oregano and rosemary come together to present a bold precursor to the palate.  Wow, that first sip.  Nebbiolo as a grape produces wines that contain massive amounts of both acid and tannin, and this wine hits you with both.  Yet the wine assimilates these with ease and places the focus more on flavours of strawberry, black currant, fig, prune and Terry’s Chocolate Orange, and a soft, elegant floral/perfume note that leads into a lengthy finish.  A modern, friendly and delicious take on old-school Nebbiolo.

89 points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 4

4 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

After three days of alternative bottle shapes and even a can, Day 4 sees something more conventional lurking under the tissue paper. The previous Bricks calendars were true world tours that struck chords across the wine-making globe, hitting many of the classic regions and styles without disregarding lesser-known up-and-comers. Will I draw an Austrian wine this year? Of course I will, but not yet. If I do have a horse in the wine-making country race, one that I always return to no matter what, even if my favourite grape (Pinot Noir) is a bit player there at best, it is Italy. I am enamored by the diversity of grape varieties and terroirs, a patchwork quilt of regions and styles that often bleed influence into one another even as they remain distinctive and true to their own traditions. So in other words, today’s bottle suits me just fine.

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Last Advent season I took the opportunity to hike up the word count and write a bit of a love letter to Chianti Classico. I’m pleased to report that my feelings have changed little since then. I’m a sucker for temperamental grapes of the earth, with Sangiovese dutifully translating the nuances of soil and climate into its finished wines even as it stubbornly clings to a sour-cherry-meets-tea-leaf-and-damp-earth calling card. I remain fascinated by the history of the wine region itself, which has seemingly (and finally) found its footing in the world of fine wine after decades of bloated growth, political upheaval, and an unhelpful tenacity when it comes to clinging to tradition. There can come a time when one must change in the interest of making better wines, and today’s iconic producer, Isole e Olena, directly embodies Chianti’s many ups and downs.

The properties previously associated with Isole e Olena had a quality problem until the 1960s, when they were purchased by the Piedmontese family of current proprietor Paolo de Marchi. Given that Chianti period had a quality problem around this time, this should surprise no one. Paolo’s father in fact purchased two adjoining small estates, ‘Isole’ and ‘Olena’, and thus Isole e Olena was born. The headaches were many and the road to better wine was tortuous. Indeed, Paolo started running the property at 25 years of age, dutifully making a Sangiovese-based wine that included white grapes in the blend in a nod to tradition that the winemaking law then demanded, and one now almost universally and justifiably derided as detrimental to quality. Weary of this and not afraid to take a stand, in 1980 Paulo released Cepparello, a 100% Sangiovese wine that could not legally be labelled Chianti but that did go on to become one of the famous so-called “Super Tuscans”. Finally, Paulo took full advantage of key changes to the Chianti productions rules in the 1990s to banish the white grapes, wryly commenting that “it is much easier to make red wine out of red grapes”. Enter the bottle I now hold in my hand. Dubbed “Mr. Sangiovese” (which is a sweet handle), Paolo continues to pay close attention in both vineyard and wine cellar, carrying on the legacy of what has become one of the most prominent producers in the region, and one widely credited as key to the quality turnaround that saved Chianti from the doldrums of mediocre commodity.

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This estate’s vines cover a range of exposures but are largely planted on clay with a few contributions from limestone and volcanic rocks. “Mr. Sangiovese” moniker notwithstanding, here Paolo spiced up 82% Sangiovese with 15% classic blending partner Canaiolo and (fascinatingly) 3% Syrah, which Paolo himself reintroduced to Chianti Classico after a long absence in the hope that small amounts could contribute body and texture. As an interesting aside, in recent years he has decreased the percentage of Syrah used, which some argue can be rather coarse when grown in this region. All grapes were estate-grown, hand-harvested and fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks with approximately 15 days maceration, with pumping-over taking place twice a day during fermentation. Maturation occurs for one year in large oak casks. No small new barrels you say? Lovely. Sangiovese needs vanilla like Hollywood needs more sketchy reboots.

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Cork Rating: 3.5/10 (At least the producer is named, and the vintage.)

The 2015 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico presents a lovely middle path ruby hue that wafts up pleasing aromas of pie cherry, raspberry, sun-dried tomato and fresh salsa in approximately equal measure, with oregano, anise, menthol lozenge, dried cranberry, paprika and graphite lock lubricant, all wreathed in a perfumed floral corona of dried roses, lilacs, and carnations. There’s some brooding smoke but no overblown oaky fire to blot out the tangy nuances. I start doing a happy Sangiovese rock in my chair… Some blackberry bramble and Damson plum join the red fruits on the palate, along with a blood-like iron tang and singed orange peel. Everything is in its right place, the fresh acidity pooling over chalky tannins while the ripe fruits power forward. If this had an engine I’d certainly gun it a few times. Lithe and sinewy with bold fruit but no excess weight, thoughtfully constructed yet unmarred by crass commercialism. Classico indeed, with a modern twist.

89+ points





Cellar Direct: RMW&F Festival Edition!

11 10 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

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Find the booth, for wines like this!

It’s October, and here in Calgary we’ve already been bombarded with two feet of snow in the last week and are craving the spring that’s a winter away, which can only mean one thing:  it’s coming up to Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival time.  The massive tasting event, now in its 21st year in the city, is kicking off tomorrow in Calgary (Oct. 12-13) and is heading north to Edmonton the following weekend (Oct. 19-20).  In addition to a massive number of wineries, breweries and restaurants, in attendance for the first time this year will be our blog’s favourite national wine club Cellar Direct, the Old World-focused provider of finely crafted low-intervention traditional-styled wine that ships its offerings across Canada and has been known best on this page for never yet providing a bad bottle over multiple years of tasting experiences.  If you happen to be attending the Festival (which you should, if you can), stop by the Four Corners booth (#309 in YYC, #903 in YEG) to say hi to the founders and brainchildren behind the Cellar Direct venture and sign up for their mailing list, which will give you access to wines like the ones below, which I recently received as a sort of Festival lead-up.  It will likely be the only place you can find these bottles in the country. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: A Special Evening with Cinzia Merli of Le Macchiole @ Centini

15 03 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

It was while reading my very first book on wine, the 6th edition of Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan’s “Wine for Dummies”, that I first encountered the term “Super Tuscan”.  I instantly became enamored with the concept.  Some Tuscan producers became wary of traditional wine-making laws that they perceived as stifling innovation. Part of the motivation here was that these producers wanted to experiment with “international varieties”, particularly those famous for yielding Bordeaux blends in France.  Such grapes could be grown.  The kicker was that wines made from them could initially be labelled only as “vino da tavola” (or table wine), as they clearly violated Italian DOC production guidelines which emphasized native varietals.  However, it became apparent that parts of Tuscany were in fact better suited to growing international varieties than native son Sangiovese.  It was absurd to equate quality wines from such areas with the multitude of serviceable but undistinguished table wines found across the country, and thus the marketing concept of the Super Tuscan was born – described on the Italian Wine Central website as “a maverick wine of great breeding but living outside the Establishment”.

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Cinzia Merli does not resemble any stereotype of a maverick.  My initial impression was one of a quiet, conservative, perhaps strict woman, full of resolve and perhaps possessing a keen wit underneath her stolid outward presentation.  She first apologized for her English, which by my reckoning is quite good.  She then provided a fantastic overview of the Bolgheri region and her own wine estate, Le Macchiole, during which her passion and unrelenting dedication to her craft became apparent.  I was already in awe coming into this event:  these wines are legendary.  Cinzia’s presentation only served to stoke the flames.  This evening shall live on in my memory as one of the most fun tastings that I have ever experienced with total strangers (strangers no more!).  I should add that Centini provided exceptional dinner service and perfect ambience.  Read on for my takes on five burly reds (including two vintages of the iconic Paleo), plus a sprinkling of relevant history.

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 10

10 12 2017

I think it is officially Sugar Coma Weekend in the Bricks Wine Advent Calendar.  When the COMBINED alcohol level of your Saturday and Sunday wines is 12%, you know you’ll be facing an armada of unfermented grape sugar in the bottle.  After last night’s 6.5% abv Auslese Riesling, I thought we had hit our December alcohol floor, but the 2015 Braida “Vigna Senza Nome” Moscato d’Asti will see that 6.5% and raise it (well, technically, lower it), clocking in at an almost juice-like 5.5%.  The wine’s name roughly translates to “Vines Without Names”; the roughly dozen online sources I consulted trying to find out why declined to say so, though most of them noted that the corresponding motto on the front label “Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas” means “the farmer at the plow chooses the path”, which is reflective of this classic producer’s focus on the quality of the vineyard, even if they decline to name the vines in it.

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I love Moscato d’Asti.  At its best it is equally refreshing and luxuriant, searing and delectable, a frozen rope of distilled fruit essence that disappears from the glass before you even notice.  It is made from Moscato Bianco grapes grown around the famed town of Asti, in the heart of Piedmont, which are harvested then crushed and immediately refrigerated before fermentation so that the yeasts don’t immediately kick in.  The cooled must is then transferred to pressurized sealed steel tanks before fermentation is allowed to begin; as the grape sugars are converted to alcohol, carbon dioxide is released as a by-product, which can’t escape the tank and gets dissolved into the wine.  Once the alcohol content clocks above 5% (which is WAY before all of the sugars are fully converted), the whole tank is chilled down to near freezing so that fermentation stops, after which the yeasts are filtered out and the wine is bottled under pressure, leaving an intensely sweet, slightly bubbly bolt of lightning for patio enjoyment.  It is best consumed as early as possible, when acids are crisp and bubbles are buoyant, and there is little to be gained in trying to mature it.

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Cork Rating:  6/10 (The extra expansion and vertical writing are winning somehow, even if the cork as a whole is bland.)

This 2015 Vigna Senza Nome is a surprisingly golden colour for a Moscato and has a slightly syrupy nose of baked pear, bruised apple, honey and caramel to go with brighter tropical and Fuzzy Peach notes.  Some lift remains on the palate in the form of hedonistic melon, lychee, blood orange and bergamot, but much of the life and effervescence that normally characterizes this style and expression has been faded away, whether due to time (it’s only two years old, but Moscato’s probably best at 20 minutes old) or (more likely?) due to storage conditions between its bottling and its insertion into the calendar. I’ve had this exact bottle multiple times before, albeit never in back vintage form, and this is the first time it’s tasted heavy; the bubbles aren’t quite up to the task of scouring away the sweetness, and quiet acidity doesn’t provide enough of a helping hand.  It’s still completely delicious, but it is drained of some of its usual joy and not quite showing at its peak.

86 points





Wine Review: Modern Italian Traditionalists

11 10 2017

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

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Reunited with Italy.

I don’t know why, but before yesterday I hadn’t had a bottle of Italian wine for a long, long time.  I’m not a hater or a New World purist; I have a bunch of Italy in my cellar and rank certain Italian bottles and regions among my favourites in the world.  I’ve just been through a phase where nothing has drawn me to that corner of my wine racks in a number of months…there has always been something more enticing to my senses that has kept the country in the press box.  Well, no more:  in order to restore equilibrium to my wine world and reacquaint myself with one of the two traditional cornerstone nations of viniculture, I cracked a pair of Italian bottles last night and reminded myself of why Italy is viewed so loftily by grape lovers everywhere.

On the surface, the two bottles seemed to have very little in common:  one was playful pink bubbles, while the other was a legacy Chianti crafted to centuries-old founder’s standards.  But both in their own way were asserting their place in the often-calcified lore of Italian wine history.  The pink bubbles hailed from the province of Treviso in northeastern Italy, just north of Venice, the world home of Prosecco; but it couldn’t be called Prosecco by virtue of its hue and its choice to forego the region’s Glera grape (which was previously also called “Prosecco” in an attempt to be as confusing as possible), which took the wine out of the threshold criteria of the Prosecco classification. Even though it was produced by a generations-old Prosecco house, it wasn’t Prosecco, and it was OK with that, ambling on its merry mission to bring joy to those who opened it.  The Chianti was a modern take on a wine made to the recipe of a 19th century legendary figure, the one who first set down what it legally meant for a wine to be a Chianti.  While the first bottle gleefully acknowledged its place on the parallel track from history, the second not only embraced its history but walked in its footsteps.  In their own way, I admire each for their paths taken. Read the rest of this entry »








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