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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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





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 2

2 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

Day 2.  The spirit is still strong, the Advent joy still coursing through my veins, and now the Christmas decor is up and running in my household, so we are officially in the season.  I’m not sure what I was expecting when peeling back the wrapping paper on the sophomore bottle of this calendar, but Cru Bourgeois Bourdeaux wasn’t it.  This could bode well.  Let’s find out.

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Chateau Caronne Ste. Gemme was THIS close to the big time.  As far as global wine locales go, it is quite nicely situated in Bordeaux’s esteemed Haut-Medoc region, but through a misfortune of cartography it fell a scant 500 metres from where they drew the border for the much more esteemed sub-zone of St. Julien, home of legendary classed-growths Leoville-Las Cases, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Leoville-Barton, Gruaud-Larose, Langoa-Barton and other pricy hyphenated estates.  Its vineyards are actually right beside Gruaud-Larose’s, but on the other side of the appellation tracks and thus on the outside looking in of the 1855 Classification and Bordeaux’s power hierarchy.

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That said, it’s not the legendary estates where the bargains are found; it’s their neighbours.  Caronne Ste. Gemme has been owned by the same family since 1900, but in the last 25 years the current generation of owners has overseen a quality explosion thanks in part to a renewed focus on their 45 hectares of Gruaud-adjacent estate vineyards, planted on a mound of Cabernet Sauvignon-friendly gravel over sandstone.  The wines are fittingly largely Cab (60%), rounded out by Merlot (34%) and Petit Verdot (6%) and see around a year in barrique (20-25% new barrel) and further time in bottle before release.

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Cork Rating:  3/10 (Better idea: put the CHATEAU name on the cork, not the proprietor’s name.)

This is SUCH a textbook, classic Bordeaux.  The 2014 Ste. Gemme is a deep thick ruby-purple colour and smells as though it’s just starting to trace the contours of its aging curve:  blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, tomato leaf, juniper, new pennies (back when those were a thing), pink erasers, campfire embers and topsoil.  An interesting beam of supporting raspberry red joins the chorus once the wine hits the tongue, joined by pipe tobacco, cedar shavings, moss and leather, surrounded by still-scratchy tannins that frame rather than block the flavour symphony.  This is a wine that could simply be nothing else.  It is a dream tasting wine, because it purely and accurately displays exactly what it is without overdoing it; varietal and regional typicity squared.  The Bordeaux that I own I’m trying to age, so I haven’t cracked a bottle of youthful Bordeaux in some time.  This makes the argument that I should, while simultaneously making me mull over what it might taste like in another 5 or 10 years.  Value Bordeaux, I have found you.

89+ points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 1

1 12 2018

By Peter Vetsch

It is again the most wonderful time of the year, and the busiest time in the Pop & Pour blogging calendar — booze Advent.  For the second year in a row, we will be live-blogging every 375 mL day of the Bricks Half-Bottle Wine Advent Calendar, from today until Christmas Eve (following which we will immediately start blogging the 12 Days of Vinebox Christmas beginning Christmas Day…because, well, we’re crazy like that).  Last year, Bricks Advent began with a bubbly bang, so I was wondering if this year might start the same way; I was quite thrilled not only to find out that it did indeed, but that the bubbles in question were already indelibly seared into my memory, a monument to possibly the single greatest moment of my 2018.

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It begins…

I am a Washington Capitals fan.  Always have been.  I don’t know why.  I was born in 1980 in Gretzky-era Edmonton, to Edmonton-area parents, and from the age of 3 or so, from the time I understood what hockey was, Washington was my team.  Those of you with a passing knowledge of NHL hockey will understand that this was not previously a recipe for contentment.  Washington went from being what is still the worst expansion team in the history of the NHL (8-67-5 record in 1974) to being good-but-not-good-enough to being that team whose heart always got broken in a more novel and unbelievable way every playoffs to being that flashy run-and-gun early-Ovechkin squad that “didn’t know how to win” to being clearly the best team in the NHL until it really mattered to being past their window for success.  They pushed all their chips in the season before last, loaded up their team for their last shot at glory – and lost.  To Pittsburgh.  Again.  Last season was supposed to be the start of a slow descent back into irrelevance.  Until it wasn’t.  On June 7th, I watched in tearful disbelief as my team, that I watched fail over and over for 38 years, somehow won it all and raised the Stanley Cup, the culmination of a literal lifetime dream.  I promptly reached for the first bottle — or half-bottle — of bubbles I could find.

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And lo and behold, 6 months later, I peel back the Day 1 2018 Advent wrapping paper, and am greeted with:  my Stanley Cup wine.  I am instantly transported back to watching Ovechkin shrug off the doubt and unfair criticism of the hockey world and hoist the Cup over his head, screaming in triumph.  I remember the stream of excited messages filling my phone, the post-game interviews, the order of players who got their turn to lift the Cup, as soon as I see the label.  Wine, man.  Barone Pizzini and I will forever be connected because of that finally-captured moment of glory. Read the rest of this entry »





The Ultimate Wine & Chip Pairing Showdown

26 11 2018

By Peter Vetsch

The event was almost a year in the making:  a one-versus-all challenge for pairing supremacy, putting the food-matching skills of eight local wine enthusiasts to the test against a backdrop of one of the more ubiquitous (and delicious) foodstuffs to grace a pantry.  Through extensive research and experimentation, and more than a little trial and error, we sought to answer the question: what wines pair best with the most common flavours of potato chips?  And who could best elevate a chip flavour with a pairing match that ticked all the right boxes?

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Here’s how our game was played.  After some market research, we first agreed on the top chip flavours that would participate in the competition:  BBQ, Salt & Vinegar, All Dressed, Sour Cream & Onion, Dill Pickle, Ketchup, Jalapeño Cheddar, and Bacon.  (A couple notes on these flavours:  1. “Plain” is not a flavour.  It has to HAVE a flavour to BE a flavour.  2. Americans, I don’t want to hear any complaining about All Dressed – it is a pantheon chip and no chip-based contest is complete without it.)  We were then each randomly assigned a chip flavour as our pairing muse and were tasked with finding the perfect pairing for that chip.  When we gathered together, we tasted through each flavour one at a time (again in randomly drawn order) and graded each potato chip/wine duo out of 10 on the strength of the pairing only:  the individual merit of each wine and each chip were disregarded, and the only question was how well they meshed together.  The top average score out of 10 took home the prize (which was nothing, other than eternal bragging rights and a pervasive sense of wellbeing).

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I should add before diving into the results that potato chip and wine pairing is WAY harder than you might think (and that the bulk of the articles that you can Google on this point almost surely did not go as far as to actually taste their recommended pairings with their chips), as once you put glass to lips with a bowl of chips you realize it does not quite unfold as expected.  With very limited exceptions, potato chips are crammed full of bold, potent, concentrated flavours meant to pack a punch, which can lead to them overwhelming many a potential pairing match that might otherwise be complimentary from a flavour perspective.  Chips also contain an array of particularly exaggerated spicy, sour, sweet and/or salty notes that can pose pairing challenges on their own, let alone in combination (or, in the case of All Dressed, which features ALL of these flavours at once, in accumulation).  A successful chip pairing wine is either one that has the firepower to match the lab-tested amplitude of Old Dutch’s natural and artificial flavours, or one that can do enough to comfortably neutralize them and provide some palate relief without getting lost itself.  Neither are easy targets to hit.

Below I will set out (in the order that the tasting took place) each brave contestant in this inaugural PnP Wine & Chip Pairing Showdown (complete with Twitter handle), their assigned bag of fried potato destiny and their vinous gladiator.  Then I will include a brief explanation of basis for the pairing and the thought process behind it in each competitor’s own words, before assessing how it all worked out in practice.  Finally, I will reveal the outcome of the pairing in question, both on my personal ballot and in the overall official group tally.  You will see that my scores tend to be lower than the group’s across the board, which is more a personal reaffirmation of the difficulty of the mission on my end, a confirmation that a perfect processed potato pairing can be elusive.  Without further ado — let’s eat some chips. Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





National Zinfandel Day: An Interview With Ravenswood Founder Joel Peterson

15 11 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Happy National Zinfandel Day! Although we do not feature many interviews on Pop & Pour, we felt that the chance to publish a Q & A correspondence that I recently had with Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, commonly described as California’s “godfather of Zin”, would be a consummate way to celebrate, especially when paired with tasting notes for one of Ravenswood’s most iconic wines. To me, Zin embodies a key dialectic at play within wine appreciation: that between elegance, austerity and grace on the one hand, and sheer hedonism, richness and bold frivolity on the other. As an avowed disciple of Pinot Noir, you can deduce which pole of the dialectic I might ultimately prefer. However, wine is so immensely enjoyable precisely because there is ample diversity, so many different experiences to chase down and absorb. And I do like having my mind blown by huge flavours as much as the next bon vivant. If I am being honest with myself, a well-crafted Zinfandel may do a better job of resolving this particular dialectical dilemma than almost any other black grape:

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There are some very specific cherry varieties listed here. I approve. (https://zinfandel.org/resources/zinfandel-aroma-wheel/)

The best Zins feature succulent, approachable berry fruit in lockstep with robust secondary flavours of smoke and spice, all festooned on a moderately formidable structure of fresh acidity and fine ripe tannins. They are fun and serious in equal measure: light yet dark, carefree yet intense, simple yet complex. Joel Peterson masterminds just this sort of Zin. Read the rest of this entry »








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