Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 14

14 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

After last night’s quirky yet mightily delicious Rioja, I’ve got the distinct feeling that this weekend run of three wines is going to deliver fireworks. Lo and behold, today’s reveal is a Chablis from one of the best known, most emblematic producers in the region. Burgundy remains my favourite wine region despite many strong contenders. And Chablis, that northern Burgundian outpost of stark minerality and abject crystalline purity, is a particularly singular wine region unto itself. Plagued by viticultural hazards, including regular springtime frosts and the odd unpredictable hailstorm, grape growing is no easy task in this hinterland. I continue to marvel at exactly how these hard-working vintners can distill these harsh conditions into such sheer, stony, precise, pixelated and elegant wines. They are known for a distinctive “gunflint” note, described as “goût de pierre à fusil“, or “steely” if you prefer something rather less martial. ‘Minerality” remains hard to definitively pin down as a construct. We have to date identified no specific “mineral” receptors in the human gustatory system, and yet one cannot reasonably deny the existence of such aromas in certain wines. I’ve even heard the argument that Chablis is where Chardonnay shines most brightly, its true spiritual home. The notion that this grape’s genuine essence could be more ethereal mineral than gaudy fruit intrigues me to no end, subjective viewpoint though it may be.

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William Fevre began with the 1959 harvest, although William’s father Maurice was growing grapes back in the 1930s, mainly in Chablis’ Grand Cru vineyards. Today William Fevre owns the largest number of Grand and Premier Cru vineyards in the region, populated mostly by old, low-yielding vines. The estate was purchased by the Henriot family of Champagne in 1998. Although such a takeover can sometimes be a harbinger of decreased quality, the Henriots instead implemented a new philosophy geared towards better preservation of the nuances of Chablis terroir: use of new oak was abolished in favour of old barrels with an average age of 6 years. Grapes are grown organically, although the estate isn’t particularly fussy about getting official certification. William Fevre seeks to preserve even the most muted variations across individual sites. This focus is coupled with an emphasis on “instant appeal” in the wines, one of those ideological melds of tradition and avant-garde technology that works, and works well.

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The 2015 vintage in Chablis was characterized by a late onset of winter, with some frost and rain until the end of May followed by hot, dry weather at the start of June until the end of August. This is pretty optimal for the Petit Chablis and (non-Cru) Chablis vineyards, lesser sites where grapes can struggle to reach an appropriate degree of ripeness. Indeed, the fine folks at Bricks chose well here. According to William Fevre cellarmaster Didier Seguier, “It’s a perfect vintage for the lower appellations, Petit Chablis and Chablis… These can be difficult in cool, late years, but in ’15 they have a good level of ripeness and freshness.” The entry level Chablis AOC profiled here is harvested manually, with the grapes receiving a brief, gentle pneumatic press followed by gravity settling of the juice. Some fine lees is retained, and the wine does undergo malolactic fermentation (many basic Chablis do not, although I believe the practice has become more common in the region of late). Maturation occurs only in stainless steel.

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Cork Rating: 3.0/10 (Points for total and utter clarity as to region and vintage. Alas, there is little else to score here.)

This all sounds textbook. Frankly, that’s exactly what I am expecting here, in the very best way. I am not disappointed. The fruits include tart Granny Smith apple and the most stern and austere of the green pears, followed by some suggestions of under-ripe hard nectarine, lemon and watermelon rinds (you know, that watery white stuff), a few ghosts of pineapple and starfruit. White berries do occur in nature (e.g. the snowberry) but they are largely unpalatable. If one were indeed edible, I feel I would detect such a note in this taut, precise little dynamo. A pleasing minerality of matchlock musket, chalkboards, and Epsom salts begins to billow from the glass, and I welcome more associations of green banana peel, salted cultured butter, margarita glass rim, and Siberian peashrub/caragana flowers (let’s go with “acacia” for those of you following along on a tasting wheel). The fresh acid is far from meek, malo notwithstanding, and the finish recalls an abrupt sharp slap followed by a few conciliatory caresses. This aggression will not stand, man. Truth be told, this is far too classy to merit more than a few allusions to anything truly bellicose.

89+ points

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 10

10 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Riesling. I’ve been waiting for this Advent moment. In his delightful book “Reading Between The Wines”, Terry Theise proposes that Riesling is the greatest of all wine grapes, stating that nothing else so perfectly captures the essence of the land. Riesling is said to repress its own very nature in favour of serving as a pure conduit through which soil, climate, sunlight, farming practices, and the like can shine through: a changeling that mirrors the terroir. I’m not entirely sure about this, as I find Riesling pretty distinctive on the palate heedless of the wine region. Perhaps I’m being overly analytical. The sentiment is beautiful, and such a grape-land symbiosis likely fuels the ability to great Rieslings to provide a spiritual experience (if you believe wine can do such a thing… And I do).

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Alsace Rieslings typically have less floral character than their German counterparts, often showing rather firm and lean in their youth. In the best vintages this austere baseline eventually blossoms into wines that can seem rather rich and “big”, but able to reflect vineyard character as adeptly as their German counterparts. Alsace is the driest wine region in France, far away from maritime influence and with the Vosges mountains providing further shelter. This warm, dry climate allows grapes to ripen slowly, yielding good aromas but not at the expense of acidity. Many top producers consider Riesling to be the most noble of the Alsace noble varieties, albeit one that can be difficult to work with due to its late-ripening proclivities and aforementioned responsiveness to site variation. Unlike the soft and immediately aromatic Gewurztraminer, Alsace Riesling requires patience, a dedicated cellar master with a fine attention to detail in the vineyard but a corresponding savvy around what to leave well enough alone during the winemaking itself. Enter the Hugel family. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 8

8 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I am on a Chardonnay kick of late. Admittedly, though, California Chardonnay has not been on the docket much. If it were, Carneros would perhaps be one logical starting point for a guy who enjoys delicate renditions. This AVA spans both Napa and Sonoma counties, is moderately cool and windy, and enjoys a number of day degrees comparable to Beaune. Make no mistake, however. The sunshine is more intense and the growing season is longer than in Burgundy, leading to more prominent fruit flavours even as the grape’s acidity is preserved. A gentle winemaking hand yields a sip full of pure crystalline citrus and apple fruit character, gracefully lifted up by the acid and a distinct silky texture. A heavy-handed approach mars this regional signature almost completely, yielding a wine that might score points with some reviewers but that shows little distinction by way of place.

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With family roots in the Rheingau, Koerner Rombauer, his wife Joan, and their two children arrived in the Napa Valley in 1972. They became partners in Conn Creek winery, learning the wine business there and then staking out on their own in 1982. Rombauer vineyards was a run-away success, serving as an initial home base for numerous other up and coming California wineries (e.g., Duckhorn, Spottswood) while Koerner and Joan also made their own wines. Rombauer Vineyards purchased its first Chardonnay from the Carneros region in 1990, from the Sangiacomo family. This partnership fit lock and key, with Carneros grapes and Rombauer’s winemaking providing a synergy that resulted in numerous accolades, including four appearances on Wine Spectator’s “Top 100 Wines” list. The Rombauers purchased their own vineyard in Carneros in 2002, the same year that Joan tragically died from pancreatic cancer. Today a third generation of Rombauers remains employed at the winery. Carneros Chardonnay remains one of their standard bearers, with Wine Spectator claiming that “Rombauer defines the California Chardonnay style that so many adore”. So a big boozy white, ripe with tropical fruit aromas, buttery and decadent? Hmmm. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 7

7 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Now THIS I was not expecting. Seeing tonight’s label takes me back to an industry tasting maybe a year ago. I finagled an invite as “media” (delusions of grandeur) and it was a standard event, really: big crowds and tiny pours. Even at such large events, however, I am consistently astonished by how generous and approachable wine folks are. (Sure, there were a few awkward moments. Me: “I think I like this Viognier the best…really nice floral stuff on the nose”. Guy pouring samples: *blank stare*.) I won’t ever forget meeting these two dudes at the Purcari table, representatives from the near-anonymous wine nation of Moldova. One was maybe in his 20s and the other was on the older side of middle-aged. I wish I could recall their names. The younger guy seemed quite business-savvy, and the older gentleman was more focused on vines and harvest dates and the like. My friend (none other than fellow Pop & Pour author and wine guy extraordinaire Dan Steeves) and I must have spent an hour there, tasting through the entire ensemble and hearing the stories behind each of their wines. The older guy reminded me of my maternal grandfather, a no-nonsense, bright member of the proletariat, very willing to share these unprepossessing but fascinating stories. What a marvellous hobby we have, and what a tremendous memory, revisited in full force by tonight’s Negru de Purcari red, from the winery of those very gentlemen.

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A brief primer of this lesser-known wine region is certainly in order. Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest nations but has the third greatest vineyard area of the former Soviet republics (only the Ukraine has more, if we are talking about states with significant wine production). Grapes have grown in Moldova for millennia, and wine production reached an apex in the 15th century. Turkish occupation struck a severe blow to wine production due to the Islamic prohibition of alcohol, but then recovered after the country was annexed by Russia in 1812 (phew!). Vine varieties from France became ascendant until phylloxera smacked them back down. Grafting was adopted in 1906 and the tzars provided incentives to grow higher quality varieties, only to have the Second World War once again devastate the vineyards. Undaunted, the resilient and industrious Moldovans set about planting more international varieties while simultaneously preserving at least some of the native vine diversity, weathered a few Soviet importation bans on Moldovan wine, and basically kept flipping the proverbial bird at retrograde political, religious, and other forces that sought to threaten their vineyards.

Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 6

6 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Expectations met can be a wonderful thing. Chianti is one of the world’s truly great wine styles, so such a bottle basically HAS to appear in a calendar like this, no? We had a good showing last year, and I rarely feel disappointed when confronted with vibrant red fruit and pungent savoury herbs coupled with some degree of tannic power. The best of these wines walk a tightrope between force and elegance, erring on the side of varietal fruit character and earth as opposed to sporting a pancake makeup overdose of oak. I prefer those primal Chiantis that speak directly of their native land, even if they are a tad gnarly, like old elementals draped in garrigue and clods of mud. Those that skew more towards the diktats of flying winemakers and a ceaseless push for more concentration rapidly lose my interest. Bigger ain’t always better, particularly with this delicate, rather temperamental grape. This is not a moral pronouncement or a rigidly clasped axiom. You know, it’s just like, my opinion, man. Nature is not perfect… nor is good wine. When everything tastes the same, we lose our ability to be wowed, however hedonistic the benchmark may be.

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Chianti Classico was officially delimited in 1716, although what is now one sub-region among eight initially WAS Chianti, full stop. As the wine became an international star, demand soared and grape-growing expanded into nearby towns and countryside to meet said demand. The moniker “Classico” was eventually added to wines made within the original Chianti area, with the sub-region established as its own DOCG in 1984. This came about largely because producers in Chianti Classico felt that their wines were more historical, distinctive, and ultimately superior to those produced in surrounding areas, perhaps a classic(o) case of “we were here first”. It turns out that the self-styled old guard might have a point, as the DOCG does enjoy more strict rules of production, including longer minimum age requirements compared to the Chianti DOCG (alas, home to many subpar vineyards) and a minimal Sangiovese composition of 80% with no white grapes in the blend. My mind knows that there are other interesting terroirs across the sub-regions, but my heart guides me toward a more conservative approach such that I usually look for the tell-tale black rooster when browsing the Italian section.

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Villa Cafaggio is technically situated in the hamlet of Greve, typically known for full bodied renditions of Sangiovese with concentrated fruit flavours. However, the broader region of Greve itself includes Panzano, a separate village with its own distinctive and long-standing history of wine-making. Yes, even the sub-regions here have sub-regions. I try not to let my head explode. A consortium of Panzano winegrowers are in fact lobbying to have the region separate from Greve entirely. This push has met with no official success to date, yet that has not stopped these intrepid folk, the  Unione Viticoltori Panzano (UVP), from going ahead and forming the first consolidated district for organic wine production in Italy, in which 90 per cent of its vineyards are organically farmed. The government won’t listen? That’s hardly new. We shall simply do our own thing regardless. Some of this sounds strangely familiar. Villa Cafaggio is a proud member of the UVP. Interestingly enough not all Panzano producers are, and defining specific geographical boundaries in a fashion that makes wine-growing sense remains a going concern across the greater Chianti region. Suffice to say, Panzano has staked a claim to its own historical and modern identities. Villa Cafaggio seeks to deliver savoury, perfumed wines that capture this culture. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 5

5 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Once more into the breach, my friends, and on Day 5 of Advent 2018, once more into the bag of Advent 2017 synonyms:  a Moscato d’Asti from a strong producer, much like last year’s Day 10.  That wine (I maintain to this day) struggled with some bottle condition issues, and I am happy to say that this one is clean as a whistle and full of youthful spirit. It is the 2017 G.D Vajra Moscato d’Asti, and spawns stories of history, of production method, of flavour.  Which to tell first?

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Let’s start from the start, I suppose…which it turns out is much more recent than I expected.  Despite its highly traditional-seeming name and labelling, G.D Vajra is barely 45 years old, a complete baby by the standards of Barolo, founded in 1972 (albeit from family vineyards from a couple decades earlier) with its first commercial vintage not released until 1978.  It is named after founder Aldo Vajra’s father and was started because, in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air style, Aldo participated in a student protest revolt in the city where he lived at age 15 and was thereafter immediately sent out to the Barolo countryside to live with his grandfather on a farm for the summer, away from the sway of proletariat rebellion.  That summer in Barolo (as it likely would for all of us) triggered a deep and abiding passion for wine, which ultimately resulted in the bottle here before us.  One little fight and his mom got scared…

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My favourite thing about Moscato d’Asti, apart from its dangerous low-alcohol crushability, is the trivia behind how it’s made.  It is one of the few types of sparkling (or frizzante, in this case – lightly sparkling) wines that do not go through two fermentations:  one to vinify a dry base wine, the other to re-ferment that wine with additional yeast and sugar to create the bubbles.  Instead, it combines both processes into one through a highly ingenious process called the Asti method.  Fermentation begins as per usual, but in a pressurized steel tank that is sealed off from air partway through the process, with the result that the carbon dioxide that is a fermentation byproduct cannot escape the tank and is trapped in the wine.  Then, when the half-bubbly wine is still quite sweet and considerable amounts of yeast and sugar remain that would normally continue to make sweet magic and craft a higher-alcohol dry wine, the tank and the wine inside are chilled to near-freezing to halt fermentation (yeast don’t like cold much).  The yeast is then filtered out of the tank while it is still under pressure (so that fermentation with the remaining sugar does not continue when the wine warms back up) and the wine is bottled under pressure — only lightly bubbly, at 5-6% alcohol and with a bunch of residual sugar.  Brilliant.

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Stelvin Rating:  8/10 (That green is just beautiful, especially in person, and the powdery sheen works.)

This particular Moscato hails from a single vineyard in the perfectly named commune of Mango, located on a steep slope at elevation in the Moscato d’Asti region.  It is a gleeful tropical fruit salad on the nose:  mango (of course), kiwi, canned oranges and pears, banana leaf, star fruit, and onward down the orchard Rolodex, spiked with gobs of potpourri and spring flowers and chemically Alka Seltzer and city pool chlorine.  Lush and quite notably sweet, even for Moscato standards, it is lent a sense of airiness due to its sloshy frizzy bubbles, which are not quite as penetrating or scouring as you might anticipate, a product of the not-quite-sparkling frizzante fermentation process (which is also why this can be bottled in a normal bottle and closure as opposed to a thicker Champagne-style bottle — it’s under a lot less pressure).  All I can taste is pineapple Life Savers, cream soda and every single flavour of Gummy Worm on overdrive.  The finish is slightly cloying, thanks to acid that doesn’t quite stretch all the way to the end of the line and can’t quite balance out the Moscato’s immense sweetness.

As a beverage, this is freaking delicious.  It took no time at all for the entire half-bottle to disappear.  As a wine, I wouldn’t rank it among the top Moscatos I’ve had because the rest of the wine can’t quite keep up with the sugar levels, leading to things getting a little bit flouncy.  But it’s hard to be too unhappy after a couple glasses of Moscato.

87 points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 4

4 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Well, Ray got his blast from Wine Advent past yesterday, continuing his baffling streak of Austrian dominance (which I believe is now at FOUR Austrian calendar wines in a row, somehow).  Mine came today.  Last year, I was a fresh-faced Wine Advent newbie on December 4, 2017 when I pulled a Manoir du Carra Cru Beaujolais from the Bricks calendar.  Tonight, on December 4, 2018, I unwrapped my designated Advent bottle to find…a Manoir du Carra Cru Beaujolais.  I quickly checked my calendar to ensure I had the right year.

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To be clear, it’s a different Manoir du Carra Cru Beaujolais this time around.  This producer is on its fifth generation of family ownership and has accumulated 34 hectares of vineyard land in an astonishing FIFTY different plots scattered throughout Beaujolais. Last year’s wine was from one of the better-known of the 10 Beaujolais Cru subzones, Fleurie; tonight’s option is from the larger but lesser-known (or at least less visible on shelves here) Brouilly, the biggest and southernmost of the Crus which by itself comprises 20% of the Cru vineyard land in the region.  Brouilly is so named for a massive volcanic hill at the heart of the area, Mont Brouilly, which is itself named for Brulius, a lieutenant in the Roman legion who apparently liked naming volcanoes after himself.  This particular wine comes from the Combiaty lieu-dit (or small plot/area bearing a traditional wine) in the village of St. Etienne le Varenne, located in the south of Brouilly and known best for its dry, nutrient-poor pink granite soils.

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I have a strange relationship with Manoir du Carra, in that I have had their wines on at least a dozen different occasions, but NEVER yet in a full-sized bottle — I’ve had a few splits, a number of glass pours, and a strange but incredible 500 mL bottle (which is a remarkably effective size for a bottle of wine and should be produced in greater quantities).  I assume they actually make normal bottles but cannot confirm.  The Terre de Combiaty comes from Gamay vines that average 50 years of age which are hand-harvested (like everything in the Manoir du Carra portfolio), treated with minimal intervention in the cellar and fermented using semi-carbonic maceration, where the intracellular fermentation processes within the individual grape berries from the carbonic maceration process are joined with simultaneous normal alcoholic fermentation from the crushed berries at the bottom of the fermentation tank, resulting in more colour and tannin than pure carbonic maceration and a scaled-back version of the bubble-gummy carbonic flavour set.

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Cork Rating:  1.5/10 (Further deduction from last year’s edition for not changing the nondescript “Mis en Bouteille” nonsense after being blog-warned.)

This sort-of carbonic Brouilly is a sharp purple colour in the glass but thins quite markedly at the rim.  It is initially much darker than expected aromatically, date and slate and dirt emerging first, with black cherry and chalk peeking through underneath.  Over time, a Banana Runts (with banana leaf?) top note emerges, a nod to its carbonic half, as well as the more anticipated raspberry-rooted Gamay sense of joy.  Fresher and plummier on the palate, the wine showcases its clean, squeaky tannins almost immediately, and fairly laissez-faire acidity results in this Gamay seeming more broad and expansive than its standard varietal signature, albeit while retaining a feathery, wispy sort of texture.  The mineral streak noticeable on first smell lasts throughout, iron and rock dust and magnets, but red fruit blooms as you go along to keep anything from seeming severe.  Bricks, I’d say you are 4 for 4.

88 points








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