12 Days of Vinebox: Day 3

27 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

I was not expecting to pull a rosé out of the Vinebox collection, let alone (1) one from Spain that (2) is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but here we are — this box is already full of surprises.  The 2017 Castillo de Benizar Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé hails from the large dead-central Spanish region of La Mancha, the bullseye of the Spanish map.  It is an area known mostly as the workhorse of the Spanish wine industry and a generator of unspeakably large volumes of wine every year, thanks in particular to the Airen grape, the most prolifically planted grape you’ve never heard of, which makes up the largest acreage of plantings in the country.  But La Mancha is starting to be about more than just quantity, and the friendly climate allows for almost anything to be successfully planted, including King Cab.  Gems can be found.

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Castillo de Benizar is a brand of producer Bodegas Ayuso, whose massive new 15,000 m2 production facility allows for fermentation/tank storage of up to 35 MILLION LITRES of wine at once.  But this particular bottling (er, vialling) isn’t a mere commodity.  The Cabernet Sauvignon vines from which this rosé is created are planted on a separate plot specifically and unusually dedicated only to rosé production, making this no saignée afterthought or vinous byproduct.  Old-school Spanish rosé tends to be mellow and earthy and (intentionally) oxidized, but newer renditions buck that trend and focus on the freshness and fruit purity that are currently making rosé a universal global language.  This one follows suit.

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Castillo de Benizar’s pink Cab is a striking bright watermelon-flesh colour and gives off cool minty and herbal aromas (spearmint, chlorophyll, sage) along with mineral-laced bath salts and soft pink lemonade and raspberry fruit.  Even expecting a more modern pink take based on its colour, I was still unprepared for the level of perkiness and brightness that seeps into every pore of the wine.  There is zero hint of rustic Old World earthiness, which has been wholly eradicated and replaced by turbo-charged acid and vivid Pop Rocks, Thrills gum, strawberry smoothie, pink grapefruit, green apple Jolly Rancher and Welch’s white grape juice notes.  It continually jumps around on the tongue, making all neural synapses fire in rapid sequence.  Despite the confectionary nature of its flavours, the rosé finishes clean and comes across as fairly dry, although the piercing acid probably covers some dose of residual sweetness.  Look at that colour!  Not your grandfather’s rosado.

88 points

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 21

21 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

I will admit it, Advent team:  I am nearing the end of my blogging rope.  The culmination of the calendar, Christmas shopping, pre-holiday work deadlines and child sport activities has me completely drained, so as half-bottle Advent peaks to its climax, I am beginning to wear down.  Nevertheless, we aren’t about to stop with the end so near.  We fight with words and persevere.

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So out of the wrapping paper tonight comes…ANOTHER Pinot?  That oddly makes three in five days, after Monday’s Day 17 Ken Wright Oregon masterpiece and Wednesday’s Day 19 Cristom Oregon encore.  This one is…not from Oregon, I guess?  That’s not entirely fair.  If I had pulled this from the calendar on Day 4, or in the midst of the weird run of 2013s, I suspect I would have been pretty psyched about it.  The 2016 Shaw + Smith Pinot Noir from Adelaide Hills is a $50+ bottle retail, from an exciting new-wave producer known for quality.

The winery was founded in 1989 by Michael Hill Smith and his cousin Martin Shaw, both of whom were impeccably credentialed for the venture:  Smith was initially part of the family ownership of Yalumba before being bought out in 1986, and is also a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and Australia’s first-ever Master of Wine, while Shaw was himself a well-known wine consultant who was sought after by many producers needing winemaking assistance.  They grounded their venture in the chilly Adelaide Hills, which is in central-southern Australia near Barossa but 4 degrees cooler on average during the day and a whopping 8 degrees cooler at night, allowing for longer, gentler ripening and the preservation of precious grape acidity.  Grapes have been planted here for two centuries, but it wasn’t until my lifetime that viticulture really came alive on a global scale (not that I can take any credit).  “Higher, colder, wetter” is how Shaw + Smith summarize their Mount Lofty Ranges subregion as compared to nearby Barossa; while only a half hour from coastal Adelaide, it is at 700 metres above sea level…things go up in a hurry. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 20

20 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

From the very first day I bought this year’s Bricks Half-Bottle Advent Calendar, it was eminently clear that one of these neatly wrapped things was not like the others.  This is that thing:

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Why settle for a half-bottle when you can have a full can?  Although alternative wine packaging has developed quite the stigma over the years (whether cans, or bag-in-box, or tetra-packs, or anything other than tall glass bottles), and although it has often been relegated to the purview of forgettable plonk, a few forward-thinking and quality-minded producers are slowly starting to try to take it back.  As a huge proponent of wines in novel containers, I think wines in cans are utterly brilliant.  Cans offer a number of advantages over bottles:

  1. Aluminum is much, much lighter than glass, which saves on shipping costs (often charged by weight), takes less energy to transport and at least theoretically should reduce the shelf price of the product accordingly.
  2. Cans are fully opaque and do not let any damaging UV light through to the wine (which can cause chemical reactions and form sulphurous compounds within the wine that are notably unpleasant).  Glass, on the other hand, especially CLEAR glass…
  3. A sealed can allows no oxygen penetration into the wine and thus acts as a foolproof preservative.  There’s a reason why all your bomb shelter food is canned.
  4. No corks mean no risk of cork taint and closure-based wine spoilage.  Away, TCA!
  5. Cans are easily portable and allow for casual (and, as needed, discreet) enjoyment wherever you happen to be.

The increase of halfway-decent wines in cans is one of the best vinous developments of the decade, and the inclusion of this one in the calendar is at least partially indicative of the growing popular acceptance of the can as a wine-holding medium.  Not a moment too soon. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 18

18 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Well, any wine was going to have its hands full tonight, following on the heels of the toughest act to follow so far in the 2018 calendar, last night’s masterpiece single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Ken Wright.  Like a schedule loss on the second night of a back-to-back home-and-home set in the NHL, Bricks may have strategically selected what I would guess is the least expensive bottle in the whole calendar ($15ish for a full bottle) to take one for the team right after we all revelled in the most expensive bottle in the calendar.  The Advent backup goalie in this case is the 2016 Ram’s Leap Semillon Sauvignon Blanc from New South Wales, Australia, a bottle that continues what is now a Bricks Advent tradition of vinous animals leaping, after the highly tasty Frog’s Leap Zin from 2017.  Stag’s Leap next year?  Most definitely.

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Ram’s Leap is part of the Canonbah Bridge range of wines, a producer with which I was not previously familiar, possibly because the place where their estate vineyard is planted is not even a recognized wine region!  It forms part of the broader appellation of New South Wales, but so does 30% of the Australian wine industry.  The 80-acre vineyard was strategically planted on an old riverbed in the middle of a 30,000-acre sheep farm near Warren, slightly west of the Hunter Valley, a couple hours northwest of Sydney.  Half of the plantings are Shiraz, and the other half are, well, everything else:  Merlot, Grenache, Mourvedre, Semillon, Verdelho, Chardonnay and Tempranillo.  It remains the only commercial vineyard in this highly arid area, with scorching hot days and cool nights that facilitate the practice of organic viticulture (there are no plant-attacking fungi, mildews or moulds in the desert, so less need for herbicides).  Canonbah Bridge takes their organic principles one step further by aiming to avoid any intervention with the vineyard soils whatsoever:  no tilling, all weeding (and much fertilizing) performed via wandering sheep service, cover crops preventing the spread of unwanted plant life, etc. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 17

17 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

I can often tell how much I like a wine by how many notes I take.  Even when it doesn’t hit me at first how much I am taken by a bottle, I’ll suddenly look down and a whole notebook page is filled up of musings and guesswork and random sensory impressions, the various threads through which I eventually try to sort out the essence of the wine and how it speaks to me.  On blog days where the bottle doesn’t have much to say, or doesn’t quite spur the imagination, the pen moves very slowly.  Tonight I have three pages of notes in about 30 minutes, and I had to stop myself from writing more so that I could post this early enough for people to actually read it.  This was the first bottle in Advent history that had me autonomically exclaim “WOW.”, reflex-like, as soon as I opened the bottle.  I had never had a Ken Wright Pinot Noir before, but I was very well aware the level of quality it represented.  For my first bottle to be his 2015 Shea Vineyard, from the now-famous plot that he almost single-handedly put on the map, can’t be more perfect.  Welcome to the last week of the calendar, which almost surely can’t get better than this.

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Ken Wright was first exposed to wine as a waiter and student in Kentucky, and the regular staff tastings at his part-time job soon led to a complete change of vocation and an enrolment in the prestigious UC Davis viticulture program in California.  He spent close to a decade in the state honing his craft, but a single visit to Oregon in 1976 convinced him that his destiny lay there, where he felt North America’s pinnacle expressions of Pinot Noir could be made.  He loaded up his family and all his earthly belongings and founded his first Oregon winery in 1986 (Panther Creek Cellars, which still exists today, though Wright has since sold it), then his eponymous winery in 1994, which focuses entirely on single-vineyard expressions, mostly of Pinot Noir, from 13 different vineyard sites.  Shea Vineyard, the home of tonight’s bottle, is in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in the northern part of the Willamette Valley, a sub-AVA that Ken helped define and create (along with five others) back in 2004.  Ken also established his winery’s tasting room in the heart of the small town of Carlton, echoing his belief in the power of site for his grapes by connecting his business directly to their land of origin.  His was the first winery to take root in Carlton, and it has now been joined by a large tasting room in the town’s old train station. Read the rest of this entry »





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





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 »








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