Wine Review: Virgen del Galir

24 01 2020

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Mencia and Godello.  While perhaps not yet fully household names (in North American households, at least), these high-quality, high-potential vinifera grapes based in northwestern Spain are starting to slide into the popular consciousness on this side of the Atlantic.  Mencia may already be there, after a recent swath of global exposure has seen it grace local wine lists and liquor stores alike; Godello is trailing its white neighbour Albarino in trendiness and recognition factor and has not yet caught on as a viable bottle option in most places outside of Galicia, but its time is coming.  I have wrongly predicted its meteoric rise on a couple of previous occasions, but I am a patient sort when it comes to worldwide taste revolutions.

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One recent hint that these northern Spanish grapes have been pegged for future expansion is the 2017 acquisition of small Valdeorras producer Virgen del Galir by Rioja legends CVNE, which has indirectly led to the introduction of the winery’s offerings into our market.  Virgen del Galir (“Virgin of Galir”, named for the nearby Galir river and potentially for a bit of religious double entendre, as the winery founder’s mother’s name was Mary) was founded in 2002 in a small village along the famed Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail and focuses exclusively on making wines from its 20 hectares of estate Mencia and Godello vineyards scattered across a multitude of plots.  The vineyards are all steep and terraced, planted on soils of slate and decomposed schist, and all hand-harvested.  CVNE immediately invested in significant improvements to the winery facility to allow these local grapes to better tell their story to a world audience.  Here they are, half a world away; let’s see what they have to say. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Stephane Rousset Crozes-Hermitages

18 01 2020

By Peter Vetsch

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

The Cellar Direct offer train rolls on this weekend, and obviously they have my personal wine preferences bugged:  after offering my favourite kind of white wine (Mosel Riesling) last offer, they have moved on to my favourite red grape (Syrah) this week, straight from its spiritual homeland in France’s Northern Rhone.  This relatively compact, narrow winegrowing area runs north-south and is split in half by the Rhone river, with the regions of Cote-Rotie, Condrieu, St. Joseph and Cornas tracking the river’s west bank and Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage hugging the east.  There is a part of the Rhone that curves gradually out to the east before almost immediately swerving back to the west; right at that cut-back bend lies the mighty hill of Hermitage, the most esteemed appellation in the Northern Rhone, with its understudy Crozes-Hermitage spreading out in concentric circles to the north, south and east behind it.

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Crozes-Hermitage is both literally and figuratively in the shadow of its namesake, both considerably larger (1,700 hectares of grapes under vine as compared to Hermitage’s 136 hectares) and more varied, a hodgepodge of sites and soils, its wines varying widely in ambition and quality.  Given this level of variety, it’s hard to know what you’re going to get in any given bottle of Crozes; the region itself lacks the automatic pedigree and heightened standards of its neighbours.  So how to approach this appellation, the Northern Rhone’s biggest, which is often promoted as a budget-friendly alternative to its neighbouring luminaries?  Hook your wagon to specific producers or sites as opposed to the region as a whole.  Find those in the most compelling areas with the best soils and sites, those with a relentless focus on quality vineyard and winemaking practices.  I’m aware that this can be easier said than done.  Don’t know where to start?  Start right here. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Karthäuserhof Riesling

4 01 2020

By Peter Vetsch

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Happy New Year!  I hope you all had a restful and joyous holiday season.  My post-Advent blog-free recovery time has been punctuated by catching the pernicious chest cold that my kids have had the entire month of December, which seems to be the natural consequence of getting out of fight-or-flight mode for any period of time.  Thankfully, I can still smell and taste just fine, and so even though this write-up had to be assisted by a spit cup (don’t get me started on how agonizing it is to taste and then have to spit amazing Riesling), the show must go on, especially for a bottle and a producer like this.

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If you know anything about me from a wine perspective, you likely know that Riesling is my first and most enduring vinous love, particularly the electric, agile, sweet-meets-sour ballet that is Riesling from Germany’s Mosel Valley.  My first “I didn’t know wine could taste like that” moment was born from a Kabinett-level (low to moderate sugar ripeness) sub-10% ABV single-vineyard Mosel Riesling that made time stop and effortlessly balanced my entire mind and heart on the head of a pin — so pure, so chiselled, yet so light and free.  The Mosel is most known for these low-alcohol, off-dry, dainty Rieslings at varying degrees of ripeness, from Kabinett to later-harvested Spätlese and Auslese to dessert-focused and often nobly rotten Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese (better known as TBA, for obvious reasons).  This specialty in sweetness has in recent years been something of a detriment to the region, at least for PR purposes; while the energetic back-and-forth between acid and sugar is one of my favourite parts of the Riesling experience, many casual drinkers still reeling from a decade or two of flaccid Liebfraumilch continue to view the combination of German wine and residual sugar with disdain.  While other production areas of Germany have increasingly turned their attention to drier pursuits to counteract this lasting stereotype, the Mosel has remained steadfast.  Yet even here there are some quality producers that have always focused on the drier side of the country’s star grape. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 19

19 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Some New World sites are unlike anything that came before them, with no obvious comparator from the Old World to help tell their story; Australia’s Barossa Valley and Washington’s Rocks District of Milton-Freewater are good examples of places that, to me at least, don’t taste like anything except themselves.  Other non-European regions have a clear cross-reference to a classic vinifera haunt, a reasonable facsimile in the Old World that allows for an easy introduction.  Think the Willamette Valley and Burgundy.  Australia’s Margaret River falls in the latter camp, and has the benefit of two different European doppelgängers:  its Cabernet-based reds are routinely compared to those of Bordeaux, but its other specialty, Chardonnay, is very Burgundian in essence, combining acid and texture and a regal sort of presence in a way that makes you understand why this recently maligned grape remains at or near the pinnacle of white wine expressions.  I have a massive soft spot for the wines of Margaret River, so it was with great delight that Day 19 was revealed to have come all the way from Down Under.

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Voyager Estate was one of the first wineries to be established in Margaret River, located south of Perth in the southwest corner of Australia.  Its first vineyards were planted in 1978, a decade or so after the inaugural winery in the region saw its start.  Voyager now has five different estate vineyards spanning roughly 110 hectares, all located in a privileged position:  in the Stevens Valley, a spit of land that protrudes directly out into the Indian Ocean, to the point where its vineyards are surrounded by water on three sides, in the so-called “Golden Triangle” of Chardonnay, according to James Halliday.  Voyager is one point of the triangle; its neighbours Leeuwin Estate (along with Vasse Felix’s Heytesbury, the makers of the finest Margaret River Chard I’ve had to date, courtesy of its Artist Series) and Cape Mentelle form the other two.  The vineyards in this area have the benefit of taking root in the oldest soils in the country, gravel-based lands dating back thousands of millions of years (!!), and being kept cool by continuous swirling breezes that help prevent rot and allow for longer hang time.

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The team at Voyager is meticulous to near-OCD levels in the vineyard, striving for absolute uniformity in each block of vines:  careful pruning aims for the exact same number of buds, shoots and bunches per vine to ensure even and contemporaneous ripeness.  The winery is serious about its non-interventionist approach and its goal to express the purity of its soils, which plays out across all steps of the planting, picking and winemaking process:  the vineyards are organic (or in the process of converting thereto), all fruit is from estate plantings, all grapes are hand-harvested, all fermentation is with natural yeasts, and the winery has recently become carbon neutral.  Tonight’s offering, the 2016 Voyager Estate Chardonnay, spent just under a year in tight-grained French oak barrels with only partial malolactic fermentation in an effort to hit that intoxicating combination of texture and acid that only this grape can do justice.

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Stelvin Rating:  6/10 (This screwcap is weirdly difficult to photograph in focus, but it’s a Stelvin + in my book.  I should really fix that dent in the table.)

Everything starts out in highly promising fashion:  the wine is a brilliant gleaming lemon-gold colour as it hits the glass and starts beaming aromas before my nose is even halfway there.  It is a Burgundian dream aromatically, toasty chestnuts (open fire included), coconut crisps, pecan pie and popcorn kernels joyously interweaving with lemon curd, fresh pear and apple crisp fruit.  There was some consensus amongst our Advent blogging group that this might be pretty close to the nose of the calendar so far.  Then a few seams start showing.  The acid is vicious but almost hyperactive, like a tiny lapdog constantly nipping at your ankles.  The broad, full texture seems like a disparate entity, hitting just a touch out of rhythm, almost like you’re drinking two wines at once.  It’s a vertigo-inducing feeling, like a bassist that’s half a beat behind the rest of the band.  Smoke, custard, bananas Foster, lemon meringue and toffee notes play an enticing song, but I’m too stuck wondering why the tempo isn’t in sync to be able to fully sink into it.  I know this is a winery of impeccable credentials, and I can tell this Chardonnay has all of the elements of a winner, but despite being delicious it currently comes across a little bit scattered.  By this point in the calendar, I feel the same way.

88- points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 17

17 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a week left in Advent.  As our December wine journey starts wending its way to the finish line, Tyler yesterday rightly complimented the calendar on its diversity and variety to date, commenting on how every day has been a fresh and exciting adventure to a different place, grape or style.  Perhaps that triggered the jinx, or perhaps we fell into a trap set by the 7s, but tonight’s Day 17 reveals a strikingly familiar face, one just seen back on Day 7:  Clarence Dillon’s Clarendelle.  Whereas our first week of Advent ended with the Clarendelle red, our last week of the calendar starts with the 2018 Clarendelle Bordeaux Blanc.

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Tyler covered the history of Clarendelle in detail in Day 7’s entry, noting that it was a recent effort of Clarence Dillon Wines to create a brand-based and price-conscious Bordeaux wine “inspired by Haut-Brion”, another winery forming part of the Dillon empire, with some help from the Haut-Brion winemaking team.  I’m not sure I fully buy this motto, which is notably plastered on this half-bottle’s front label; “inspired by Haut-Brion” is largely code for “I also own Haut-Brion and can say this without being sued”.  That said, if I owned Haut-Brion I would probably put its name on everything else I owned too.  The man who purchased the great First Growth in 1935 has a few impressive buys on his resume:  a legendary financier, Dillon pulled the Goodyear company out of receivership, and then later bought Dodge, and then Chrysler, all within the span of six years and all before dropping 2,300,000 francs on Haut-Brion.  He was basically the Monopoly man.  His son, also named Clarence Dillon, was the US Secretary of the Treasury and the Ambassador to France.  And the prince of Luxembourg is in the family tree somewhere.  You get the idea.

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White wines used to make up half of Bordeaux’s production not even 60 years ago; now they are less than 10%, as a combination of soil-based vineyard replanting and shifting consumer tastes have seen the region focus more and more on Cab- and Merlot-based red blends.  Most of Bordeaux’s whites are blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, with a smattering of Muscadelle here and there (I initially thought these three were the only permitted white grapes of Bordeaux, only to be roundly corrected by the following Rolodex of allowable white varietals:  Sauvignon Gris, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Merlot Blanc (??), Ondenc and Mauzac [at least possibly made-up], Albarino, Petit Manseng and Liliorila).  There are less than 1,000 hectares of Muscadelle planted in all of Bordeaux, the bulk of which is used as a floral-accented blending component to sweet wines like Sauternes. It is a delicate, fragile and discreet grape, not known for prominence either in any part of its flavour profile or in any notable white Bordeaux blends.  Its name notwithstanding, it is not related at all to the Muscat grape family, instead arriving on the scene as a crossing between an unknown vinifera parent and Gouais Blanc, a grape that’s utterly un-noteworthy on its own but has some remarkable procreation skills, acting as parent for a large swath of vinifera grapes (like Chardonnay) that we currently know and love.

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I mention all of this because my first thought when I saw the blend composition on this bottle, uttered out loud in spite of myself, was:  “That is a sh*t ton of Muscadelle.”  The Clarendelle website helpfully advises that they sometimes add “a touch of Muscadelle in certain vintages” of their Bordeaux Blanc; the 2018 vintage is 42% Semillon, 30% Sauvignon Blanc and 28% Muscadelle.  I have never seen that much Muscadelle in a single wine ever (although there is apparently a 100% Muscadelle Bordeaux Blanc out there, which I now must track down).  The combo of Muscadelle and Semillon means that 70% of this white is made up of restrained, reticent varietals — can the Sauvignon Blanc minority pump up the volume and bring out the extrovert in this wine?  (Spoiler: no.)

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Cork Rating:  5.5/10 (Elegant font and graphics, although the composites aren’t my favourites.)

The 2018 Clarendelle is a pale but vibrant lemon colour and emerges elegantly if cautiously in the glass.  Its strikingly alpine, floral nose conjures up crystal clear images of that mountaintop field of flowers in every Sound of Music poster or Ricola commercial, honey-lemon Halls meets honeysuckle meets liquid nitrogen, with hints of crystallized pineapple lurking around the edges.  This delicate Swiss chorus is joined on the palate by white grape (maybe Muscadelle is like Muscat in actually bringing out grape flavours), pear, tonic water, lime popsicle, rock dust and white tea flavours, laced with a touch of Semillon’s lanolin, the acid quietly tremulous as if unsure where to cut in.  The overall combination is pleasantly neutral, if sort of self-effacing as a result, the wine not really flashing its personality until a finish that lasts way longer than you might expect.  Haut-Brion it is not (percentage of Muscadelle in the 2018 Haut-Brion Blanc:  0%), but as far as introductory signposts to Bordeaux blanc go, it strikes the right chords, if in a slightly tentative manner.

87+ 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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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

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








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