Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 23

23 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

“Great wines taste like they come from somewhere. Lesser wines are interchangeable; they could have come from anywhere.”      – Matt Kramer in “Making Sense of Wine”

YES. Just yes. Last year we were universally astounded by the Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard bottle from Day 17, a mind-blowing flashpoint of the sort you might not expect in a wine Advent calendar, even ones as carefully curated as these have been. I open today’s squat bottle almost reluctantly, flooded with fatigue and all kinds of associations that converge on how done I am with wine blogging, at least for a month or so, because DAMN, this is a labour of love but still requires fortitude in what is already a busy December for me… And poof. All that is gone, burnt away like a flammable fog suddenly detonated by a struck match. I remember why I love wine. My whoop of delight startles the cat in the den where my wine fridges live, and Ken Wright is BACK, baby. And it is not the cuvee from last year.

IMG_1415

Ken Wright has been described by friends as a “brinksman”: someone who can pull off miracles just when it seems all hope is lost. Wrestling competitively from the 6th grade until his first year of college, Ken discovered wine while waiting tables in Kentucky, suggesting to the restaurant owner that they could likely sell more bottles if they knew how each wine actually tasted. A fascination with Burgundy and Pinot Noir was born, with Ken and his roommate Alan Holstein cutting their teeth on such bottlings as La Tache and Richebourg. I am trying to fathom the very notion of university students being able to afford such wines, and this only serves to reinforce the oft-present feeling that I was born in the wrong era. In any event, Ken gave up his pre-law studies to pursue enology and viticulture at the University of California, Davis. He struggled with the chemistry components of this program, although for the quiet but shrewd Ken that was no real obstacle when it came to learning how to make wine. He got by with a lot of help from his friends. Dying to leave California after concluding that the place was simply too hot for top-shelf Pinot Noir, Ken arrived in Oregon in 1985 with barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon to sell as the inaugural offerings of his own winery, Panther Creek. Selling such undocumented wine was illegal, but the silver-tongued Ken got a pass.

ken-wright-cellars-co-2-500x500

Alas, Panther Creek fell upon hard times and had to be sold. Ken got a divorce, fortunately an amicable one. Financial difficulties associated with the sale of Panther Creek got sorted, and Ken Wright Cellars was born in 1996. The mission? To showcase Pinot Noir from 13 single vineyard sites, wines with precise flavours and sharpshooter finesse, unencumbered by booziness or excesses of other structural components (tannins, acid). All wines are made using the same cellar regime, so that terroir is maximally accentuated and facilitating direct comparisons across the sites. Grapes are hand sorted and always de-stemmed, as Ken states that including the stems with these various sites yields wines that are too angular. Fermentation takes place in open vats, with the wines seeing around one year in new French oak barrels (albeit barrels specially treated with salt and hot water to mitigate resinous notes from the wood). Supple and seamless. “Grippy and tannic does not provide pleasure”, he says. Ken encouraged growers to farm for quality by paying them for each acre instead of by the ton. He introduced vertical shoot positioning in Oregon to expose grapes in the relatively cool climate to more sun. He continues to use research links between microbiological activity and soil quality to rehabilitate tired old sites such as Bryce, working closely with vineyard owners so the latter can sell quality fruit to wineries across the state. To top it all off, Ken himself petitioned growers to create six sub-appellations in the Willamette Valley: Yamhill-Carlton, Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge, Dundee Hills, McMinnville, and Eola-Amity Hills. Yes we Ken. Burgundy comes to Oregon.

IMG_1417I should be careful with such statements. Oregon Pinot will probably have more bright fruit than your average Cote d’Or. But one cannot escape the comparison when it comes to such fine-grained mapping of vineyard sites. The 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir hails from a Willamette Valley AVA site said to yield the most firm and structured Pinots in the Ken Wright stable. Occupying a gentle southeasterly slope that is conducive to ripening, the soils are known as “bellpine”, a mixture of uplifted ancient seabed and siltstone that is said to contribute to the aforementioned structure in the wines, even as freshness is preserved. Ken states that such soils yield more floral and spicy characters in the finished wines, as compared to nearby volcanic soils that enhance fruit. One might be forgiven for wondering if this site manages to capture the best of both worlds.

IMG_1419

This is darker than expected colour-wise but not opaque. The nose does pop with Bing cherry and black raspberry, high-toned wild blueberry and plum, but there they are as advertised, a few floral squadrons filling the skies of my Burgundy Zalto glass with Thrills gum, Parma violet candies, lilacs, rose hips, iris, cinnamon toothpicks, allspice, cola, cinder blocks, warm pavement, and an earthy verdant wreath of Irish moss, English breakfast tea and old growth underbrush. Less cerebral and pretty than the Shea Vineyard, this is more bold and powerful, a Pinot Noir Tony Soprano…but do not confuse power with a lack of complexity. The finish lingers with watermelon Jolly Ranchers and a few dirty pan drippings. What more can I say? The calendar has probably peaked. I’ll see you fine folks next year, barring unforeseen circumstances. Bring it on home, Peter.

91+ points

IMG_1418

Cork Rating: 4/10 (Nomacorc plus washed-out graphic. Ken Wright has to do one thing wrong, I suppose.)





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.]

IMG_4695

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.

IMG_4711

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).  

IMG_4717

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.

IMG_4715

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 20

20 12 2019

By Tyler Derksen

After a long year, I am now officially on vacation until 2020.  As I look ahead with anticipation to days spent with family and friends, I also look back on Christmases past.  I was never bold enough to try to unwrap, and then re-wrap, presents under the tree to ascertain their contents in advance; however, I did pick them up and analyse the packages with an almost scientific determination.  This childhood habit has persisted into adulthood and I find myself doing the same with this Wine Advent Calendar.  Some are easier than others to determine with some level of certainty (for example, the bottle of Dr. L Riesling on Day 15 was taller than most full-sized bottles and unmistakably a bottle of German Riesling).  As I picked up today’s wine, still wrapped, from the ever-emptier crate in which the Advent Calendar wines were bundled, the packaging was unmistakable.  While canned wine is becoming a more common site in YYC wine stores (see also Day 3 of this year’s calendar), the producers and varietals are still limited and I found myself almost disappointed that I thought I knew what the wine was going to be.  That disappointment quickly vanished as the wrapping came off – Gruner Veltliner!

IMG_4689

It’s a puppy, isn’t it Mom?

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Gruner as it was the white wine I served at my wedding.  Gruner Veltliner, Austria’s national grape, is a dry white varietal grown primarily in Austria, Germany and surrounding countries, although in recent years it has certainly spread beyond its homeland (as evidenced by today’s bottle…I mean can).

This evening’s wine is the 2018 Companion Wine Co. Gruner from California.  Companion Wine Co. brings together experienced wine makers with the stated, and laudable, idea “that delicious, terroir-driven, natural wine from California could be sold at cost and in packaging that is accessible to all.”  This Gruner is made by winemaker Graham Tatomer of Tatomer Wines, well-known for its Rieslings and Gruner Veltliners.  Trained in Austria and making his home in Santa Barbara, California, Tatomer uses Old World winemaking traditions to produce a New World wine with the aim of showcasing its varietal characteristics and terroir.

The grapes used to make the 2018 Gruner come from Kick-On Ranch, a windy, cool-climate vineyard located to the northwest of the Santa Rita Hills in California.  The soil is primarily Eolian, which means soil comprised of particles that have been carried to their current location by wind (as opposed to alluvium soil, which is soil deposited by flowing water) and is typically made up of sand or silt.  More particularly, the soil of Kick-On Ranch is called Loess, which is predominantly silty soil containing very little clay or other binding agent. This site is considered by Graham Tatomer and others as being ideal for growing Gruner and Riesling (for example, Stirm Wine Company, which also makes wine for distribution through Companion Wine Co., sources grapes from this vineyard).

IMG_4693

I wasn’t able to locate much information on the production methods for the 2018 Gruner other than that malolactic fermentation (a process in which tart-tasting malic acid is converted into softer lactic acid, imparting, for example, the buttery popcorn taste found in some Chardonnay) was blocked and the fermented wine was then filtered before canning.  With this information in hand, the nose and palate are certainly not surprising.  The nose is citrusy, with notes of lemon, lime, apricot, mandarin orange peel, Himalayan pink salt, green bean (Gruner Veltliner translates to “Green Wine of Veltlin”) and a slight floral note.  The palate is tart with punchy acidity, matching the nose well, if a bit shy on complexity, with tastes of lemon, Granny Smith apple, tangerine, river rock, a hint of honey and a nutty, toasted almond finish.

Apparently the fruit making up this wine was quite expensive, and although a particularly great growing season for the Kick-On Ranch Vineyard prompted Graham Tatomer to make this wine, it may not happen again as a result.  This is too bad, as although it’s perhaps a bit lean for my tastes, I fully support any effort to bring Gruner Veltliner to a wider wine-drinking audience.

88- points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 18

18 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

Day 18 of this blogging campaign has me starting off the final week with a slight limp but head unbowed. It has been particularly fun this year, truth be told. The calendar has been superbly curated, considering the perfectly understandable constraints of price point and availability of half-bottles. But I don’t think it is just that. The last few bottles have sparked some enjoyable discussion and debate between the three of us responsible for this Advent blogging set, causing me to reflect on just what it is about wine that is so mesmerizing, so able to inspire passion. Upon reflection, I think for me it is the intersection between art and science. If one knows how wine is made, in a technical sense, one can better assess what is going on with a particular bottle. Maybe this is how I naturally veer, given my professional background… “OK, does this wine gel with how I know it was made?” This sort of conceptual funnelling can provide all kinds of helpful cues as to what I’m experiencing. But then again, what if I am pleasantly surprised? What if I just love the lines of this particular sculpture, heedless of how I know it should present? I think there’s room for both perspectives, within me and within the field of wine assessment more generally. I try to be cognizant of this dichotomy when I see that today’s bottle reads “Cotes du Rhone Villages”.

IMG_1386I’m not implying that I’m disappointed. In fact, this appellation is a deliberate step up in quality from the Cotes du Rhone per se. In the late 1960s, several villages successfully petitioned to include their names on wine labels, in exchange for being willing to submit to higher quality standards. These included the requirement that Grenache must comprise not less than 50% of any given red wine, with a further 20% consisting of Syrah or Mourvèdre in any proprotion. A maximum of 20% of other authorized varieties is also permitted, with these including various obscurities permitted in Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Cinsault, Muscardin, Vaccarese, Terret Noir) along with Carignan. At this point, the Cotes du Rhone Villages appellation has expanded to nearly 10,000 hectares, making it the second largest appellation in the Southern Rhone, half of which can add the name of a specific village to the label. Twenty villages can do this at the present time. This is starting to get the feel of the Dodo Bird verdict from Alice In Wonderland, where “everyone has won and all must have prizes”. Further reinforcing this notion is the fact that the other half of the appellation can distinguish themselves from generic Cotes-du-Rhône by adding the term “village”, albeit without a more specific moniker. The present bottle falls into the latter category, although the producer would certainly take umbrage with the notion that their wines are somehow worse than those labelled Visan or Roaix.

IMG_1387

Domaine Roger Perrin is on the young side for the region, founded in 1969. In what is starting to feel like an eerie theme for me during this December blogging run, Roger died unexpectedly during the harvest in 1969, with well-studied son Luc taking charge. Irked at confusion over his name with that of the famous Beaucastel Perrins, Luc embarked on a quality control campaign to distinguish his estate (the two families are friendly but not related). Tragically, Luc succumbed to a battle with cancer, with sister Veronique and son Xavier carrying on the traditions of hand-harvesting and aging in stainless steel (with the exception of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines). The present wine has been described as a “baby Chateauneuf-du-Pape”, consisting of 75% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 5% Mourvèdre, with a minimum vine age of 45 years. Interestingly, some earlier documentation suggests that the wine was once 5% Counoise and Vaccarese. This wine is made only in good years, with a fairly long maceration period and 20-50% de-stemming depending on vintage ripeness. All this converges on something that is supposed to be an everyday sipper, albeit a step or two above the rest.

IMG_1390

The 2016 Domaine Roger Perrin Cuvee Vieilles Vignes Cotes-du-Rhone Villages is mercifully devoid of faults, suggesting that the Advent Chateauneuf-du-Pape curse does not extend to any “baby” versions. Phew. This leads with a sweeping plush bramble attack of red liquorice, blackberry, and black raspberry, with a few spoonfuls of Mission fig jam and cherry preserve and a dusting of broken clay flower pot, the soil from said pot, juniper, lavender, pineapple sage, and fennel seeds. A cinnamon and ginger snap cookie spice emerges mid-palate, carried along by supple ripe tannins. If Tetley conjured up a black tea flavoured with currants, cacao nibs, and ripe strawberries… this is the sort of warm climate wine I can get fully behind. Neither flabby nor jammy, but hardly a lightweight. Science and art.

89 points    

IMG_1391

Cork Rating: 5.5./10 (Reasonably sharp Diam.)





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.

IMG_4664

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.

IMG_4666

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.

IMG_4667

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 15

15 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

Yesterday saw an unexpected and very pleasing deep dive into Petite Sirah. Today we appear to have another half-bottle flute under wraps, albeit one that’s taller that your average 750 ml bottle! There had to be a Riesling in here, no?

IMG_1380Wine importer and writing hero of mine Terry Theise captures the magic of this grape when he describes how this variety stole his heart. A single inexpensive off-dry Mosel Riesling produced by a large co-operative winery captivated and mesmerized, ultimately propelling him into a successful career and forever changing his view of a beverage. It is worth noting that he describes this fateful bottle as essentially supermarket plonk. That’s what Riesling is capable of: even the “bad” ones are pretty damn tasty, and completely obliterating the grape’s distinctive character via mass market commodity winemaking is actually quite challenging. This grape demands to be known, even if it doesn’t always carry a big stick. Riesling often prefers the ethereal, conveying something much deeper than mere bombastic pleasure. Perhaps the Mosel, home to Riesling vines for at least 500 years, is the quintessential expression of this soul.

IMG_1381

Mosel Rieslings are renowned for their floral aromas, racy acidity, crystalline purity of fruit, and lightness of body relative to other German winemaking regions. Coming to the wine party when I did, I am accustomed to treating this region with considerable reverence, although there was a time not so long ago when oceans of dilute, sweetish wine from mediocre sites did damage to the Mosel’s reputation, and some are of the view that even the better producers were often guilty of making their wines too sweet. I recall trying to persuade a work colleague that Riesling is the king of white grapes, getting some pushback in the form of comments like “sorry, it’s way too sweet”. Sigh. I didn’t mean the cheap ones that come in the super pretty multicoloured bottles that look more like vases than storage containers for a serious beverage. Fortunately, the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer still produces more top-quality Rieslings than any other region in Germany, and Dr. Loosen is one of the producers that has done much to spread this quality far and wide.

IMG_1382

Ernst Loosen never intended to do much with wine. Alas, his father’s health began to fail in 1983, bringing him home from the University of Mainz, where he was studying archaeology. He took over running the Dr. Loosen estate in 1988, realizing that some changes needed to occur if quality was to become more consistent. Ernst did not wish his wines to be purely at the mercy of vintage conditions, as was previously the case. Vineyard yields were drastically reduced by abandoning chemical fertilizers, aggressive pruning, and harvesting selectively, with the goal of yielding wines of depth and weight. The present bottle, described on the Dr. Loosen website as “perfect for wine lovers new to Riesling, for everyday enjoyment and for occasions when you’re serving wine to a large number of guests”, would seem poised to take full advantage of these quality improvement initiatives.

IMG_1383

Stelvin Rating: 6.5/10 (I quite like the colour scheme.)

The 2016 Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling hails from various non-estate vineyards that fit the classic Mosel profile: steep with slate soil. Ernst and his brother Thomas work closely with these growers, who typically sign long-term contracts to supply fruit. The wine is fermented in stainless steel, with chilling used to stop fermentation at around 8.5% ABV, leaving 46.3 grams of sugar/litre in the finished wine. The result is vibrant and extremely juicy, with a few strands of fine chalky minerality doing little to mitigate the pure fruity character. Pale straw coloured in the glass. A few telltale floral notes of jasmine and white tea frolic lazily over trim green apple and pears, pink grapefruit, lime, nectarine, and starfruit, with all these fruits seamlessly meshing together as the sweetness flashes just a little burnt caramel (this is already a year past its vintage release, after all). I’m appreciating the additional acidity this time, as compared to prior experiences with this wine. This one is just beginning to develop some petrol character to boot. Honestly, this wine presents exactly as billed, nothing more and nothing less. It indeed represents a fine introduction to the grape. It is OK to outgrow such a wine over time, or, if you’re me, loop back on those occasions where you just want to crush a sweeter style Riesling.

88- points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 14

14 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

Corked bottles suck. Alas, they remain part of wine life despite the myriad of precautions now taken during cork production and in modern wineries. The Bricks Wine Advent Chateauneuf-du-Pape curse lives on, at least for the three of us providing this coverage. We forge ahead. Today’s bottle appears rather short and squat under its wrapping, perhaps heralding some form of compact power in the contents therein. Now this is intriguing…

IMG_1368

Petite Sirah! Robert Parker once described Petite Sirah as “the most underappreciated red wine in California for drinking pleasure and longevity.” I did not expect this variety to put in an appearance, although I’m more than pleased to welcome it into the Advent fold with a big old plummy, tannic, spicy hug. Taking off the wrapping here makes me think of the Fonz strolling into the room with his patented “Ayyyy….”. However, there was a time when the identity of this grape was far from clear. So much confusion abounded that at least one entire book chapter has been written about the issue, and it reads like a compelling detective story. You see,  the “Petite Sirah” moniker was once applied to at least four distinct grapes in California vineyards, and likely more besides: true Syrah (fair enough), the obscure Peloursin (which still retains a toehold in old mixed plantings and even occasionally makes its way into wines such as the various Zinfandels from Carlisle), and even Pinot Noir (errrr…that one’s a bit of a stretch). Eventually, various researchers ascertained that around 90% of what was called Petite Sirah in California was actually Durif, itself a cross of Syrah and Peloursin bred in France by French botanist Francois Durif.  Mystery solved, and the stage was then set for this grape to become a fairly well-known international celebrity…occasionally even called by its original French name. Speaking of names, get a load of this particular bottle’s handle: “Royal Punishers”. Mildly disturbing and severely badass.

IMG_1371

A Zinfandel specialist located in the Napa Valley, Robert Biale Vineyards also makes a point to honour the deep history of Petite Sirah in the state. School chums Bob Biale and Dave Pramuk began this endeavour to preserve the tradition of the historic old vines in Napa that were often left to languish until winemakers started waking up to the possibilities permitted by the intense fruit that such vines can produce. Bob’s father Aldo used to sell jugs of homemade Zin to various neighbours and friends, many orders for which were placed over the phone. The phone line, though, was a so-called “party line”, susceptible to eavesdropping. As Aldo was not exactly selling his wine through, ahem, legal channels, he had his customers use the code phrase “Gallo Nero” (or Black Rooster, of Chianti fame) when ordering a jug. The code name then shifted to “Gallina Nero” or “Black Chicken”, a name that now graces one of the Biale Zinfandels. A keen interest in viticultural history remains a core strand of the Biale winemaking approach, along with careful farming and encouraging the effects of terroir to shine forth in the finished wines. The back label on the present bottle refers to a “black and blue” wine, a coy hint as to the genesis of this wine’s name.

IMG_1375

The 2017 Robert Biale Vineyards Royal Punishers Petite Sirah is made from hand-sorted fruit from the Varozza vineyard, meticulously farmed by the family of the same name. This wine is fermented in open-topped vessels, with ample punch down of the cap followed by a Burgundian oak regime (30% new). The wine is poetically enough a rather inky purple-blue in the glass, a dead ringer for Welch’s. My glass wafts up an expanding nebula of blueberry and black cherry pie, blackberry, purple Mr. Sketch marker, black tea, cinnamon stick, old dried rosemary and peppercorns, lavender, menthol, graphite, sautéed wild mushroom, pumpernickel bread, and milk chocolate. Beneath this cloud, the sugar plum and fig jam palate is reinforced by bands of ripe chewy tannin and scattered shards of hazelnut and dill oak. This is big, but markedly structured, and compelling in ways that some big wines are not. This taskmaster knows when to pull back just a little. A curious orchard fruit note flits in and out of what is otherwise a black fruit and baking goods profile, something almost like cooked pear. The finish lingers, wisps of coffee bean and more pie crust. Hurts so good.

89+ points

IMG_1374

Cork Rating: 7/10 (Great graphic. The other side has the winery name, mercifully devoid of a phone number.)








%d bloggers like this: