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

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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.)





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 10

10 12 2017

I think it is officially Sugar Coma Weekend in the Bricks Wine Advent Calendar.  When the COMBINED alcohol level of your Saturday and Sunday wines is 12%, you know you’ll be facing an armada of unfermented grape sugar in the bottle.  After last night’s 6.5% abv Auslese Riesling, I thought we had hit our December alcohol floor, but the 2015 Braida “Vigna Senza Nome” Moscato d’Asti will see that 6.5% and raise it (well, technically, lower it), clocking in at an almost juice-like 5.5%.  The wine’s name roughly translates to “Vines Without Names”; the roughly dozen online sources I consulted trying to find out why declined to say so, though most of them noted that the corresponding motto on the front label “Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas” means “the farmer at the plow chooses the path”, which is reflective of this classic producer’s focus on the quality of the vineyard, even if they decline to name the vines in it.

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I love Moscato d’Asti.  At its best it is equally refreshing and luxuriant, searing and delectable, a frozen rope of distilled fruit essence that disappears from the glass before you even notice.  It is made from Moscato Bianco grapes grown around the famed town of Asti, in the heart of Piedmont, which are harvested then crushed and immediately refrigerated before fermentation so that the yeasts don’t immediately kick in.  The cooled must is then transferred to pressurized sealed steel tanks before fermentation is allowed to begin; as the grape sugars are converted to alcohol, carbon dioxide is released as a by-product, which can’t escape the tank and gets dissolved into the wine.  Once the alcohol content clocks above 5% (which is WAY before all of the sugars are fully converted), the whole tank is chilled down to near freezing so that fermentation stops, after which the yeasts are filtered out and the wine is bottled under pressure, leaving an intensely sweet, slightly bubbly bolt of lightning for patio enjoyment.  It is best consumed as early as possible, when acids are crisp and bubbles are buoyant, and there is little to be gained in trying to mature it.

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Cork Rating:  6/10 (The extra expansion and vertical writing are winning somehow, even if the cork as a whole is bland.)

This 2015 Vigna Senza Nome is a surprisingly golden colour for a Moscato and has a slightly syrupy nose of baked pear, bruised apple, honey and caramel to go with brighter tropical and Fuzzy Peach notes.  Some lift remains on the palate in the form of hedonistic melon, lychee, blood orange and bergamot, but much of the life and effervescence that normally characterizes this style and expression has been faded away, whether due to time (it’s only two years old, but Moscato’s probably best at 20 minutes old) or (more likely?) due to storage conditions between its bottling and its insertion into the calendar. I’ve had this exact bottle multiple times before, albeit never in back vintage form, and this is the first time it’s tasted heavy; the bubbles aren’t quite up to the task of scouring away the sweetness, and quiet acidity doesn’t provide enough of a helping hand.  It’s still completely delicious, but it is drained of some of its usual joy and not quite showing at its peak.

86 points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 3

3 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

I should begin by emphasizing just what an honour it is to join Peter and Dan on this Bricks Wine Co. Advent journey. I remain a relative newcomer to the Calgary wine community yet have had the pleasure to meet so many knowledgeable, friendly, and dynamic people over the past year or so. It has been immensely moving and powerful to be welcomed into this community with open arms …  I wish to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart, and beg your continued tolerance as I haunt your shops, standing around the tasting bar, making random comments about terpenes or field blends and almost certainly distracting you from more important business.

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The evidence …

I am ecstatic that my inaugural foray into the world of wine blogging is a Gruner Veltliner. Gruner is likely my favorite white grape. I say likely because Riesling sometimes bumps it from that lofty perch, as a function of day, my mood, producer or region in question, etc. This is a great microcosm for the reality in Austria, where Riesling continues to carry more status and prestige while Gruner toils away, sometimes in the doldrums of plonk for “wine pubs” but also at the pinnacle of age-worthy sips capable of winning prestigious tastings against world-class Chardonnays. I like well-crafted Gruner so much that one of my cats was nearly christened “Veltliner”. My partner swiftly vetoed this notion (but was ultimately OK with “Spatburgunder”). Why the obsession? Simply put, Gruner can get weird. A good tasting wheel will depict all manner of curious aroma attributes rarely experienced elsewhere, including green beans, lentils, root cellar, compost bin, lovage (a savory “old country” herb that vaguely recalls soy sauce or Maggi seasoning), old socks, the less polarizing apples and limes, and above all, white pepper. Peppery aromas in wine are due to a compound called rotundone, also found in a few other varieties (most famously Syrah). Although rotundone levels are notoriously susceptible to various wine-making decisions, Gruner can deliver a zesty, earthy vortex that garners an occasional comparison to Sauvignon Blanc but which in my view is wholly unique.

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Rotundone … One of the aforementioned terpenes and a much better molecule than TCA.

So what of this 2016 single vineyard Huber Obere Steigen? Markus Huber has expanded a 250 year-old family operation into a big success story with international reach, seemingly without compromising his focus on precise, elegant wines that express their origins. Huber gives Gruner its just due, with the latter comprising 75% of varieties handled at the winery. The Traisental DAC is a small wine region south of the Danube river, below the famed Wachau, and here terrior reigns supreme. Full of chalk and conglomerate rocks, the soils yield full-bodied wines with firm mineral structure. Gruner from this region is known to be particularly fruity as well, yet not at the sacrifice of that all-important peppery spice. The Obere Steigen site enjoys its own unique microclimate due to its terraced nature. This emphasis on terrior or place is relatively new in Austria. Historically, more emphasis was placed on variety alone. Controversy around this difference in emphasis remains, but Markus Huber appears more than happy to let his DAC flag fly.

IMG_0489This is a pleasing yellow hue with a slight green tint. Nose hints at the crystalline mineral power within. I’m getting yellow apple, fresh parsley, snap peas, mango, and a potent undercurrent of musty white peppercorn. The herbs are more vibrantly green than umami in character. On the palate this is precise and linear, with acids brisk but not punishing … Although hang on, there’s some tangy lemon juice bite after a few sips. A compost bin funk, like old apple cores and lawn clippings, starts to creep in around a fundamentally solid core of green pears and apples, white peach, and lemon-lime zest resting on a chalk and wet slate base. This gentleman is dressed in a dapper suit but there’s something off, perhaps some mud on his dress shoes. Fruit? Check. Minerals? Check. Rotundone? Check. I’ve had Gruners that bounce around a lot more than this one, flopping around like a fish in a boat and always changing their look. This one is less dynamic and more cohesive and laser sharp, with just a slight halo of corruption … Not a bad thing in this case.

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90 points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 2

2 12 2017

This Wine Advent is not only historic for PnP as the realization of a longstanding calendar-format dream, but it will also mark the very first time in 400+ reviews that somebody other than me will take up the virtual pen for Pop & Pour.  I am honoured to be joined in this Advent blogging journey by two fellow Calgary students of wine who pair impressive technical knowledge with precise palates and a knack for communicating what they see and taste and feel:  Raymond Lamontagne (follow him on Twitter and Instagram here) and Dan Steeves (follow him on Twitter and Instagram too).  Their authorship journey officially starts tomorrow, as Ray will take the helm of the blog for Day 3 of Bricks’ wonderful (based on early returns) Advent Calendar.  But it turns out they came in handier than I expected earlier than I expected, and their palates and tasting notes were called on sooner…

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Not like I needed any more evidence that Bricks was taking this whole half-bottle Advent thing seriously after last night, but I got it the second I peeled back the wrapping paper on Day 2 and “Brunello di Montalcino” stared me back in the face.  Yowza.  More specifically, tonight’s bottle was the 2012 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino, a traditional-style bottling from an old-school producer recently given new life.  Many know Brunello as Italian wine royalty, and likely the apex of what the Sangiovese grape can do (more specifically, Brunello was once thought to be its own grape varietal but later shown to be a particular clone of Sangiovese called Sangiovese Grosso), but its life as a classified wine region is surprisingly short — it only received formal DOC status in 1968.  Caparzo was founded at almost exactly that time, when there were only a baker’s dozen official Brunello producers in the world.  It was later sold in 1998 to Elisabetti Gnudi Angelini, who had married at age 20 into a pharmaceutical empire, was widowed young, and then took a left turn with her life into the world of Tuscan oenology, where she has become a standout.

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Cork Rating:  1/10 (Real Talk – This is one of the worst corks I have ever seen.  “Italia”??  Really? You’re a Brunello, for god’s sake!)

I LOVE Brunello.  I was not expecting to see a half-bottle of it, well, anywhere, let alone in Day TWO of this calendar, but I dove in with great anticipation, especially since 2012 was a highly esteemed vintage.  The wine was a gorgeous silky ruby in the glass and smelled like…mildew?  Old dirty showers?  Wet newspapers?  Oh come on.  I have been on a solid streak of luck when it comes to avoiding wine faults recently, but this bottle was horridly, outrageously corked, infected with the fungal-induced TCA compound from the cork (incidentally, they always say that smelling the cork is a plebeian’s approach to checking for taint, but this cork smelled like a dead giveaway, so maybe check your premises).  Ordinarily, throughout the entire prior history of my blogging career, my review would have been sunk — the wine was ruined.  But ordinarily I did not have TWO other people drinking the exact same wine with pens at the ready!  Raymond and Dan, called in on an emergency basis, sent me the following notes and (agreed) score for this bottle.  You guys are lifesavers.

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Damn you 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA).  Worst molecule ever.

“Nose of dried red and blue flowers (iris, rose, potpourri), anise, white pepper, a whiff of roasted almond.  Palate is loaded with tart cherry pie, cranberry, tomato, and unripe raspberry smeared on a leather-bound book.  Some orange peel also emerges, along with oily tobacco, walnut, tar, coffee bean, and a handful of iron filings and road dust.”  [Ray]  “I get most of those descriptors as well.  I would say in general it’s not a big Brunello and seems meant for more early drinking but does have solid structure.  Definitely tart cherry and cranberry on the palate and then the leather, thyme, black tea and stone/rock dust flavours take over.  Originally I thought the finish was a bit short but as the wine opens more it lengthens — still not overly long but enough to make you contemplate why Brunello is so good.” [Dan]  I’m sad I missed the experience (mine tasted like mouldy laundry) but remarkably relieved that any readers of this post do not have to.  Fingers crossed for better luck tomorrow!

89 points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 1

1 12 2017

I am a realist when it comes to the reach and impact of this blog.  Calgary has a remarkable, informed, ambitious, impressive local wine scene, and my only goal in starting up this site years ago was to be a tiny voice in that massive chorus and find an outlet for my passion, whether anything came of it or not.  For the most part, I am simply an observer, experiencer and occasional reporter on the goings-on of Calgary wine life.  However, in this case, it’s at least possible that I was the catalyst for a great idea that Bricks Wine Company has now expertly executed.  About 12 and a half months ago, after seeing another set of annual Advent releases go by absent a particular format that I thought would be perfect for the occasion, I vented into the black void of Twitter…and was shocked to see somebody almost immediately respond and take up the task:

It’s one thing to send a two-word response on social media, and quite another to spend the time and effort to specially source two dozen half bottles of wine to assemble an Advent calendar for the NEXT year, so I didn’t allow my hopes to leap too high at the time, but now here we are, on December 1st, 2017, and I’m looking at a wooden crate filled with 24 beautifully wrapped and meticulously selected 375 mL splits, my Advent dream realized and in the flesh.  I am filled with awe and gratitude, and I haven’t even opened anything yet.  Way to go, Bricks — you really did it.

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And if I was excited BEFORE peeling back the wrapping on Day #1, my anticipation only intensified after seeing what was on tap for Calgary’s inaugural Half-Bottle Wine Advent Calendar:  wine geek paradise.  Bella Wines is a producer about whom I have heard a ton over the past year, without yet having had the chance to try their wines for myself.  Bella is British Columbia’s only winery that is exclusively devoted to the production of sparkling wine — all bubbles, all the time.  And their approach is brutally uncompromising:  all natural farming, traditional method Champagne-style fermentation (where the secondary fermentation creating the fizz takes place in each individual bottle in which the wine is ultimately sold), all single-vineyard single-varietal expressions, wild yeast fermentation, no additives, no dosage; nowhere to hide, no messing around.  Bella makes multiple different bottlings of both pink and white bubbles, with their pigmented production focused entirely on the Gamay grape, which they believe has unheralded potential in the sparkling world.

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Crown Cap Rating:  8/10 (Stylized and retro, great font, CROWN CAP – I’m all in.)

So if you’re keeping track at home, Day 1 of Wine Advent features an Okanagan traditional-method single-vintage sparkling Gamay natural wine:  the 2016 Bella Sparkling Rosé Brut Natural “Westbank”.  Hot damn.  Bella releases annual sparkling Gamays from vineyards both west and east of Lake Okanagan, and the Westbank hails from the Beaumont Estate Vineyard in West Kelowna, on the slopes of Mount Boucherie. It is a beautifully confident deep watermelon colour in the glass (yay, non-deathly pale rosé!) and makes an emphatically lean, tart and frothy impression, launching aromatic bullets of cranberry, sour cherry and pomegranate fruit laced with grape skins and handfuls of gravel.  The flavours are pure and unforgiving, the lack of any added sugar after secondary fermentation clearly evident, the wine sharp as a razor’s edge on the finish thanks to Ginsu acidity and circular saw bubbles.  This Gamay practically vibrates with energy and electricity from the moment it hits the tongue, and that coiled tension doesn’t ever release:  not when the bubbles burst, not when you hold it in your mouth, not when you swallow.  It’s like watching a thriller movie that never ends.  If this is Day 1, we are in for a SERIOUSLY impressive Advent.  I did not know Okanagan bubbles could be like this.

90+ points

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