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 »

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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 »





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








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