12 Days of Vinebox: Day 4

28 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I’d say we have had an auspicious first quarter of Vinebox. A few surprises, and three rather good wines. We enter the second quarter with heads held high and hearts open, albeit fatigued from all the (self-imposed) indentured servitude that comes along with blogging BOTH Advent and post-Advent calendars. This much wine writing in such a concentrated span of time is invigorating, inspiring, exhausting, and maddening in approximately equal measure. But the wine dudes abide. It is a good sign that I still feel the wine post-Advent love this afternoon. Ask me if this is still the case next Tuesday. As I somewhat hazily recall, this wine was an early draft pick of mine when Peter and I divvied up the vials.

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Corbieres is a smaller appellation within the much larger and obscenely diverse Languedoc. Yes, we are back in the south of France, but across the Golfe du Lion from Provence. Corbieres is one of the Languedoc sub-appellations that has steadfastly forged its own reputation. Corbieres itself is further sub-divided (but of course!) into 11 regions based on climate and soil topography, with basic distinctions drawn between coastal zones that enjoy a Mediterranean influence, a northern strip contiguous with the equally well-known appellation Minervois, relatively cooler western high altitude vineyards that experience some Atlantic influence, and finally an enclave of very rugged lands in the south and centre. Really then, we are looking at a minimum of four distinct wine regions fused into one political entity whose purpose is to provide a reasonably well-known signifier on wine labels. I can nevertheless comment on a few rough constants. Corbieres on the whole is hilly and relatively warm. The heat is conducive to grape ripening yet is tempered by maritime winds and altitude, so that the grapes retain enough acidity to yield fresh aromatic wines as opposed to something purely jammy. This is a classic recipe for oenological success, although now I must attempt to dial in the specific nature of today’s offering. Or should I say “vial in”…thank you, thank you, I’m here for the next four days! Try the (sustainably farmed cruelty-free) veal.  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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12 Days of Vinebox: Day 2

26 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Happy Boxing Day!  Hopefully you are full of holiday cheer and post-holiday deals, have all of the presents you want to return neatly stacked in a corner and are ready to get down to business on the world’s coolest post-Advent calendar, one vial at a time.  Let me be the first to tell you that blogging 100mL of wine is a highly stressful experience — you get 2/3 of a glass to fully formulate an impression and write detailed tasting notes, so every drop matters.  It definitely aids the focus, as near-panic often does.  Hopefully you can be a bit more frivolous with your vial.

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I picked this test tube in my Vinebox blogging selection draft with Ray because I was highly curious to check out a Provençal red, a relative rarity in these parts.  Provence is globally known for being the pink wine hub of the world, and for good reason:  80-90% of the bottles that come out of the Cotes de Provence are roses.  They are a well-oiled pink buzzsaw of a production region, dialled into the patio trade in massive quantities…but they are also, more quietly, home to high-quality reds and whites, and in fact, the top producers in the area often make all three.  One such producer is the historic Chateau de Bregançon, centered around an 18th century castle built on a slope overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  The estate has been owned by the same family for over 200 years, which is now in its 7th generation of stewardship of the grounds, including 52 hectares of vineyards in prime growing areas, on exposed hillsides featuring tons of sun and surprisingly little rain given their oceanfront locales.  If you HAVE to make wine anywhere, why not make it the Mediterranean riviera?

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Quick tangent that may be of interest to only me:  Chateau de Bregançon is one of 18 estates to have been awarded the “Cru Classé” designation in Provence, which it turns out is the only French wine region besides Bordeaux to have a classification/ranking system tied to producers as opposed to vineyards.  The “Cru Classé” was conceptualized in 1947 by some of the longstanding wineries in the area, who commissioned a series of experts to research the winemaking chops and history of the local producers and create a listing of the best of the best.  They did so in 1955, and of the original 14 Bregançon made the cut and was therefore immortalized as elite (because once you’re named Cru Classé, you can’t be un-named).  Sadly, the designation doesn’t appear on the Vinebox vial, but I know it’s there in spirit.

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I had difficulty locating any information at all about this 2015 Bregançon Cotes de Provence, but based on the reds currently listed on their website, it’s a good bet that this one contains healthy proportions of both Syrah and Mourvedre, two of Provence’s principal red varieties (the others being Cinsault, Grenache and the lesser-known Tibouren).  What I can advise with more certainty is that the wine is surprisingly deep and rich in colour, especially after you’re used to yet another pale pink Provençal rose, a hefty ruby-purple that is just shy of opaque.  You can smell it as soon as you crack the bottle, flint and whetstone, blueberry and currant, hot rocks and sauna, flesh blood and ink (the latter set making Syrah seem ever more likely).  Sharply structured, the wine’s most prominent features on the palate are firm scrubby tannins and whiplash acidity, but these are softened and broadened by pure red fruit and violets arranged over this Cru Classé’s iron spine.  A thoroughly impressive Vinebox debut for me – can’t wait to see what the future holds.

90 points





12 Days of Vinebox: Day 1

25 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Merry Christmas! And welcome to Vinebox. Amidst all the unwrapping of presents, preparing meals, and dealing with relatives (at least some of whom you like, presumably), hopefully you can find the time to join me in crushing just under half a glass of…Pinot Grigio!? I suppose one has to start somewhere. Although I do not naturally gravitate towards this style, I freely admit that premium offerings often show some interest, perhaps even a little charm, certainly far more than the oceans of antiseptic acid water that comprise the commodity Pinot Grigio market, which is demolished in vast quantities at cafes, bars, dinner tables and bridal showers around the world. Although climate and other viticultural decisions such as yield play a role in separating the wheat from the chaff, most premium PGs from northern regions such as Alto-Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia come from a small-berried clone of the grape with more flavour concentration than the much larger, thin-skinned berries that hail from the vast prolific vineyards of the Veneto plain. As Peter mentioned in his comprehensive preview of this attractive package of super fun wine-laden test tubes, the Vinebox team has assembled this lineup solely for its Canadian audiences from the wares of various European artisanal producers, working only with about 1% of the wines they tried so as to keep quality high. I am cautiously optimistic.

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Although the Vinebox reveal website (hey, no cheating now!) states that this is “Friuli Pinot Grigio”, the vial is actually marked with “Delle Venezie IGT”. This is an older appellation that actually ceased to exist in 2017, being renamed “Trevenezie IGT”. (The word “Triveneto” also appears near the top of the vial!) The new appellation “Delle Venezie DOC” was then carved out of the Trevenezie IGT to primarily encompass Pinot Grigio, and this, I presume, is where the present wine would now be classified. Detective work complete. Delle Venezie DOC includes not just Friuli but also Trentino and the entirety of the larger Veneto plain, meaning that the grapes in this vial could hail from any of these regions. The producer, Vinicola Tombacco, has a website that does not appear to feature this particular wine, or if it does, said wine appears under the guise of one of the numerous sub-labels that fall within the Tombacco stable. Tombacco does produce a Delle Venezie DOC Pinot Grigio labelled “Collezione Privata”. My guess is that this is the very same wine, or something similar. OK, so the detective work was not quite complete. Good enough. Let’s taste. Read the rest of this entry »





The Vinebox Cometh: 12 Nights of Wine

14 11 2018

After 7+ years of blogging about and immersing myself in wine, I am in many ways an open book about what I like and don’t like, vinously speaking — there are now over 450 posts on this site, and other musings elsewhere, that spell out exactly what gets me pumped about a new product or wine experience.  Three of the things that rank high on the good side of my ledger, backed up emphatically by past history, are (1) savvy labelling and branding (my love of which is the basis for every Cork Rating I’ve ever done), (2) clever alternative packaging (bring me your wines in cans, your 1L bottles, and everything in between), and (3) Advent calendars.  If you rolled your eyes about the last one, feel free to consult PnP’s 125+ December postings over the past four years and then get back to me…if I’m not a boozy Advent authority by now, I never will be.  As we approach another holiday season, little did I expect to be dumbfounded by a sleek, shiny, downright sexy combination of all three of these things.  Meet Vinebox:

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Oh yes.  It gets better.  Take a look inside:

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OH YES.  Bring it.  That’s what I’m talking about.

Vinebox is a San Francisco-based company that, up until right this minute, was a US-only subscription service for by-the-glass-sized portions of new, interesting, high-quality wines.  This special holiday release box marks their first foray into the Canadian market, and luckily for us locals, it is exclusive to Richmond Hill Wines and a select few other boutiques right here in Calgary.  Given my prior history of Advent proselytizing, I would be remiss if I did not point out that Vinebox’s 12 Nights of Wine holiday kit is not technically an Advent calendar, as it offers 12 different holiday wine offerings instead of the classic Advent 24-day December countdown to Christmas.  It is instead intended to mirror the 12 days of Christmas (which, I was shocked to discover, all actually occur AFTER Christmas — they run from December 25th through January 5th, marking the time in Christian lore that it took the three wise men to arrive and visit the newborn Jesus…mind formally blown).  Practically speaking, this means that you can either crack a glass on every even day in December as a sort of quasi-Advent replacement (or get two and create your very own full-scale Advent calendar, with a critical revisit of each offering every second day) or get the coolest Christmas gift ever for somebody to enjoy on Christmas Day and the next eleven following.

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In recent years, because the progress of the species is a real and abiding thing, we have seen a proliferation of wine, beer and spirits-based Advent and holiday calendars in a variety of shapes and sizes.  What sets the Vinebox addition to this growing December lineup apart is the unique and patented way the wines are delivered, in Stelvin-enclosed, test tube-like — yet still amazingly labelled and producer-branded! — 100 mL glass cylinders that make a stunning visual impression. Read the rest of this entry »








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