Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 1

1 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

And we’re off.  This marks the SIXTH straight year that this site has run a daily play-by-play blog of a boozy Advent calendar (sometimes more than one at once, which inevitably leads to massive regret on my part).  For the last couple years, this has included following along with the wonderfully diverse Bricks Wine Company Half-Bottle Advent Calendar, a concept long considered and now gloriously fulfilled, finding new range with each passing year.  This marks the third annual edition of the Bricks calendar, and if the shapes and tops of the various gift-wrapped 375 mL entrants into this year’s Advent derby are any indication, we may be in for our most intriguing field yet.

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Case in point:  Day 1.  That is NOT a standard screwcap or neck foil that I feel under the wrapping paper.  The prior Bricks calendars have always ended off with bubbles on Day 24, but the wire cage and jumbo pressure-withstanding cork protruding from the gift wrap of this inaugural 2019 offering suggests that this year’s calendar may well be starting off with them too.  And so it is, as the tissue paper falls away to reveal…a hell of a good start.

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The 2016 Tawse Spark Brut hails from my personal favourite winery in Ontario, one that has won the prestigious award for Canada’s Winery of the Year four times (including an impressive three-peat from 2010 through 2012) despite only being 18 years old.  Tawse is a family-owned organic and biodynamic estate that is heavily focused on Burgundian grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (to such an extent that founder and owner Moray Tawse also has a project in Burgundy itself, a collaboration with the renowned Pascal Marchand called, unoriginally, Marchand-Tawse), although it first came to my notice for remarkable Riesling and Cabernet Franc.  Tawse’s focus in the vineyard is to make each swath of vines a complete self-sustaining ecosystem, one that is constantly in balance without the need for any chemicals or external artificial additives to do the balancing.  Animals play a major role in this effort, including chickens (who eat vineyard bugs), sheep (who eat away the lower vine leaves, exposing the grapes to more sunlight) and horses (who are used in lieu of tractors so as to avoid excessive soil compaction).

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The Spark Brut is a traditional-method Champagne-style sparkling wine, made by inducing a secondary fermentation of a previously made still wine within a sealed bottle, which traps escaping CO2 within the resulting wine that is created and allows it extensive contact with the dead yeast cells that remain after the bubble-inducing effort is successful, creating a myriad of textures and flavours not otherwise found in the world of wine.  This offering is made from a surprising 44% Pinot Gris in addition to Champagne stalwarts Pinot Noir (31%) and Chardonnay (25%).  Pinot Gris does not often get the Champagne treatment anywhere outside of Alsace, but Tawse sees fit to elevate it alongside its more renowned Pinot cousin; each of the varietals here are yield-thinned and hand-harvested, then left on lees for 12 months after secondary fermentation before a slight touch of sweetness is added back ahead of bottling.  Each grape used in this wine hails from a different Tawse vineyard, including the Chardonnay, harvested from the mighty Quarry Road (anyone who has had the Tawse Quarry Road Vineyard Chardonnay will understand my singling it out).

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Cork Rating:  1/10 (Shiner cork AND shiner wire cage?  I thought this was Advent!!)

Day 1 emerges an extremely pale lemon colour amidst a steady stream of tiny bubbles, their size and energy a clear indicator of the traditional method at work.  The aromas are pleasantly vibrant for a Champagne-style wine, perhaps a sign of what Pinot Gris can add to a bubble party:  banana leaf, lime curd and honeydew, swirling across southern biscuits and struck match.  Instantly drying on the tongue, the Spark’s lees-induced flavours stand firm and take precedence over the fruit, reasserting the dominance of its winemaking method and erasing any perceptible trace of residual sugar; elastic bands and sourdough bread stretch over tangy melon, tangerine and Granny Smith apple, lending heft and gravitas to an otherwise-playful wine.  This is not ragingly complex, but it’s crispy and approachable and delicious, the kind of thing you would use to kick off a party that sees you crush 24 bottles in 24 days.  Here’s to another wine Advent.

88+ points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 18

18 12 2017

For those few brave stragglers who have stuck with us through this dual Advent adventure, we are three-quarters of the way there.  This is the last wine of the third of four columns of the Bricks Wine Advent crate:  we are a week from Christmas and six wines from having to pick our own bottles again for dinner.  Tonight’s bottle is a bit of a double-take wine, a Canadian split that is five years back-vintage for an offering that currently retails for around $20 for a full bottle (out east, at least).  It’s not often that I get a chance to see how value-priced local wines stand up to a bit of time, though I would love to hear the story of how Bricks came across this as a calendar opportunity.

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“This” is the 2012 Cave Spring Chardonnay from the Niagara Escarpment region.  The winery was the first to plant vinifera grapes in Niagara and among the first to recognize the vinous potential of the region.  It was also the first in Niagara to tack on its own spa as a tourist attraction, making it an early leader at recognizing the area’s business potential as well.  The Niagara Escarpment line of wines represents the second of four tiers of Cave Spring wines, where grapes are sourced from multiple different vineyards within the subregion; the most interesting part of this wine is that it appears to be a blend of standard Chardonnay grapes with Chardonnay Musqué, an aromatic, floral, spicy mutation of the varietal that adds some olfactory punch to what can otherwise be a fairly neutral grape.

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RED wine???

One thing about half-bottles is that they accelerate a wine’s aging curve, because (1) oxygen is the primary thing that matures (and ultimately degrades) a wine and (2) there is a greater ratio of oxygen to wine in a 375 mL split because the ullage (the space between the wine and the cork at the top of the bottle) is the same for all sizes of wine.  This 2012 is therefore further advanced in its life than a standard bottle would likely be, and it’s starting to show.  The wine is a shimmering lemon-gold colour in the glass and showcases its multi-clone blend in a musky, tutti-frutti nose of honeydew, Meyer lemon and cantaloupe, accented by remnants of once-toasty oak and sulphur-y struck matches.  Medium-bodied, with still-present scruffy barrel tannin and fading acidity, this Chardonnay is not quite sure where it is on the palate:  the fruit has kind of gone to a murky place, the oak has resolved to a pastry crust/vanillin glaze, and the wine overall seems to have one foot each in two different stages of development, clinging to the remains of its youth while also giving in to the inevitability of age.  I think it likely would have stood out more a couple of years ago, but it remains a solid expression of what Niagara Chardonnay can do at a wallet-friendly price.

87+ points

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Steven Rating:  6/10 (Dig the colour, but there’s only so high I can go with two underlined letters.)





2014 Henry of Pelham Old Vines Baco Noir

5 10 2016

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

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Welcome Baco.

I admit to approaching this bottle with a slight sense of foreboding.  One benefit of learning about wine is that it helps you pinpoint rare or obscure high-quality grapes or regions that are under-appreciated, and thus underpriced, by the market.  However, one drawback is that it can stratify your thinking about what quality looks like and give rise to unwitting prejudice about varietals or areas that aren’t always known for it.  Baco Noir, like all hybrid grapes, falls within the latter category.  But this bottle is proof that wine prejudice can be overcome.

Almost all of the quality wine grapes in the world, including all of the varieties you can list within 5 seconds of reading this sentence (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, etc.), belong to a grape species called Vitis vinifera, widely (and accurately) known to be the best of the many families of grapes in the world for wine production.  A hybrid grape is a cross between different species of grapes; in wine-speak that usually means a cross between a vinifera grape and a non-vinifera grape.  These crossings almost always arise out of intentional experiments by people looking to combine the flavour, quality and structure of vinifera with non-aesthetic desirable characteristics of the other species, usually ability to withstand weather or disease, ease of ripening or size of yield.  Spoiler:  they usually don’t accomplish all of these goals. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2007 Tawse Wismer Vineyard Cabernet Franc

14 04 2011

Tonight’s wine review is (very mildly) historic:  the first Canadian wine featured in this Canadian wine blog.  I have probably picked a good inaugural selection, since the Tawse Winery in Ontario’s Niagara region won the  2010 Canadian Winery of the Year Award from Wine Access Magazine.  I picked up this particular wine from Highlander in Marda Loop after being advised that it would “blow my mind”…them’s drinking words!

O Canada!

Despite living in Canada my entire life, I don’t drink a lot of Canadian wine, particularly Canadian red wine, so I approached this one with some degree of trepidation.  But I was excited to open any bottle of Cabernet Franc, which is an underused and underappreciated grape, especially in marginal wine climates like Canada.  Some interesting facts about Cab Franc:  (1) it is believed to be the genetic parent of the much-more-renowned-and-ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon (with the white grape Sauvignon Blanc strangely the other parent, as strange a love match as that seems); and (2) it ripens earlier and grows better in cooler areas than Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes Cab Franc an intelligent choice for Canadian winemakers faced with a short growing season (did I mention it snowed in Calgary yesterday?), colder temperatures and a latitude right at the tip of where grapevines can actually grow (they don’t grow much above 50 degrees Latitude, and the northern tip of the Great Lakes in Ontario is at 49 degrees).  Cabernet Franc is commonly found to have some greener herbaceous or vegetal flavours mixed in with its fruit, anything from grass or leaves to olives, asparagus or green peppers, which notes set its flavour profile apart from the riper, lusher Cab Sauvignon.

…But not so much in this case:  this was a plush, silky take on the varietal that almost came across like its warmer-weather cousin. Read the rest of this entry »








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