Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 24

24 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Another year, another Advent, another calendar complete, and another December blogging marathon brought to the finish line.  After 24 days and 24 different half-bottles, I am left partly eager to again regain access to my own cellar and my own agency in terms of nightly wine selections, but mostly impressed at the tremendous range and consistent quality of the 2019 Bricks Advent Calendar.  For my money, this third edition of Bricks’ December crate was by far the best to date, with no bottle (other than the one impacted by the Chateauneuf-du-Pape curse, a mystic force beyond mortal defences) a disappointment and all of them compellingly showcasing their varietal and region with admirable typicity, all for a price tag averaging a shade under $20 per split.  That’s not an easy feat, but it was accomplished with flair — mark me down for next year’s calendar already.

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Our annual Pop & Pour Advent tradition is to wrap up our calendar coverage with each author’s Advent podium wines, as well as a dark horse candidate that particularly captured their attention.  In order to ensure neutrality and avoid cross-contamination of opinions, all three of us separately wrote down and submitted our lists; any overlaps (and there were many) are a testament to the wines involved and not a function of any groupthink.  If you had a Bricks calendar for 2019 and have been following along, let us know your top 3 wines in the comments below!  Without further ado, our list of winners:

Ray Lamontagne’s Top 3 Wines

  1. 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 23):  A  pure, seamless meld of power and complexity.
  2. 2016 Kettle Valley Winery Pinot Gris (Day 11):  The freshest side of orange wine.
  3. 2017 Robert Biale Vineyards “Royal Punishers” Petite Sirah (Day 14):  A purple behemoth that is not without subtleties.
  4. DARK HORSE — Porto Quevedo 10 Year Old Tawny Port (Day 8):  An old style from a small yet classic house.

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Tyler Derksen’s Top 3 Wines

  1. 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 23):  Bold yet structured, this wine delivered at every level.  Perhaps a bit predictable after last year’s Top 3 lists from Peter and Ray, but this bottle deserves the top spot.
  2. 2016 Kettle Valley Winery Pinot Gris (Day 11):  Easily the biggest surprise of the calendar for me.  Mild disappointment (I’m not a huge fan of Pinot Gris) turned a complete 180 when I brought the glass to my nose.  Wonderfully balanced, this exemplifies what orange wine can be when done right.
  3. 2016 d’Arenberg “The Noble” Wrinkled Riesling (Day 22):  This made my list for pure hedonistic pleasure.  It may not be perfectly balanced, but a flower-shop nose keeps this from being one-note.
  4. DARK HORSE — 2017 Robert Biale Vineyards “Royal Punishers” Petite Sirah (Day 14):  This was definitely in the running for the podium until the last few days.  Evilly dark, the myriad of notes on the nose and palate made this both delicious and interesting.

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My Top 3 Wines

  1. 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Day 23):  A Ken Wright back-to-back calendar sweep.  He takes no Advent prisoners.  The biggest point of intrigue this year was the remarkably stark difference between this dark, rocky Freedom Hill Pinot and last calendar’s bright, elegant Shea Vineyard Pinot, especially since each hail from the same 2015 vintage!  Terroir indeed.
  2. 2016 Kettle Valley Winery Pinot Gris (Day 11):  Probably my most memorable calendar wine, that perfect combination of orange wine’s bitter phenolics and white wine’s purity of fruit.
  3. 2017 Robert Biale Vineyards “Royal Punishers” Petite Sirah (Day 14):  A true statement of identity, and a clarion call of Petite Sirah’s suitability in California.  A deep, dense, gritty, lasting experience.
  4. DARK HORSE — 2016 K.H. Schenider Dornfelder Trocken (Day 2):  The World’s Best Dornfelder™ is an old friend whose acquaintance I made a while ago, but it never ceases to thrill and impress.  Each successive bottle is a reminder of the potential of this grape when grown in the right spots and handled the right way.

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All I know is that I will be heading out and grabbing some Ken Wright (full bottle versions) during Boxing Week — no Advent calendar will ever be the same unless he’s involved.  As Advent reaches its zenith, consistent with Bricks tradition, we finish off the long and winding road of the calendar with both a toast to the journey of the past 24 days and a half-bottle of bubbles to allow us to make it.  Tonight’s wrapping paper slips off to reveal the Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV, probably the most compelling sparkler to grace a calendar to date, from one of my favourite Champagne houses.  I first tried Pol Roger in WSET class, where it was held up as an exemplar of what classic Champagne should resemble.  This Reserve version of Roger’s standard NV Brut bottling takes its status as comparison reference seriously:  it is a roughly equal blend of all three grapes of Champagne (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay), with 25% of older reserve wines from Pol Roger’s cellars added to the base vintage (2013 or 2014, if I had to guess).  After blending, secondary fermentation and disgorgement takes place 33 metres below ground after regular hand-riddling and around 4 years maturation on lees.

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Our collective Christmas Eve present is a deep straw colour run through with millions of racy pinpoint bubbles that continue their ascent to the top of the glass even after over an hour’s worth of exposure to air.  The eager and festive nose combines vanilla bean, tapioca, butter croissant, lemon drop, black jujube, aloe and toasted almond, albeit in a more focused and chiselled way than the largely confectionary descriptors might suggest.  Rich and almost custardy on the tongue, the Brut Reserve is firmly structured on rails of electric acidity, the only thing restraining the expansive flavours of salted butter, charred lime, matchsticks, Golden Delicious apple, crystallized ginger and fresh caramel.  An extended persistent finish allows for plenty of reflection on where are now are and how far we have come.  A delightful toast to the season, to the upcoming joys of tomorrow morning, and to the sheer lazy pleasure of not having to blog for the rest of the month!  Merry Christmas, all.  Until next Advent.

90- points

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Cork Rating:  7.5/10 (I love the little “PR” logos ringing the metal cork cap. Classy and classic.)





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 12

12 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Halfway!!  As I picked up bottle #12 of the Bricks half-bottle lineup and noted that my yearly Advent crate was starting to look considerably more spacious than it once did, the thought briefly flickered that I should celebrate getting this far.  And as soon as I held the bottle in my hand, I knew that the calendar was giving me my wish.  It was heavier, heftier, thicker, the top oddly bulbous beneath the wrapping paper.  Bubbles.  Again.  I started off this year’s Advent adventure with some excellent Ontario fizz, and I’m scheduled to be on deck for December 24th, when the Bricks calendar has finished off for the past two years with more sparkling wine, so I am apparently the 2019 bubbles guy.  I do Advent bubbles like Ray does Advent Austria.  Bring it.

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The halfway point celebration wine is perhaps slightly more ubiquitous and within-the-lines than the starting line Tawse Spark, featuring the sparkling wine that now seems globally inescapable:  Prosecco.  Hailing from a rather vast area encompassing both the Veneto and Friuli regions in northeast Italy, and made from the Glera grape (which used to be confusingly called “Prosecco” as well, because Italians responsible for wine designations love confusing people), Prosecco has recently exploded in popularity, in part because it’s tremendously inexpensive as compared to Champagne, in part because its cheaper and volume-friendly pressurized tank secondary fermentation process (the Charmat process) results in no yeasty autolytic flavour characteristics that can be challenging for casual drinkers, and in part because the trade body there knows a thing or two about marketing.  The wines are almost uniformly pleasant, crisp and inoffensive, although higher quality offerings exist:  within the broader Prosecco DOC there are four much smaller area-focused DOCGs, the most well-known of which is Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG.  Tonight’s bottle, the Adriano Adami “Garbel” Prosecco Brut, comes from a middle-ground subregion, Prosecco Treviso DOC, located in the heart of the region and just beneath all of the DOCGs.

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When I say “beneath”, I mean both “south of” and “below”, as the DOCG vineyards tend to be on steep green hillsides, with Treviso a bit lower in the foothills.  The Adami family was one of the pioneering growers in Valdobbiadene, but third-generation owners and brothers Armando and Franco Adami have expanded the winery’s foothold and boosted their production to 750,000 bottles annually, about 25% of which is from estate vineyards and the rest from trusted growers.  The Adamis have recognized the quasi-flatland Treviso roots of this particular bottling by having the label stretch similarly flat and horizontal, “to indicate the origin of the grapes from vineyards on the plain”; all of Adami’s other labels are oriented vertically (portrait as opposed to landscape), but this one stretches out to the horizon.  The name “Garbel” is a word from the local dialect for a dry, light, crisp, fresh drink, their goal and approach for this style of wine.

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The Garbel first undergoes temperature-controlled fermentation in stainless steel and then surprisingly gets 3 months of lees contact in tank before being shuttled off to a second and much larger pressurized steel tank for secondary fermentation, whose date (the “Presa di spuma”) is noted on every bottle (in this case, April 2018).  At 13 g/L of residual sugar and 3.2 pH, it is as primed to party as any good Riesling, straining at the very edge of its “Brut” designation.  The wine’s pale lemon colour is accompanied by a cascade of larger, foamier bubbles and clipped aromas of lime zest, green apple, white flowers, cardboard and wildflower honey.  Piquant acidity is turbo-boosted by flailing bubbles, tiny pinprick daggers across the tongue, energetically propelling straight-line Asian pear, honeydew and starfruit flavours laced with a slight bruised-apple mealiness but stopping somewhat abruptly on a finish that reminds me most of pennies in a mall fountain.  2019 Advent has yet to provide a sub-par offering, although this one feels more like a supporting player than a star.

87- points

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Cork Rating:  7/10 (Love the “a d r i a n o  A D A M I” encircling the cork as a mirror of the logo, complete with rectangle border. You never see bubble corks get fancy.)





Yalumba: Introducing Samuel’s Collection, Part II

23 11 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Having already acquainted myself with the first half of Yalumba’s newly compiled seven-wine Samuel’s Collection (and made a mental note to track down the other whites in the Collection beyond the Viognier, as Eden Valley Chardonnay and Roussanne sound glorious), I was eagerly awaiting my turn on the back nine of this reorganized and rebranded assembly of mid-level bottlings, which for the first time let the Barossa’s calling card take centre stage.

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Each of the Yalumba Barossa Shiraz and Barossa Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon previously went by different monikers, aimed towards different audiences just emerging from the critter wine wave:  the former was known as the “Patchwork Shiraz”, while the latter was called “The Scribbler”.  At some point it was rightly decided that a more serious veneer and a highlight of place better suited these focused, linear wines than a kitschy name and the playful marketing that rode the length of the first Aussie wine trend; the outside of the bottle now more accurately reflects the liquid within.  Bring on the Shirazes. Read the rest of this entry »





Yalumba: Introducing Samuel’s Collection, Part I

19 11 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

Yalumba is tidying things up a bit.  The Barossa stalwart, now on its 5th generation of family ownership dating back to 1849, traces itself back almost the entire length of the history of its region (whose first Shiraz vines were planted in 1847).  But 170 years of growth and development later, Yalumba’s impressive lineup of wines was starting to lack some internal organizational cohesion, with some forming part of a demarcated grouping or collection (the wildly successful Y Series being a key example of why this can be a boon to consumers) and others standing on their own, without clear delineation as to their place in the company hierarchy.  This would not be much of an issue for a smaller-scale producer, but when you make 52 different bottlings, it’s nice to know where things fit.  Enter Samuel’s Collection.

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This new mid-tier range is both a corporate reorg and a celebration, a way for a number of excellent but disparate Yalumba offerings to find a home as a tasteful homage to the winery’s founder Samuel Smith.  The Collection, featuring all-new clean, modern label art, features seven wines:  four reds from the Barossa Valley and three whites from the neighbouring Eden Valley.  The reds (Bush Vine Grenache, GSM, Shiraz, Shiraz Cab) all share measured ripeness, fermentation using ambient yeasts and a more lithe, transparent take on what can be a region known for muscle-flexing; the whites (Viognier, Roussanne, Chardonnay) are all similarly streamlined takes on sultry grapes, rooted in Eden’s cooler weather and acid spine.  I have had prior vintages of both of tonight’s reds, known back then as the Old Bush Vine Grenache and The Strapper GSM, and their packaging and branding was so divergent that it looked like they came from different wineries.  No longer.  The threads that unite now take centre stage…even the price, as every wine in the new Samuel’s Collection should hit the shelf at a $25ish mark.  As will be seen below, it is a group worth seeking out. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Culmina Spring Releases, Part 1

30 05 2019

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

IMG_0135You have to admire a guy like Don Triggs.  After co-founding the eponymous Jackson-Triggs, taking the brand to meteoric heights and carrying the cause of Canadian wine along with it, Don parted from the brand in 2006 when it was subsumed into the massive Constellation empire, his finances and legacy secure, a career in wine that started shortly after his graduation in the late 1960s drawing to a close, retirement beckoning.  But instead of choosing that comfortable path, he threw himself back into the breach once more, this time thinking smaller in scale and fixated on quality.  This next quest started, literally, from the ground up.  With the aid of legendary vineyard consultant Alain Sutre, Triggs spent a year scouring the Okanagan Valley for just the right site, one that could reliably and properly ripen red Bordeaux varietals, including Canada’s white whale, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Finding a promising spot with southeast-facing exposure on what is now the Golden Mile Bench, the Okanagan’s first legally recognized sub-Geographical Indication (GI), they carried out a slew of temperature and soils tests and discovered that the microclimate of the site (at least in terms of degree-days, a measurement that tracks relative aggregate temperature over the course of a growing season) was very similar to that of Bordeaux.  Arise Bench, the inaugural estate vineyard of Culmina Family Estate Winery, was acquired, and Don Triggs’ newest project came to life.

Having located a potentially ideal site for big, chewy reds, Triggs and Sutre only had to look up to find complementary cooler spots for elegant whites.  Two separate and increasingly higher-altitude benches a short hike up the adjacent hillside completed the Culmina vineyard collection:  Margaret’s Bench, at almost 600 metres of elevation a truly unique Okanagan location, welcomes Riesling, Chardonnay and Canada’s top plantings of Gruner Veltliner, while mid-level Stan’s Bench splits time between these whites and Malbec and Petit Verdot to round out Culmina’s Bordeaux blends.  This three-tiered vineyard elevation stairway is the foundation of everything Culmina does, every square inch mapped and studied to maximize the location of each vine planted.

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As Culmina established its identity in the Okanagan, its lineup of releases began expanding: its base Winery Series line, culminating (no pun intended) with Hypothesis, the Bordeaux blend that was the mission statement for the venture, has now been joined by two other sets of releases.  The light-hearted R&D line (which stands for either “research and development” or Don and his twin brother Ron, who are featured in childhood form on the labels) allows Culmina to let its hair down a bit and focus on budget-friendlier wines that are a joy to drink; the limited-release Number Series is a set of small-lot one-offs that push the boundaries of possibility on Culmina’s trio of sites.  I had the opportunity to taste some of the winery’s latest releases, which have just started to hit shelves now, and track the continued upward trajectory of one of Canada’s most exciting wine projects. Read the rest of this entry »





The Patient Vintner: Bodega y Cavas de Weinert

24 05 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

If I was to tell you that I was drinking the current release of a mid-tier offering from a well-regarded producer and from a name region, made from 70-110 year-old vines, and that the vintage date on the bottle was 2006, what would you guess the region was?  Rioja – maybe a Reserva offering from a traditional-minded producer?  Champagne, if you are extremely liberal with your definition of “mid-tier”?  Somewhere in Italy?  Portugal?  You would probably be most of the way through the global wine region Rolodex before you landed on Mendoza, Argentina, and once you did, you would probably immediately discard the possibility, knowing this to be the heart of bold, fruity, approachable Malbecs that are released and enjoyed in their youth.  Bodega y Cavas de Weinert, and its current-inventory $25 old-vine 2006 Malbec, will cause you to re-evaluate all of your presumptions; they are an anachronism in all the best ways.

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This classical estate actually has a rather recent history:  the winery dates back to 1890, but its current identity was tied to its acquisition by Brazilian Bernardo Weinert in 1975. Swiss winemaker Hubert Webber has been at the helm since 1996, when he was ensconced at the ripe old age of 27; his mission has been to craft wines from Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines that avoid early showmanship and start to reveal themselves after a decade or more, as it is only then that the Bodega will release them to market.  Lengthy barrel aging (up to 5-6 years in large oak foudres in Weinert’s cool granite cellars), then further time in bottle pre-release, is the estate’s hallmark — Weinert follows the old-school Spanish model of only allowing his wines into the public sphere when they are deemed ready to drink, whether or not this follows the standard chronological vintage release playbook.  In other words, don’t necessarily assume that the 2007 will follow the 2006 as the next wine on the shelf.

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The relatively modest prices of the finished wines might be reflective of advantageous land and labour costs in Argentina, but they are not the result of any lack of care in the vineyard:  Weinert’s vineyards, located in Mendoza’s top subregion of Lujan de Cuyo, feature largely ungrafted own-rooted vines that are a minimum of 25 years old and are exclusively hand-harvested.  Fermentation takes place in cement tanks, and Weinert’s cellar boasts both the largest barrel in Argentina (44,000 L) and the oldest barrel in the world, each of which are a reminder that the goal of the Weinert wines’ extended time in barrel is not wood flavour transference (which increases the newer and smaller the barrel is), but gentle, lightly oxidative maturation.  I had the opportunity to taste a trio of Weinert offerings, all 12-13 years old (as is par for the course in this particular corner of Mendoza), to explore this wholly unique take on Argentinian viniculture.  Malbec first, as always. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 4

4 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Well, Ray got his blast from Wine Advent past yesterday, continuing his baffling streak of Austrian dominance (which I believe is now at FOUR Austrian calendar wines in a row, somehow).  Mine came today.  Last year, I was a fresh-faced Wine Advent newbie on December 4, 2017 when I pulled a Manoir du Carra Cru Beaujolais from the Bricks calendar.  Tonight, on December 4, 2018, I unwrapped my designated Advent bottle to find…a Manoir du Carra Cru Beaujolais.  I quickly checked my calendar to ensure I had the right year.

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To be clear, it’s a different Manoir du Carra Cru Beaujolais this time around.  This producer is on its fifth generation of family ownership and has accumulated 34 hectares of vineyard land in an astonishing FIFTY different plots scattered throughout Beaujolais. Last year’s wine was from one of the better-known of the 10 Beaujolais Cru subzones, Fleurie; tonight’s option is from the larger but lesser-known (or at least less visible on shelves here) Brouilly, the biggest and southernmost of the Crus which by itself comprises 20% of the Cru vineyard land in the region.  Brouilly is so named for a massive volcanic hill at the heart of the area, Mont Brouilly, which is itself named for Brulius, a lieutenant in the Roman legion who apparently liked naming volcanoes after himself.  This particular wine comes from the Combiaty lieu-dit (or small plot/area bearing a traditional wine) in the village of St. Etienne le Varenne, located in the south of Brouilly and known best for its dry, nutrient-poor pink granite soils.

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I have a strange relationship with Manoir du Carra, in that I have had their wines on at least a dozen different occasions, but NEVER yet in a full-sized bottle — I’ve had a few splits, a number of glass pours, and a strange but incredible 500 mL bottle (which is a remarkably effective size for a bottle of wine and should be produced in greater quantities).  I assume they actually make normal bottles but cannot confirm.  The Terre de Combiaty comes from Gamay vines that average 50 years of age which are hand-harvested (like everything in the Manoir du Carra portfolio), treated with minimal intervention in the cellar and fermented using semi-carbonic maceration, where the intracellular fermentation processes within the individual grape berries from the carbonic maceration process are joined with simultaneous normal alcoholic fermentation from the crushed berries at the bottom of the fermentation tank, resulting in more colour and tannin than pure carbonic maceration and a scaled-back version of the bubble-gummy carbonic flavour set.

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Cork Rating:  1.5/10 (Further deduction from last year’s edition for not changing the nondescript “Mis en Bouteille” nonsense after being blog-warned.)

This sort-of carbonic Brouilly is a sharp purple colour in the glass but thins quite markedly at the rim.  It is initially much darker than expected aromatically, date and slate and dirt emerging first, with black cherry and chalk peeking through underneath.  Over time, a Banana Runts (with banana leaf?) top note emerges, a nod to its carbonic half, as well as the more anticipated raspberry-rooted Gamay sense of joy.  Fresher and plummier on the palate, the wine showcases its clean, squeaky tannins almost immediately, and fairly laissez-faire acidity results in this Gamay seeming more broad and expansive than its standard varietal signature, albeit while retaining a feathery, wispy sort of texture.  The mineral streak noticeable on first smell lasts throughout, iron and rock dust and magnets, but red fruit blooms as you go along to keep anything from seeming severe.  Bricks, I’d say you are 4 for 4.

88 points





Spain, Old and New: The Wines of Cune

20 11 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

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Welcome to Cune. Er, CUNE. Er, CVNE.

My love affair with the wines of Spain’s premier wine region of Rioja goes back almost to the time when I first started taking the contents of bottles seriously.  The area, located in north-central Spain and without question the spiritual homeland of the Tempranillo grape, is somewhat unique among the classic regions of the world for producing two very distinct types of wines, depending on the producer in question.  The traditional take on Rioja is more old-school than almost anywhere else, where both reds and whites spend near-shocking lengths of time maturing in flavour-heavy American oak barrels and even more time in bottle before release, leading to a mellowed-out, oxidative, nutty expression of regional identity.  The modern Riojas reduce barrel time (or even eliminate it for whites), focus more on riper, purer fruit and aim for immediate impact as opposed to patient complexity.  I admit to being a total sucker for the former style, largely because it’s unlike anything else produced in the entire world, a whole era unto itself, frozen in time.  That said, it is easy to see how browned, decade-aged, air-exposed wines don’t attract a universal following in this age of pristine winemaking and carefully controlled everything.  Sometimes it can be hard to reconcile the two different sides of this same regional coin.

Cune does the best job of simultaneously representing both the traditional and the modern epochs of Rioja of any winery I’ve ever come across.  Their wines harken back to the old soul of the area and feature many of its wizened delicate characteristics, while still retaining some of the vibrancy and primacy displayed by the region’s vanguard.  They are themselves part of both the history and the new blood of Rioja, founded in 1879 and now run by the fifth generation of the founding brothers.  Cune’s cellars were designed by a famed French architect by the name of Eiffel…perhaps you are familiar with other taller Parisian works of his.  The name “Cune” is more accurately “CUNE” (an acronym), which itself is more accurately “CVNE”:  Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana, or “the Northern Spanish Wine Company”…calling it Cune (Coo-nay) for short (and giving yourself a nickname) is borderline questionable, but they make it work.

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The Cune universe is actually comprised of 3 different brands, each of which has its own winery and winemaker.  The Cune brand is based in the Rioja Alta subregion and also encompasses the higher-level Imperial bottlings, made only in very good years; the Vina Real label is based in nearby Rioja Alavesa, as is the Contino bodega, which makes wines only from its own estate vineyards.  Tonight’s Cune introduction is focused on a trio of bottlings from the original label’s portfolio, each of which gives a hint of the heights that this marvellous producer can reach. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Finca La Linda Malbec Tiers

26 07 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

In some ways, trendy grapes have it tough.  Malbec has a proud and lengthy heritage as one of the six permitted grapes in red Bordeaux (yes, I’m still counting Carmenere, and shall ever continue to do so) and as the dauntingly famous Black Wine of Cahors, and it is almost single-handedly responsible for giving an entire country a vinous identity that has led to the rediscovery and cultivation of astonishingly high-altitude decades-old vineyards and a re-imagination of what grapes are capable of achieving in Argentina.  It is both an Old World stalwart and a New World trailblazer, pulling off both with equal aplomb and giving itself new life in the process.  But with raging-wildfire levels of success comes an inevitable fight against consumer boredom, particularly amongst the more avant-garde and adventurous in the wine world, which creates a sort of quiet undercurrent of peer pressure to steer clear of what is currently painfully a la mode.

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Great labels, but why is one bottle a third taller than the other??

I feel this way quite a bit, pulled away from the customer staple of the day in part because of my own desire to see what else is out there, but in part because of some innate resistance that I see amongst other wine geeks, some refusal to go along with what is everywhere.  So it was with Australian Shiraz; so it is with Argentinian Malbec; so it will be with whatever comes next.  I don’t really have a hard stance on this, but I have recently tried to make sure that my efforts at open-mindedness in wine extend equally to those grapes and styles that are suddenly ubiquitous as to those that remain esoteric.  I have also tried hard to remember that I once relied very heavily on the Shiraz-laden fads of the day as a gateway that set wine’s hooks into me for the first time, and I enjoyed the living hell out of them.  Fifteen years later, I have a WSET Advanced certification and have been publishing reviews on a wine blog for seven years.  Trends can lead somewhere.  So let’s start somewhere. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Tom Gore Vineyards, A Tale of Two Sauvignons

14 07 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]IMG_1713

Cabernet Sauvignon remains the most widely grown quality wine grape in the world, so it is perhaps appropriate that in at least one regard, “Cab” started me off on the path to becoming a serious scholar of wine.  I had previously acquired a taste for certain Canadian Gewurtztraminers, spellbound by how a grape could smell and taste so exotic, although hard-won experience has taught me that many such wines recall one of those chemically augmented gym nuts who can flip a giant tire from a mining truck once or twice, only to catastrophically gas out immediately thereafter: initially powerful but ultimately quite flabby.  Rather wary of this focus, I then snagged a few wine books from a local book sale, thinking that this subject’s unique combination of history, geography, botany, technology, and gustatory delight would give my brain something new and compelling over which to obsess. I noticed right away that in these sundry tomes, blackcurrant or cassis was an aroma descriptor frequently associated with Cab. As someone who adores this particular flavour, I did further research. Not just cassis, but cedar, “cigar box” (I’ve always been intrigued by this one), blackberry, even vanilla and cola and chocolate cake. Wine smells like these things?! I was officially hooked, all this before even seriously tasting a Cab.

Once the actual drinking started in earnest, I rapidly encountered one of Cab’s parents: Sauvignon Blanc. My dad ordered a New Zealand example one nice evening in a Calgary steakhouse, as an aperitif, telling my mother:  “It’s one of those really grapefruity ones you like.” Grapefruit, you say? A cursory look at a tasting wheel for Sauvignon Blanc ultimately reveals a whole litany of “green” aromas, with these ultimately outnumbering the also prominent citrus and sometimes tropical fruits. There are classics like grass, gooseberry, and green bell pepper, along with rather more esoteric takes such as matcha, lemon grass, apple blossom, or even “cat pee”. Maybe we should stick with grapefruit or “tomato leaf”. Go crush and sniff a tomato leaf… You’ll probably get at least an inkling of pipi du chat, if nothing else in the form of a vague association with “funky” or “rank”. Some claim that this character, driven by organic compounds called thiols, is in fact a fault due to vineyard overproduction. Maybe so, although I experience cheap Sauvignon Blanc as something more akin to dilute lemonade in which a few broken fluorescent bulb filaments have been macerated, largely devoid of character across the board. A quick spray of thiols would often do this stuff a favour.

Sauvignon-Blanc-grape-variety-wine-aroma-profile-flavors-fruit-spices-Social-Vignerons

From http://socialvignerons.com/2015/12/10/infographics-guide-to-sauvignon-blanc-wine-grape-variety/.  This thing is comprehensive and rather fascinating…and there it is, cat pee, complete with schematic depiction.

So in addition to capturing aromas that I find pleasant (maybe at this point forget I mentioned cat pee), Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are both associated with formative memories in my quest to experience as much of the wine world as possible. Fitting then that I drew this assignment to review these two varietal bottlings, which interestingly enough hail from the first California wine label named after a grape grower.

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Wine Review: Famille Sichel Bordeaux Tiers

15 04 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

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What a Bordeaux progression looks like.

Bordeaux is one of those regions that any aspiring wine geek finds out about roughly 15 seconds after beginning their vinous adventure.  It leads off many textbooks, is (rightly) touted as the spiritual homeland of red grape overlord Cabernet Sauvignon and its consigliere Merlot and is held up as a must-try area both so that new oenophiles can get a sense of the classics and because top-flight Bordeaux can be so memorable that its first-chapter place in all future textbooks is likely assured.  Of course, all of that comes at a price, one that seems to be increasing by the year, as wines from the top chateaux become more luxury commodity and less agricultural product and as international demand in new markets shoots through the roof.  So what are the non-obscenely wealthy wine-curious to do?  Here’s one way to start:  find a reputable producer and taste your way up their lineup, through the quality tiers and nesting-doll classifications layered throughout the Bordeaux appellation.  Even if you don’t make it all the way up to the grand vin flagship of the chateau, you will end up with a really good sense of what makes this rarefied region tick and also start to understand why those tiers exist in the first place.

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I was fortunate enough to test this tasting theory with the wines of Famille Sichel, a producer with whom I didn’t initially think I was familiar until discovering that they are the owners of one of Bordeaux’s hidden gem producers, Margaux’s Chateau d’Angludet.  While the winery is centuries old and the Sichel family’s history in Bordeaux is almost equally entrenched (they have been established in the region as a negociant since 1883 and are on their sixth generation of family ownership), their two paths didn’t cross until the 1960s, when d’Angludet was in a state of extreme disrepair and was bought and revived by Peter Sichel thanks to an extensive replanting and restoration program.  Current proprietor Benjamin Sichel continues both the negociant business (under the Maison Sichel banner) and the Chateau’s estate bottlings with a heavier focus in the vineyard and a defter touch in the cellar.  I have previously enjoyed Chateau d’Angludet on numerous occasions and now got to experience the trail of bottles that leads up to it. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: It’s Go TIME!

17 01 2018

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

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NHL-licensed wine.  Bring on the themes!

No, that title isn’t me exhorting myself into giving 110% on this wine review, playing for the crest on the front of the jersey and leaving it all out on the ice.  It is in fact the actual, somewhat-punny name of a red and white wine duo made as a commercial and charitable collaboration between the Okanagan’s TIME Winery and my local NHL squad the Calgary Flames, with some of the proceeds from bottle sales going to the team’s philanthropic Flames Foundation.  Having recently been to a WHL Hitmen game, I can confirm that the Saddledome boards themselves officially confirm TIME as the team’s official wine supplier (yes, such a designation is a thing), and the bottles are both served at the arena and sold at a wide array of retailers across town.  TIME is a brand owned by Encore Vineyards, a group led by Harry McWatters, a Canadian wine pioneer who founded Sumac Ridge winery the year I was born (1980) and who already has 50 years of local wine business experience under his belt, perhaps more than any other living person in Canada.  After selling Sumac Ridge, McWatters launched TIME in 2013, basing his winery inside an old movie theatre in Penticton and focusing on grapes from the southern Okanagan for his production.

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It is a long-standing tenet of this blog that I am fully on board with a good theme wine, as long as the gimmick doesn’t come at the expense of the underlying substance.  When theme bottles are done well, you win twice, augmenting the already-pleasurable experience of drinking well-made juice with the added enjoyment of the marketing cleverness surrounding it.  When they are not done well, not only are you left drinking crappy wine, you end up feeling a bit like you’ve been had while doing it.  These two bottles stake a sort of middle ground between those extremes, but when combined with their inoffensive price tag ($19.99 SRP) and their charitable underpinnings, they take no steps to dampen my theme wine enthusiasm.  Let’s get into them; it’s go t– …well, you know what time it is. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Taylor Fladgate 325th Anniversary Limited Edition Port

9 01 2018

Happy New Year!  Pop & Pour returns after a lengthy and dearly needed post-Wine-and-Whisky-Advent break with a bottle that would have graced this page last year but for the 49 other calendar-based things that had to do so in December instead.  Rest assured that the delay is no commentary on what’s in the bottle.  2017 would have been a preferable year to write up Taylor Fladgate’s 325th Anniversary special-release Tawny Port, if for no other reason than that it was the actual year of the 325th anniversary in question, thanks to Taylor’s founding way back in 1692.  Thankfully, the juice is just as delicious in 2018, and there are still a number of stores in town that have stock remaining (though this Limited Edition is sold out at the import agent level, so act fast if you want some!).

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Happy (belated) anniversary, Taylor Fladgate!  We’re back!!

Unlike most fancy commemorative releases from leading lights in the world of wine, Taylor Fladgate has done something daring and remarkable and borderline audacious with this celebratory flask:  it has made it accessible to the drinking audience at large.  Rather than building this one-off Tawny from ultra-rarified sources and then pricing it into the stratosphere (which it could easily have done, and quite successfully), it instead opted to take the top component lots of wines otherwise destined for its 10 through 40 Year Tawny lineup, blend them to about a 15 Year average, then age them together for 18 months so that it could release this (utterly spectacular looking) bottle at a shade below $50 retail.  Taylor intended this to be celebratory and drinkable at large, a monument for the masses, a conversation piece rather than a museum piece.  If this does not instantly become the next birthday gift you want to buy for the wine lover in your life, I worry for you. Read the rest of this entry »





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 12

12 12 2017

We are here, my friends:  at the midpoint of Advent, 24 posts in (including this one) and 25 to go, about to hit Advent Hump Day tomorrow (on a Wednesday, natch), with two columns of the Bricks Wine Advent crate vaporized and another two left to go.  I’m late posting this tonight not because I got started late, but because tonight’s bottle is so damn fascinating that I’ve just spent the better part of the last hour reading about it instead of getting down to business.  It’s a Cava, but not really.  It has a history dating back either millions (for the land) or hundreds (for the family) of years, but it’s also so new that it has yet to obtain an official designation.  I looked at the label for a good long time trying to figure out what was going on before resolving to dive deeper on this one.

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The label says “2011 Raventos i Blanc Conca Del Riu Anoia De La Finca”.  I recognize it to be a sparkling wine from eastern Spain, but it doesn’t say “Cava” (the only widely known bubbles appellation in the area) anywhere on the bottle.  It’s also vintage-dated, which a lot of Cava is not.  Um.  Starting with the only one of those label words that I knew, and the only one with its own website, I pulled on that thread and started unravelling the mystery.  Raventos i Blanc is one of the top quality sparkling producers in Spain, an estate that has been family-owned and -run for TWENTY-ONE GENERATIONS, since 1497.  The Raventos family is intimately connected with the creation and rise of Cava:  it was Raventos ancestors who first established the indigenous grapes that would form part of the Cava blend (Macabeu, Xarel-lo and Parellada) and who actually made the very first bottles of Cava in 1872.  The Cava DO has since stretched, however, now encompassing a half-dozen areas that aren’t at all geographically connected and now permitting Champagne grapes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to also be used in the bubbly blend.  The current generation of the Raventos family were not a fan of these changes.  So in December 2012, they left the Cava appellation and started their own.

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The estate and vineyards are still based in the very heart of classical Cava, of course, in the core of Penedes near Barcelona.  But Raventos pulled the name of the region off its bottles and instead added the name of a proposed new location-focused appellation:  Conca Del Riu Anoia, named for the nearby Anoia River.  Their proposed requirements for this new region are strict, ranging from a commitment to organic viticulture to minimum purchase prices for fruit bought from growers to longer minimum aging periods.  I keep saying “proposed” because the Conca Del Riu Anoia “region” has no legal or formal existence but is still just a vision; but it has some kind of existence, because I see it on the label of this leading light. Read the rest of this entry »





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








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