Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 13

13 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Rioja!  I stand to be corrected, but I believe this is the first bottle of Rioja in which we have ever partaken in an Advent calendar…thus my Groundhog Day Advent 2018 curse comes to an end and I get to dive into something sui generis to close out my blogging week.  In.  After last night’s more eclectic offering, tonight seems as safe and comforting as a St. Bernard with a collar barrel of brandy, and it barely misses continuing the 2013 vintage trend we’ve seen a lot of over the past week, although the 2014 vintage designation on this bottle suggests it’s a year beyond the likely current vintage of this wine.  “This wine”, in this case, is the 2014 Bodegas Franco-Espanolas Bordon Rioja Crianza, which is a mouthful to say, let alone type.  But as with so many things wine-related, the name tells a story.

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If you were reaching for your Spanish phrasebook or your Google Translate bookmark, I will save you the trouble:  yes, the producer’s name actually DOES mean “The French-Spanish Winery”.  The winery was founded back in 1890, when a great deal many Frenchmen in the viticulture and viniculture industries were fleeing a country where their livelihoods were literally being eaten away by the phylloxera louse, a scourge that absolutely decimated the vineyards of entire regions in France before the antidote of grafting native vitis vinifera vines onto American bug-resistant vine rootstocks was discovered.  One such Frenchman was Bordelais (and remarkably French-sounding) Frederick Saurat Anglade, who was one of many winemakers from Bordeaux to find refuge in Rioja and then like it so much that he decided to stay.  Along with Spanish partners, he founded his multinational bodegas, perched in prime territory on the banks of the Ebro River, which has since grown into one of Rioja’s biggest.

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This might be the first old-school wine from Rioja that I’ve seen use varietal labelling, but there’s the word “Tempranillo” plain as day on the front label.  This dose of consumer informational assistance is not quite as helpful as it seems, because the 2014 Bordon Crianza is actually only 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha.  Close enough?  The wine spends 15 months in the traditional Riojan staple, American oak barrels (which the winery website is kind enough to advise come from the oak haven of Ohio), followed by additional time (minimum one year) in bottle before release in satisfaction of its legal “Crianza” designation aging requirements.

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Cork Rating:  5.5/10 (Amazing coverage and graphics, but major deduction for being, by FAR, the shortest cork of December to date – see corkscrew evidence above.)

The result of this regimented aging process is a gorgeous rich ruby hue and a slate of classic Spanish aromas, from tobacco and new leather jackets to wet beach, smoked meat/chorizo and cedar with quietly fresh purple fruit overlaid with the dried red berry rendition most commonly associated with 100+ year-old Riojan wineries.  Bright and juicy, the Crianza hums with vibrant acid, its luxuriant round fruitiness a nod to modern influence but its wood-aided papery tannin and its cigar smoke, dust and char flavours a throwback to the good old days.  The two eras of this legendary region dance together marvellously here, and to this day I still haven’t met a Rioja I didn’t like.

90 points

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 12

12 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Halfway!!  As in past years of blogging Advent, I arrive at the midway point of the calendar wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into and why on Earth I keep doing this every December.  The pre-Christmas pressure is getting to all of us, but we persevere — these wines aren’t going to analyze themselves.  The random division of blogging days is starting to coalesce into possibly pre-ordained wine patterns:  while Ray’s calendar selections tend to focus on things from 2013 and things from Austria, mine all seem trapped in calendar nostalgia, directly harkening back to bottles we pulled one year ago.  And here we go again:  tonight’s wine is a trip down memory lane squared.  When I first opened the wrapping paper I actually thought it WAS the very same bottle that kicked off the inaugural Half-Bottle Advent:  the 2016 Bella Wines Rose Brut Natural “Westbank”.  From the front it looks identical, but closer examination of the back label reveals that, while this is also a Bella traditional-method sparkling Gamay, it’s from a different vintage (2017 vs. 2016) and a different vineyard.  And what a difference both of those things can make.

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Bella Wines is uncompromising in its vision and is probably unlike anything the Okanagan Valley has otherwise seen:  a 100% bubbles-only natural wine producer that makes only single-varietal, single-vineyard offerings, most of which are from a single vintage.  They source grapes from organic vineyards, avoid any additives in the winemaking process, ferment only with indigenous yeasts and use cooler fall and winter outdoor temperatures to help with cold stabilization.  The goal is to create the purest and most transparent picture of the place and time that gave the grapes life; the flip side of that coin is that, when the land and the season do not want to cooperate, the picture painted may not be an appealing one.  But Bella is like a war-zone photographer:  the idea is not to appeal, it’s to reveal. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 9

9 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Before getting into tonight’s wine, allow me a brief moment of self-reflection.  I realized partway through the current Advent blogging blitz that one of these recent half-bottle calendar posts marked the 500th piece of posted content in Pop & Pour’s history.  I have been writing this blog since March 2011, and never in my wildest dreams did I think it would reach half a thousand articles.  So much has changed in my life, my work and my family since then, but PnP has remained a constant, and it has been immensely gratifying to see it grow and expand with new writers, each with their own new approaches and perspectives.  It has been even more gratifying to have people engage with the site and remind me that I’m not just writing into a vacuum, screaming into the void.  See you all in a few years at post #1000, I hope.

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Back to tonight.  After Ray enjoyed consecutive new takes from Moldova (of all places) and cool-climate Cali, I jump back into the fray and seem to continue the Advent 2017 nostalgia tour, with yet another bottle that takes me right back to last year around this time.  Day 8 of 2017 was the 2012 Chante Cigale Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a bottle that I felt was already markedly past its prime, a surprising disappointment from a top-end region.  Tonight brings another five year-old half-bottle from CNDP, this time the 2013 Domaine de Cristia Chateauneuf-du-Pape, from which I hope for better things.

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This family estate started 70 years ago with 2 hectares’ worth of Grenache plantings owned by founder Etienne Grangean.  Etienne’s son expanded the property and added Syrah and Mourvedre to the varietal mix a few decades later (although Grenache remains 85% of the total acreage), and a decade ago Etienne’s two grandchildren came on board.  Now the Domaine has 58 hectares under vine, 20 of which are in Chateauneuf-du-Pape proper, in the eastern sandier part of the appellation. The parcels there face northeast, away from the afternoon sun, promising slower ripening and longer hang-time.  Domaine de Cristia was certified organic in 2008 and use no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides in its vineyards; it also focuses on indigenous yeast fermentation in the cellar, at lower temperatures in an effort to preserve freshness.  “Of prime importance are finesse and elegance”, says their website.  Sounds good to me, but the proof, as always, is in the bottle. 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 1

1 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

It is again the most wonderful time of the year, and the busiest time in the Pop & Pour blogging calendar — booze Advent.  For the second year in a row, we will be live-blogging every 375 mL day of the Bricks Half-Bottle Wine Advent Calendar, from today until Christmas Eve (following which we will immediately start blogging the 12 Days of Vinebox Christmas beginning Christmas Day…because, well, we’re crazy like that).  Last year, Bricks Advent began with a bubbly bang, so I was wondering if this year might start the same way; I was quite thrilled not only to find out that it did indeed, but that the bubbles in question were already indelibly seared into my memory, a monument to possibly the single greatest moment of my 2018.

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It begins…

I am a Washington Capitals fan.  Always have been.  I don’t know why.  I was born in 1980 in Gretzky-era Edmonton, to Edmonton-area parents, and from the age of 3 or so, from the time I understood what hockey was, Washington was my team.  Those of you with a passing knowledge of NHL hockey will understand that this was not previously a recipe for contentment.  Washington went from being what is still the worst expansion team in the history of the NHL (8-67-5 record in 1974) to being good-but-not-good-enough to being that team whose heart always got broken in a more novel and unbelievable way every playoffs to being that flashy run-and-gun early-Ovechkin squad that “didn’t know how to win” to being clearly the best team in the NHL until it really mattered to being past their window for success.  They pushed all their chips in the season before last, loaded up their team for their last shot at glory – and lost.  To Pittsburgh.  Again.  Last season was supposed to be the start of a slow descent back into irrelevance.  Until it wasn’t.  On June 7th, I watched in tearful disbelief as my team, that I watched fail over and over for 38 years, somehow won it all and raised the Stanley Cup, the culmination of a literal lifetime dream.  I promptly reached for the first bottle — or half-bottle — of bubbles I could find.

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And lo and behold, 6 months later, I peel back the Day 1 2018 Advent wrapping paper, and am greeted with:  my Stanley Cup wine.  I am instantly transported back to watching Ovechkin shrug off the doubt and unfair criticism of the hockey world and hoist the Cup over his head, screaming in triumph.  I remember the stream of excited messages filling my phone, the post-game interviews, the order of players who got their turn to lift the Cup, as soon as I see the label.  Wine, man.  Barone Pizzini and I will forever be connected because of that finally-captured moment of glory. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 20

20 12 2017

When the days hit double digits starting in 2s, I know our calendar work is almost done.  I’m not going to lie:  I’m ready not to be writing tasting notes and blogging on a daily basis, at least for a little bit.  But then I unwrap a bit of an Advent mystery and find myself sucked in all over again, pulled once more into the insatiable curiosity that goes with loving wine.  This time it came from revealing a bottle bolding displaying “Sancerre”, likely THE Old World heartland of Sauvignon Blanc and a renowned white region in France’s eastern Loire Valley…but then noticing things that seemed off.  Did it seem kind of dark inside?  Is that a maroon neck foil?  Wait – does that say Sancerre ROUGE?  (Granted, I have already had a white wine in this calendar say that it was a red wine by mistake, but this bottle actually IS one.)

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It turns out that red wine makes up close to 20% of Sancerre’s yearly production, all of which is required by appellation rules to be 100% Pinot Noir.  And there is perhaps no estate in Sancerre that takes its reds more seriously than Domaine Vacheron, which plants 11 hectares of Pinot alongside 34 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc and doesn’t treat it like an afterthought in the cellar.  The Domaine is now in its fourth generation of family ownership and has revamped all of its vineyard practices in the hands of the two young cousins who now direct its operations, Jean-Laurent and Jean-Dominique Vacheron.  They converted the estate to biodynamics in the early 2000s and now only fertilize the chalk and silex soils with composts made on the property, harvest by hand, ferment using only native yeasts and bottle according to the lunar cycle.  Their Pinot Noirs are partly matured in stainless steel tanks to preserve their fruit and partly in large neutral barrels for oxidative effect without oak flavours.

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Cork Rating:  2.5/10 (Not only is it boring as sin, it doesn’t do that great a job at its primary function of holding in liquid.)

This is my first ever bottle of Vacheron, the 2014 Sancerre Rouge, from a property that is almost at the literal centre of France.  I was a little leery from the outset as the cork came out of the bottle completely sodden and squeaky, but the wine inside seemed to bear no ill effects.  It was a fully transparent ruby in the glass and emitted a distinctive and attention-grabbing set of aromas:  beyond the more expected Pinot smells of cranberry, underripe raspberry and violets, there is a pronounced vegetal greenness (dill/pickles; Ray says nettles), a tangy citric bite (tangerine, gooseberry) and a base industrial rockiness (flint, car tire skid marks) that differs markedly from your run-of-the-mill Old World Pinot earthiness.  The palate adds salted watermelon, pomegranate, lava dust and crushed roses on a light, deft body structured mainly by prominent papery tannins.  This is a compelling mirror of its rocky soil and a suggestion that Pinot has the potential to ascend from its eternal Sancerre understudy status.

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.)








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