The Field of Dreams – Tinto Pesquera

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In April I was delighted to be invited to lunch at Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel to meet Miguel Angel Bocos from Pesquera, one of the foremost producers in Spain’s Ribero del Duero. Along with a tasty lunch Miguel took us through five of the Pesquera Group’s current releases. But first, a bit of background to set the scene…

Disclosure: food and wine were covered by generous hosts James Nicholson Wine Merchant; opinions are mine alone.

Origins and Development of Pesquera

Quite simply Pesquera exists due to one man, Alejandro Fernández, and one place, the Ribero del Duero in northern Spain.  Raised in a traditional small-holding family, Alejandro had a burning desire to create his own Bodega.  He chose the Ribero del Duero region which, at that time, was barely known apart from the very grand Vega Sicilia.  After 10 years of hard work, he restored a modest 16th century stone-built bodega in the village of Pesquera and began to bottle his wine.

Barrel hall

Barrel hall

Compared to the well-established Vega Sicilia, which included Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot in their blends, Alejandro produced wines which were 100% Tinto Fino – the local name for Tempranillo.  Whereas some Rioja wines can be on the light side, when it comes to Tempranillo fruit, and so can need beefing up, well grown Tinto Fino vines in the Ribero produce thicker skinned grapes and hence darker, deeper coloured wines.  There may well be some clonal differences between the two regions, but essentially it’s the sharper differences between day and night temperatures plus poor soil which turbocharge Ribero’s grapes.

Sunset

Sunset

After years of success, Alejandro gradually expanded the group.  Firstly, Condado de Haza was also established in the Ribero del Duero, though with a subtly different microclimate and soil profile.  Later he expanded further west with Dehesa La Granja and further south in La Mancha with El Vínculo.

Condado De Haza Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2011 (RRP €23)

100% Tempranillo, 14.0%, 18 months in American oak barrels then 6 months in bottle

Condado De Haza Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2011

Condado De Haza Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2011

Although in the same region as Tinto Pesquera, the climate, aspect and soil are different for this sister winery. The powerful fruit is able to take significant oak, and thus spent 18 months in 100% new 225 litre American oak barrels. Condado de Haza is a south-facing slope along one kilometre of the Duero River, planted from 1989 onwards.

This is the real crowd pleaser of the range; this is the wine that Miguel would open to suit a variety of tastes and dishes. It obviously has structure and opulent fruit so will age for many years, but it’s just so balanced, approachable and lovely to drink right now. Ripe plum, juicy black cherry and blackcurrant compete for your palate’s attention. The oak is very much in evidence but it is well integrated and serves as the custard on a fruits of the forest pudding.

Dehesa La Granja Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León 2007 (RRP €20)

100% Tempranillo, 14.0%, 24 months in American oak barrels then 12 months in bottle

Dehesa La Granja Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León 2007

Dehesa La Granja Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León 2007

Heading west from Ribero, past Toro, around 50km from the Portuguese border we reach the town of Zamora.  Here lies the 800 hectare Dehesa La Granja vineyard, stretching magnificently along the banks of the River Guareña.  The climate is quite Continental and the soil is Clay, giving extra power to the wines.  The estate is self-sufficiently Organic; they even have the animals on the property to make the natural fertilizer they need

This is still a powerful wine, but it also has elegance.  There are layers of fine tannins which add interest when the wine in young, but are entirely in keeping with the fruit.  I would be very interested to see how this continues to develop.

El Vínculo Crianza DO La Mancha 2010 (RRP €22)

100% Tempranillo, 14.0%, 18 months in American oak

El Vínculo Crianza DO La Mancha 2010

El Vínculo Crianza DO La Mancha 2010

My Spanish is the remnants of two terms at night school back in the early nineties, but I do remember a couple of important points: the accent on a Spanish word tells you which syllable is to be stressed, and the letter V is pronounced almost the same as a B. These two facts are important when saying the name of this wine to a Spanish speaker as they might otherwise think you are talking about their bottom.

Yields in La Mancha are often twice the national Average of Spain, mainly because of bulk produced grapes which will end up in a distillery for brandy.  However, for Pesquera’s vines here the yield is around a quarter of the Spanish average, so this is a different beast from the usual industrial juice.  La Mancha is very dry: it is baking hot in summer, yet cold in winter (often below freezing) with low levels of precipitation.

Although quality wine is still a rarity here, Pesquera believe that it has the potential to be the best appellation in Spain.  For a group based in Ribero del Duero, that’s quite a bold statement!

This 2010 example showed leather and liquorice plus hints of spice and stewed black fruits.  The leather suggests a cooler climate whereas the stewed fruit suggests a warmer climate – quite a conundrum.

Oh yes, the name – it’s the Spanish word for “link”, as the estate represents the link between tradition and innovation.

Tinto Pesquera Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2012 (RRP €26 to €30)

100% Tempranillo, 13.5%, 18 months in American oak barrels

Tinto Pesquera Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2012

Tinto Pesquera Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2012

So now we’re onto the original Pesquera, the real deal.  At 1050m it is possibly the highest vineyard in Spain.

Whereas the previous three wines had a certain playful side to them, this is a serious, grown up wine.  Although it’s unmistakably Spanish, I hope the folks at Pesquera will excuse me for saying it has a certain French sensibility about it.  It’s not trying to ape French wine, but it has a certain polish and class that left bank Bordeaux often brings to the table.  It’s ironic that Alejandro declined to use Bordeaux grapes but has created something with a Bordeaux feel that doesn’t need those varieties.

Black cherry and black berries are surrounded by vanilla on the nose, with just a hint of smoke.  The fruit expand out into your mouth when tasting, but with a side order of tannin – not big heavy gum-stripping tannins, but fine-grained savoury tannins.  It’s lighter in style than the previous three, probably due to the vineyard’s elevation, so perhaps less obvious, but this obviously has the fruit and the structure to age for at least another decade.

Tinto Pesquera Reserva DO Ribero del Duero 2011 (RRP €37 to €42)

100% Tempranillo, 13.5%, 24 months in American oak barrels

Tinto Pesquera Reserva DO Ribero del Duero 2011

Tinto Pesquera Reserva DO Ribero del Duero 2011

The Reserva does all that the Crianza does, but more so.  Going from junior to senior is like listening to a favourite song that suddenly switches from mono to stereo – it’s not necessarily louder, it just seems more alive and more real…it makes more sense.  The same components are there, just in higher fidelity.  The fruit is more intense and rich, there’s more toast and smoke and spicy vanilla from the barrels, but it all hangs together. With a few more years there will be harmony to add to the melody.

I’ll just leave you with the line up:

Pesquera wines tasted at The Shelbourne

Pesquera wines tasted at The Shelbourne

Five go Crazy in Keshk

Dublin isn’t overwhelmed with BYO restaurants, particularly those that don’t charge corkage, but of those that do let you bring in your own wine, many are southern and/or eastern Mediterranean-themed.  Of course this makes sense when those areas have high numbers of practising Muslims who don’t drink alcohol, and don’t want to profit from selling it, but are happy for you to drink with their food.

Among the best of those BYOs is Keshk Café Restaurant, just by the Canal on Dublin’s southside.  So what better place for five like-minded wine bloggers to meet up for food, drinks and a natter!

Keshk Café

Keshk Café

The food was lovely and may have been inadvertently on the healthy side, with fresh salads and grilled meat.  I will leave further description of the food to others, but below are the wines we tasted.  As co-ordinator I suggested two criteria for each diner’s choice of wine:

1) A retail price of between €20 and €30 (after a few years of duty rises this is now the sweetspot for wine in Ireland)

2) The wine should be a favourite or something the person fancied trying (all grapes and all regions allowed!)

Codorniú Anna Blanc de Noirs NV (€10, Madrid Airport)

Cordoniu Anna Blanc de Noirs NV

Cordoniu Anna Blanc de Noirs NV

Along with Frexinet, Cordoniu is one of two big Cava houses who dominate sales volumes.  Every year they pump out hectolitres of ordinary fizz, which is exactly the sort of thing that I avoid.  You know the stuff I mean – and it’s undercut in the UK and Ireland by even less expensive supermarket own-label pap.  This race to compete on cost and not quality has done significant damage to the Cava brand, so obtaining a fair price for a well-made one is difficult.

Thankfully a few well-made ones do find their way over here, even if it’s just a chance purchase at Madrid Airport.  This is a 100% Blanc de Noirs made from Pinot Noir, one of the two main black grapes of Champagne.  Of course being a DO Cava it is made in the traditional method, though the regulations for Cava are not as strict as those for the Champenois.

Given its constituent variety there was no surprise to find lovely red fruit, primarily strawberry and raspberry, but there was also stone fruit such as apricot, and even lees characters which confirm that this is a level above everyday Cava.

Anna is very well put together and something I will look out for in future.

Setz Easy To Drink Grüner Veltliner 2013 (€18, Honest 2 Goodness)

Setz Easy Drinking Grüner Veltliner

Setz Easy Drinking Grüner Veltliner 2013

The alcohol of 11.0% gives you a good clue as to the style of this Groovy – light quaffing material.  The wino who brought this is a big fan of the variety, especially after attending a 100% varietal tasting last year (which I covered here).  It’s not the type of wine to win lots of Parker Points or Wines Of The Year Awards but it’s just very pleasant to drink.

I have a feeling this will be seeing a lot more glasses in the summer months.

Jean Chartron AOP Rully “Montmorin” 2012 (€30 down to €20, The Corkscrew)

Jean Chartron AOP Rully “Montmorin” 2012

Jean Chartron AOP Rully “Montmorin” 2012

Well that’s one way of hitting both ends of the suggested price range!  Rully is one of the better communes on the Côte Chalonnaise, the section of Burgundy in between The Côte d’Or and the Mâconnais.   This was amazing complexity for such a young wine.  To be honest if I’d tasted that blind I’d have guessed at something north of €40 from the Côte de Beaune.

The producer Jean Charton is based in Puligny-Montrachet but also produces whites in Chassagne-Montrachet, Saint-Aubin, Rully and the generic Burgundy appellation.

There was a definite vanilla and toast influence from oak, but not the full butterscotch sauce experience.  I’m guessing that quite a bit of the creaminess came from lees stirring rather than extended ageing in barrel.  Monsieur Colm from the Corkscrew says they have experienced a little more bottle variation than normal, but most of them ZING!

Meyer-Fonné AOP Alsace Gewurztraminer Réserve 2013 (€22.95, The Corkscrew)

Meyer-Fonné AOP Alsace Gewurztraminer Réserve 2013

Meyer-Fonné AOP Alsace Gewurztraminer Réserve 2013

This is one of my favourite Alsace producers with a fantastic range.  My lubricated French came out with the term “correct” which is a handy shorthand for a wine that accurately reflects its ingredients and origins, and is well made, but is somewhat prosaic, nothing that makes you go “Wow”.

Yours truly in the tasting room at Meyer-Fonné

Yours truly in the tasting room at Meyer-Fonné

This Gewurz was off dry, with the variety’s typical lychees and flowers, plus some spicy ginger.  It would probably have shone more with spicier food; given where we were eating there was a good chance of some heat, but I think we made conservative food choices when it actually came to ordering so we’d be able to give all the wines an even chance.

Château Musar Bekaa Valley 2003

Château Musar Bekaa Valley 2003

Château Musar Bekaa Valley 2003

In a Mediterranean restaurant, what would be more fitting than a true Mediterranean wine?  From the some-time war zone of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon comes a wine which is full of contradictions:

  • It’s an alcoholic product from a country with a good number of Muslims.
  • It’s made with Bordeaux’s flagship grape Cabernet Sauvignon and the southern Rhône’s Cinsault, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Grenache. The proportions change from vintage to vintage.
  • On the nose there’s a big whiff of nail polish remover, a sign of Volatile Acidity which is considered a major fault in wine.
  • After that there’s a fair dose of farmyard, to be polite, or horseshit, to be less polite. This is another fault caused by the pernicious strain of yeast Brettanomyces, called Brett for short.

Yet it works!  And boy does it work!

This bottle had been double decanted which gave it a real chance to shine.  At 12 years from vintage it’s still a callow youth, with plenty of years ahead of it.

Domaine Coursodon AOP Saint Joseph “L’Olivaie” 2012 (€40, Wine Workshop)

Domaine Coursodon AOP Saint Joseph “L’Olivaie”

Domaine Coursodon AOP Saint Joseph “L’Olivaie”

For this cuvée maturation is shared between demi-muids (20% new) and pièces (0% new).  Although not specifically parcellaire, the components of this cuvée come mainly from St Jean de Muzols and the vines average over 60 years in age.

A lovely wine showing poise and potential but not yet unfurling its wings.  Brooding dark black fruit and a twist of black pepper meet on the palate.  Saint Joseph is rapidly becoming my go-to appellation in the northern Rhône

A couple of hours decanting would have shown it at its current best.  I’d love to try this again with more sympathetic treatment (and earlier in the evening!)

Carlo Gentili Chianti DOCG Riserva 2010

Carlo Gentili Chianti DOCG Riserva 2010

Carlo Gentili Chianti DOCG Riserva 2010

Just a random Chianti which I had lying around at home.  It was the seventh bottle of the evening.  It had great aromas of Chianti which followed through to the palate – fantastic Chianti flavour.  For further info have a look here.

 

Easy like Sunday evening

Lionel Richie’s Commodores were easy on Sunday morning, but when it’s a bank holiday weekend it means Sunday evenings are even better than the mornings.

This Sunday evening I was invited to my brother-in-law Andrew’s for take out and wine – what a relaxing way to spend a Sunday evening – with the rider that his wine-loving friend Noel and family would also be there.  Andrew sorted the food, and Noel provided most of the wine, with a bit chipped in from Andrew and myself.

Although it was easy, it was also a very enjoyable evening, with some cracking wines noted below.  Where there is an Irish stockist listed on Wine Searcher I have added it, otherwise a UK stockist.

Birgit Eichinger Kamptal Grüner Veltliner “Hasel” 2014 (€16.99, Mitchell & Son)

Birgit Eichinger Kamptal Grüner Veltliner 2014

Birgit Eichinger Kamptal Grüner Veltliner 2014

A good rule of thumb for Austrian Grüners is that the alcohol level is an indicator of the wine’s style, and so the 12.0% of this Birgit Eichinger proved true to be a light, summer-quaffing style.  Fresh and light, it doesn’t scream its grape variety, but is remarkably easy to drink.

Château Gaudin Pauillac 2009 (€32.55, Wines Direct)

Château Gaudin Pauillac 2009

Château Gaudin Pauillac 2009

Pauillac is probably the most prestigious appellation on the Médoc peninsula, Bordeaux’s left bank with grand names and grander buildings.  Three of the five First growths are in the commune – Châteaux Lafite, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild – with world famous reputations and prices to match.

The small village of Saint-Lambert within the Commune of Pauillac is home to the much more modestly priced Château Gaudin.  Its wines are very much true to the general Pauillac style, being dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (85%) with support from Merlot (10%) and Carménère (5%) plus tiny dashes of Petit Verdot and Malbec.

2009 was the middle year of three fantastic vintages within six years (2005 – 2009 – 2010) and was perfect for Cab Sauv.  With such a high percentage of that grape one might think that five or six years from harvest is too short a time for a wine to be approachable, but this is already drinking fantastically now.  The fruit is still dense and the evidence of 18 months ageing in new oak barrels is still apparent, but there’s no reason to wait!

Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé 2010 (€55, O’Briens)

Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé 2010

Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé 2010

Made by self-proclaimed widely admired superstar Bernard Magrez of Pessac’s Pape-Clement, La Tour Carnet was officially classed as a Fourth Growth in 1855.  Debate as to the relevancy of that classification continues, but it is useful as a general indicator of quality.

Average vine-age is 30 years.  The precise blend changes from year to year, but it is usually led by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with small contributions from Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  After fermentation, 70% of the blend was aged on the lees in French oak barrels for 18 months (30% of which new) and the balance in stainless steel.

Although from a very good year, in comparison with the Ch. Gaudin above it was perhaps a little awkward and not quite sure what it wanted to be.  A very nice drop which, with a bit of patience, might integrate more fully and blossom in a few years.

Castellare I Sodi Di San Niccolo IGT Toscana 2010 (GBP 40.42, Exel, €61.67 (2011) Millesima)

Castellare I Sodi Di San Niccolo IGT Toscana 2010

Castellare I Sodi Di San Niccolo IGT Toscana 2010

I have to confess I hadn’t heard of this wine before, but after asking the google it seems as though I really should have!  Widely decorated, it’s a blend of 85% Sangioveto (the local name for Sangiovese) with 15% Malvasia Nera.  The name “I Sodi” refers to land so steep and uneven that it has to be worked manually, not even using horses.

Castellare di Castellina was born in 1968 from the consolidation of five farms in the Chianti Classico region, and became solely owned by Paolo Panerai around ten years later.  At that point he carried out a detailed survey of all the vines on the property so that the best genetic material could be selected.

Subsequently Paolo engaged in partnership with the University of Milan, the University of Florence and the Institute of San Michele all’Adige to carry out ongoing research on the best clones as well as the production of grapevines selected for the renovation of the vineyards.

On pouring I thought it very pleasant, but not amazing; very smooth and drinkable without bring special.  However, after a bit of time in the glass it really started to open up, herbs and liquorice layers on top of cherries and blackberries.  This is a fine wine that I will definitely be trying again.

Trimbach Alsace Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2001 (€63 1/2 bottle, Millesima)

Trimbach Alsace Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2010

Trimbach Alsace Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2001

An interjection between the reds, something sweet to go with dessert.  From the pride of Ribeauvillé, this is a late harvest (that’s exactly what Vendanges Tardives means in French, or Spätlese in German) Gewurztraminer from 2001.

Probably not overly sweet in its youth, it is still sweeter than a normal Gewurz but is not at all “sticky”.  The ageing process reduces the wine’s sweetness (though I have not yet found the mechanism) and there is still some acidity to offer balance.  As you expect from Gewurz there’s a real floral aspect to it on the nose, with stone / white fruit such as peach and lychee on the palate.

It was actually a little too restrained for the chocolate brownie and ice cream dessert, but off itself was delicious.  It’s showing no sign of slowing down at the moment so it might well make it as far as its 20th birthday.

Château Giscours Margaux 3ème Cru Classé 2009 (€100, McHugh’s)

Château Giscours Margaux 3ème Cru Classé 2010

Château Giscours Margaux 3ème Cru Classé 2010

Giscours was a Third Growth in the 1855 Classification, but its fortunes have waxed and waned several times since, mainly as ownership has changed and more or less was put into the vineyards.  Margaux is the most feminine of the Médoc’s big four appellations, often with a higher percentage of Merlot than the others and a certain silkiness to the wines.

For the whole Giscours estate’s 94 hectares under vine, the split of grape varieties is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and the balance Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  Of course the Grand Vin receives a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon than the second and third wines, particularly in a good year such as 2009.  The estate matures the Grand Vin in 100 % French oak barrels (fine grain and medium toast) for 15 to 18 months, 50% of which are new and 50% have had one previous use.

Although still relatively young, this was not dumb, tight or closed – it was already singing.  Modern Claret is sometimes overdone in the search for Parker points and so needs a decade before approaching, but it wasn’t the case here.  Perhaps this was infanticide on a wine that will go on to greatness, only time will tell.

Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1998 (GBP 180, WinePro)

Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1998

Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1998

Grange occupies the sole spot at the top of the Penfolds pyramid, but Bin 707 isn’t too far behind.  Whereas Grange is virtually all Shiraz based, the 707 is the King of Cabernet., allegedly named after the fancy new Boeing airliner of the time.

Grange’s first (though non-commercial) release was in 1951 and the 707’s inaugural vintage was 1964.  It hasn’t been made every year since; between 1970 and 1975 there was a conscious decision to put the best Cabernet fruit in other wines, then in the years 1981, 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2011 winemakers didn’t have access to the appropriate style and quality of fruit.

Both Grange and Bin 707 are both multi-regional blends, that is, the fruit comes from several different vineyards in several different regions within South Australia.  For the 707 these are Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, Robe and Wrattonbully.  Maturation is for 18 months in 100% new American oak hogsheads (300 litres).

So 17 years on, how did it fare?  To the eye the age was apparent on the rim which was quite red brick in hue, though the core was still opaque black.  The nose showed spearmint, menthol & eucalyptus with dried black fruit and just a tiny hint of oxidisation.

To taste there was a touch of mint and lots of fresh blackcurrant, with some raisins in the background.  It was really smooth and still monumental in mouthfeel, despite an abv of 13.5% which is quite modest by today’s standards.  Above all it had an amazing length, a small sip lingered in the mouth for several minutes.  A stunning wine.

Château Dereszla Tokaji Azsú 5 Puttonyos 2006

Château Dereszla Tokaji Azsú 5 Puttonyos 2006

Château Dereszla Tokaji Azsú 5 Puttonyos 2006

To cap it all off was a sweet – sweet wine.  As I’ve mentioned before I reckon 5 putts is probably the *ahem* sweet spot for Tokaji, the perfect balance between flavour, sugar and acidity.  Château Dereszla also produce 3 and 6 puttonyos wines, plus the legendary Aszú Eszencia

This showed typical apricot, honey and marmalade notes, quite sweet but not at all cloying.  This is a wine to get up in the night to drink!

By George!

Some bloke on a horse outside a pub

Some bloke on a horse outside a pub

If you live outside the UK you might not know that the 23rd of April is St George’s Day, Georgie boy being the “patron saint” of England.  Celebrations are so muted that, in general, you might not even know about the day if you do live in the UK.

But there’s no one quite as patriotic as an ex-pat, so I was determined to quaff some quality English sparkling on the day!

Distribution of English sparkling is still quite limited here in Ireland, especially retail, though Liberty bring in Nyetimber and Hattingley Valley, Le Caveau import Wiston Estate, James Nicholson distribute Gusbourne Estate and O’Briens carry Ridgeview Cavendish (out of stock at the time of writing).  If there are others I’d be glad to hear of them!

Others you should try if you can get them include Cornwall’s Camel Valley, Bolney Wine EstateCoates & Seeley and Denbies.

A Trio For St George’s Day

Trio of English Sparkling

Trio of English Sparkling

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007

100% Chardonnay (of course).  Of all of the three tasted, this was the most “English” in style, if there is such a thing; it’s the racy acidity which really stands out, making it perfect as an aperitif.  Fresh Granny Smith apples dominate the nose, joined by citrus and minerality on the palate.  This is the current release but I think it will keep on developing for years to come.

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009

55% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir and 19% Pinot Meunier.  Probably the best Classic Cuvée (i.e. traditional Champagne blend) so far, this was on promotion at the ridiculously low price of €45 at Ely Wine Bar (where the above snap was taken) as part of Dublin Wine Festival.

Red fruit from the two Pinots arrives first followed by citrus from the Chardonnay.  For research purposes I tried it both in a Champagne flute and in a normal white wine glass.  It seemed fizzier in the first but a little softer and fruitier in the latter – an interesting experiment.

Ridgeview Grosvenor 2007

With a wine-making history almost as old as Nyetimber, Ridgeview are part of the establishment.  For those who have heard Moët & Chandon’s fairytale about Dom Pérignon, here is Ridgeview’s take on sparkling wine:

MERRET
Ridgeview’s trade mark MERRET™ is in honour of Englishman Christopher Merret. In 1662 he presented a paper to the Royal Society in London which documented the process of making traditional method sparkling wines. This was 30 years before the technique was documented in champagne. To celebrate Merret’s achievements Ridgeview has kept a London connection when naming our range of wines.

This was a different thing entirely.  Amazing layers of tropical fruit and sweet brioche competed for attention.  I would never have imagined that something this exotic was made in England.  I can’t see this improving any further, but there was still underlying acidity to keep it all together.  If you see any of this in your local wine shop, snap it up!

Dublin Wine Fest Day 3 – Riesling Flight @ Ely Wine Bar

This is as close as I’ve ever come to a live blog…

BANNER_WINE_NEW

This is the second in a series of festivals run in Dublin this year by Great Irish Beverages, and of course the most relevant to me.  After a fantastic launch party last week, this week has five (5) days of interesting and exciting wine-related treats in bars, restaurants, wine merchants and hotels across the city.

A Pair of Italian Whites

A Pair of Italian Whites at the launch party

A Pair of Italian Reds at the launch party

A Pair of Italian Reds at the launch party

So what’s the story?

By purchasing a €5 wristband here, you will receive a 30% discount on at least two festival wines at 32 Dublin bars and restaurants. And to keep things interesting, each venue is offering a unique ‘Dublin Wine Experience’ for the week of the festival. These range from food pairings and post-work aperitivos to wine-based cocktails, flights of wine and self-guided tastings.

To my shame, I didn’t manage to get to any venues on Monday or Tuesday, but I did pop my head into Ely Wine Bar on my way home today as I heard they have Riesling!

Apologies for rubbish photos, my smartphone doesn’t do well with low light:

Flight of Rieslings

Flight of Rieslings, tasted from right to left

With a Dublin Wine Fest wristband, a modest sum entitles you to a decent taste of four fantastic Rieslings at Ely’s Georgian Wine Bar.  Monday was a flight of sparkling wines which I was gutted to miss

A Fancy Flight

A Fancy Flight

Castell d’Encus DO Costers del Segre Ekam Riesling 2009

Ekam Riesling

Ekam Riesling

Cool climate Riesling from the far north east of Spain (yes, Spain!) into the Pyrenees, with a dash of Albariño.  Around 30% of the grapes have noble rot, but everything is fermented to dryness, leaving racy acidity and lots of body without the easy trick of leaving residual sugar.  Would be amazing with all sorts of seafood or as an aperitif.

Sipp Mack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2009

Sipp Mack Rosacker

Sipp Mack Rosacker

From one of my favourite Alsace producers, this is something that I could sip in the sun all day.  There may be a hint of sweetness here but it’s not a sweet wine – there are lemons and limes galore in there which keep everything fresh and zippy.  Rosacker is one of the best of the best in Alsace, and this vineyard near Hunawihr is home to the wine regarded as the epitome of Alsace wine – Trimbach’s Clos Ste Hune –  which would be in the region of €250 on a restaurant wine list.

Mount Horrocks Clare Valley Watervale Riesling 2012

Mount Horrocks Clare Valley Riesling

Mount Horrocks Clare Valley Riesling (this pic is the sweeter Cordon Cut)

Watervale is regarded as second in the Clare Valley subregions after Polish Hill, but for many people its wines are fruitier and more approachable.  Amazingly for such a young wine, this had already started developing some diesel aromas, and was thoroughly delicious.

Weingut Max Fed. Richter Mosel Riesling Spätlese

Weingut Max Fed. Richter Mosel Riesling

Weingut Max Fed. Richter Mosel Riesling

The Mosel has a strong claim for the best Rieslings in the world.  Vines on steep hillsides running down to the river have to be tended and harvested by hand, with several casualties every year.  Being so far north means that, even if the grapes reach high enough sugar content, their acidity is on the high side.  Traditional winemaking techniques advise leaving some sugar in the finished wine to offset the acidity, making for a refreshing but fruity wine.

Conclusion

My favourite?  You’ve got to be kidding!  They were all high quality, interesting wines.  I’d love to try the same four again but with food…

Classics… and new Classics

I was delighted to recently invite myself be invited to Classic Drinks‘ Portfolio Tasting at Fade Street Social Restaurant in the heart of Dublin.  Classic supply both on and off trade in Ireland and given their portfolio of 800 wines there’s a good chance that the average Irish wine drinker has tried one.

Here are a few of the wines which stood out for me:

Champagne Pannier Brut NV (RRP €52.99)

Champagne Pannier Brut NV

Champagne Pannier Brut NV

Given my proclivities for quality fizz (a friend and fellow wine blogger dubbed me a “Bubbles Whore”, to which I have no retort) it was no surprise to see me making a beeline for the Champagne.

Louis-Eugène Pannier founded his eponymous Champagne house in 1899 at Dizy, just outside Epernay, later moving to Château-Thierry in the Vallée de la Marne.  The current Cellar Master, Philippe Dupuis, has held the position for over 25 years.  Under him the house has developed a reputation for Pinot-driven but elegant wines.

The Non Vintage is close to a three way equal split of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier. The black grapes provide body and red fruit characters, but the good whack (technical term) of Chardonnay gives citrus, flowers and freshness.  A minimum of 3 years ageing adds additional layers of brioche.  It’s a well balanced and classy Champagne.

Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Scaia Garganega / Chardonnay IGT Veneto 2013 (RRP €16.99)

Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Scaia Garganega / Chardonnay IGT Veneto 2013

Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Scaia Garganega / Chardonnay IGT Veneto 2013

From near Venice comes this blend of local and international white varieties: Garganega 50%, Chardonnay  30%, Trebbiano di Soave 20%.

Garganega is probably most well known for being the basis of Soave DOC / DOCG wines, whose blends often include the other local grape here, Trebbiano di Soave.  In fact, the latter is also known as Verdicchio in the Marche region where it is most popular.

So how is it?  Amazing bang for your buck. More than anything this is peachy – so peachy, in fact, that you can’t be 100% convinced they haven’t put peaches in with the grapes when fermenting!  More info here.

Angove Butterfly Ridge South Australia Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013 (RRP €13.99)

Angove Butterfly Ridge South Australia Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013

Angove Butterfly Ridge South Australia Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013

Angove was founded in the beautiful region of Mclaren Vale (just south of Adelaide in South Australia) in 1886, and are still family run and owned, now by the fifth generation.  The company has sixteen sub-ranges which span a large range of quality levels (and price brackets).

So why doesn’t the new World do more of this type of blend?  Lots of citrus zing from the Riesling with just a touch of peachy body and spicy aromas from the Gewurz.  The precise blend was the matter of some contention, with both (40% / 60%) and (30% / 30%) being quoted, though my guess would be closer to 80% / 20% as otherwise Gewurz would totally steal the show on the nose.

This would be great as an aperitif or flexible enough to cope with many different Asian cuisines – Indian, Thai, Chinese and Japanese.

Seifried Nelson Pinot Gris 2012 (RRP €20.99)

Seifried Nelson Pinot Gris 2012

Seifried Nelson Pinot Gris 2012

Internationally, Nelson is firmly in the shadow of Marlborough when it comes to both export volumes and familiarity with consumers.  Although Nelson isn’t far from Marlborough at the top of the South Island, it gets more precipitation and produces wines of a different style.

Neudorf is one Nelson producer which has received accolades for its owners Tim and Judy Finn, and Seifried is another.  From their website:

The Seifried family have been making stylish food-friendly wines since 1976. The range includes rich full Chardonnays, fine floral Rieslings, lively Sauvignon Blancs, warm plummy Pinot Noirs and intensely delicious dessert wines.

If you see the Seifried “Sweet Agnes” Riesling then snap it up, it’s delicious!

The 2012 Pinot Gris has an Alsace Grand Cru standard and style nose – so much stone fruit, exotic fruit and floral notes.  On the palate these are joined by spice, pear and ginger.  This would be a great food wine with its comforting texture

For my personal taste it would be even better with a touch more residual sugar than its 5g/L, but that’s just me and my Alsace bias.  A lovely wine.

Laroche Chablis Premier Cru AOP Chantrerie 2011 (RRP €32.99)

Laroche Chablis Premier Cru AOP Chantrerie 2011

Laroche Chablis Premier Cru AOP Chantrerie 2011

More than just Chardonnay, more than just Chablis…in fact this is more than just 1er Cru Chablis, it’s a great effort.  There’s a hint of something special on the nose but it really delivers on the palate – it just sings.

Laroche tells us that the fruit is sourced from several Premier Cru vineyards such as Vosgros, Vaucoupins and Vaulignau (I don’t know if selection is alphabetical…) and then blended together so the wine is more than the sum of its parts.

The majority (88%) is aged in stainless steel and the remainder (12%) in oak barrels. The texture and palate weight might lead you to believe that more oak was involved, but this also comes from nine months ageing on fine lees and the minimal filtration. Full info here.

Thanks to Classic Drinks and venue hosts Fade Street Social!

Five of the best Reds from Sweeney’s Wine Fair

I’ve already picked out five whites from the Sweeney’s Wine Fair that really impressed me, so now it’s turn for my selection of reds.  But first a brief introduction of the people behind the name:

Finian Sweeney, proprietor

Finian Sweeney, proprietor, after winning another award

Kevin (R) about to host the Wines of the Year Award & glamourous guest Tara (L)

Kevin (R) about to host the Wines of the Year Award & glamourous guest Tara (L)

Lynda (with a "y") enjoying dessert at a food & wine matching meal, the last night of the Sweeney's Learn About Wine Course

Lynda (with a “y”) enjoying dessert at a food & wine matching meal, the last night of the Sweeney’s Learn About Wine Course

Apparently, for those who like that sort of thing, Sweeney’s also have a great range of artisan cheese from Sheridan’s cheesemonger.

So now for the reds:

5 Vigneti Del Salento I Muri IGT Puglia 2012 (Liberty Wines, €15.95, 2 for €28.00)

Vigneti Del Salento I Muri IGT Puglia 2012

Vigneti Del Salento I Muri IGT Puglia 2012

Grape: Negroamaro

A favourite with Sweeney’s staff and customers alike for a few years, I Muri hails from the heel of Italy – the beautiful region of Puglia. The most important local grape is Negroamaro, literally translated as “black and bitter”, and while this wine is listed as a 100% varietal Negroamaro it shows no bitterness. It does have black – blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, with a savoury edge but a polished finish.

4 Herdade de Rocim “Rocim” VR Alentejano 2010 (Grace Campbell Wines, €19.00)

Herdade de Rocim “Rocim” VR Alentejano 2010

Herdade de Rocim “Rocim” VR Alentejano 2010

Grapes: Aragonez / Alicante Bouchet / Others

Aragonez is the Portuguese name for the grape known as Tempranillo in Spain (well, in Rioja at least).  Alicante Bouchet is a teinturier, the term for a (very rare) type of grape with red flesh, so both the skin and flesh give colour to a wine.

Do you remember the scene in the film Ratatouille where restaurant critic Anton Ego tastes the eponymous dish and is instantly transported to his childhood?  Tasting Herdade de Rocim gave me exactly the same sensation, except I was magically transported to a summer barbecue, drinking wine.  I think it’s a sign.

3 Marchese Antinori “Marchese” Riserva DOCG Chianti Classico 2006 (Findlater WSG, €28.00)

Marchese Antinori “Marchese” Riserva DOCG Chianti Classico 2006

Marchese Antinori “Marchese” Riserva DOCG Chianti Classico 2006

Grape: Sangiovese

Check out the vintage!  The current release is 2011, so it’s quite rare to see older vintages on the shelves, even in a good independent wine merchants, but this is entirely deliberate; Finian bought several cases of this when it was released and has kept it in bond to be released when ready.  And boy, is it ready!

It has all the hallmarks of good Chianti Classico – liquorice, tobacco, acidity, tannin, black cherry – but the extra years maturing have seen them knit into a smooth, harmonious whole.  I think it’s now closer in style to its big brother Badia a Passignano, which still remains the smoothest Chianti I’ve experienced.

Hearsay at the Wine Fair suggested I might be in the minority liking this bottle (it’s not the first time and certainly won’t be the last time I’m in a minority); reflection has led me to believe that some people who are used to drinking young Chianti prefer, or at least expect, the components mentioned above to stand out individually.  If that is more to your taste then I suggest trying the 2011 Marchese, reviewed here.

2 Torres “Celeste” Crianza DOCa Ribera del Duero 2011 (Findlater WSG, €20.00, 2 for €34.00)

Torres “Celeste” Crianza DOCa Ribera del Duero

Torres “Celeste” Crianza DOCa Ribera del Duero

Grape: Tempranillo

While also in the north of Spain and often using the same grapes as Rioja, Ribera del Duero isn’t a clone of its more famous counterpart. For a long time only the renowned Vega Sicilia made wines drunk elsewhere in Spain, never mind exported. Now the region’s reputation is on the up, with national heavyweights such as Torres joining the ranks of local producers.

Tempranillo here is usually known as Tinto Fino, and often has support from Bordeaux grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. However, even on its own it can show darker fruit than in Rioja.

Celeste has a nice name and a pretty bottle, but the contents surpass both of them. Bright red and black fruit are offset by creamy vanilla from the oak. It has wild strawberries rather than the poly-tunnel farmed ones that cheap Rioja can have, with blackberry and cherry riding shotgun. It’s a serious wine, yet it’s a fun wine.

1 Domaine Treloar “Le Ciel Vide” AC Cotes de Roussillon 2012 (Distinctive Drinks, €16.00)

Domaine Treloar “Le Ciel Vide” AC Cotes de Roussillon

Domaine Treloar “Le Ciel Vide” AC Cotes de Roussillon

Grapes: Syrah (45%) / Grenache (40%) / Mourvèdre (15%)

This wine is a rockstar – it stood out as the best wine of any colour from the whole tasting as it was just so interesting and funky.  Lots of fresh berry fruit is accompanied by smoke, earthiness and just a hint of farmyard.

Looking into the story of the Domaine is fascinating – it deserves a full post all to itself. The name of the wine is a direct translation of “Empty Sky”, a Bruce Springsteen song, which evoke memories of 9/11 for the owners who were working just one block away when the planes hit.

The blend of this wine has changed every year depending on the grapes available locally and how each variety fared in a particular harvest:

Le Ciel Vide blend by year, measured in litres of bottled wine

Le Ciel Vide blend by year, measured in litres of bottled wine

I love the complete honesty of co-owner Jonathan Hesford when discussing the first two vintages of this wine (2008 and 2009):

I’m not sure how these wines will age. They have the potential to develop even more fragrant aromas but don’t have the tannin structure of my other red wines.

His honesty is as refreshing as his wines!

Miguel Torres Santa Digna Gewurztraminer Central Valley 2005

Miguel Torres Santa Digna Gewurztraminer 2005

Miguel Torres Santa Digna Gewürztraminer 2005

I’ll cut to the chase: this is the best Chilean white wine I have ever tasted

A friend recently opened a random bottle of white wine which happened to be a Chilean Gewürz*, not the most common combination.  On closer inspection of the label it was a ten year old Chilean Gewurz*!  Fearing something old, possibly oxidised or just out of condition, a few sips revealed something wonderful: a well made, maturing, but far-from-over-the-hill, delicious white wine.

One of my mantras on wine is that most of us drink wine too young – particularly white wine – and this wine only serves to reinforce it.

Miguel Torres Chile is an offshoot from the Spanish Torres family who have been producing wine since the 19th Century.  From the website:

Miguel A. Torres decided to begin the Chilean project on the advice of Alejandro Parot, a Chilean friend and classmate from his studies in Dijon (France).

Winemaking is ultra-clean and intended to have minimal impact on the finished wine:

  • No skin contact
  • No oak ageing
  • Bottled five months after picking

Notes on the latest vintage state that it is “an ideal match for shellfish (particularly oysters) and most fish dishes”.  Without doing extensive vertical tastings I can’t argue against that, but I actually think the 2005 is far more versatile than the above suggests – quite possibly as a result of bottle ageing.

There’s texture and much more body than expected for a white.  Acidity is still present but perfectly counterbalanced by the modest residual sugar (7.5g/L).  The exotic tropical fruits of youth are now a little more subtle but still present and correct.

For Alsace fans such as myself, this wine was a revelation.  Tasted blind, I wouldn’t have been shocked to hear it was from a big name Grand Cru producer such as Zind-Humbrecht.

I now need to work out how to collect more vintages of it…

*Note: in Germany Gewürztraminer has an umlaut, in Alsace they leave it off.  I’ve tried to randomly represent both parties in this article.  I’d like to think of myself as an equal opportunities speller.

This Summer’s BBQ Wines #1

The past week in Dublin has seen some unusual weather patterns – a big yellow disc has been seen in the sky and admittances to hospitals for hypothermia are on the wane.  In short, Spring has sprung!

The first thing any Dub does is to assess whether it’s warm enough to sunbathe – and to be honest it’s still marginal.  The second thing is to fire up the barbecue!  Who knows if we’ll get another chance to use it this year?

If you’re wondering what you could be drinking with your charcoaled oops I mean chargrilled food then this delicious South African Shiraz could be right up your street.

Disclosure: Sample was provided, but opinions are entirely my own

Bellow’s Rock Coastal Region Shiraz 2013 (€15.49 down to €9.99, O’Briens)

Bellow's Rock Coastal Region Shiraz 2013

Bellow’s Rock Coastal Region Shiraz 2013

As you can see the Coastal Region is a large region, with a considerable distance between the littoral and most inland parts – expect quite a big temperature variation.

"South African wine regions" by Western_Cape_rural_education_districts.svg: Htonlderivative work: Agne27 (talk) - Western_Cape_rural_education_districts.svg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:South_African_wine_regions.jpg#/media/File:South_African_wine_regions.jpg

“South African wine regions” by Western_Cape_rural_education_districts.svg:

South Africa makes quite a range of styles of Shiraz, and the style in the bottle is sometimes – but not always – indicated by the use of Syrah (more Northern Rhône) or Shiraz (more Australian).

This is firmly in the latter camp, with big, sumptuous, sweet berry fruit and a little vanilla oak on the finish.  It’s closed with a handy screw cap and was still drinking very well five days after being opened.

It tastes like a premium wine and €15.49 is a good price, but €9.99?  Get several while it lasts and your BBQ reds are sorted for the whole summer!

 

And as an aside, here’s my regular soundtrack to the summer – at the first sight of sun each spring I always play Chicane’s “Behind The Sun”

Five of the best Whites from Sweeney’s Wine Fair

Sweeneys Wine Merchants, Glasnevin, Dublin

Sweeneys Wine Merchants, Glasnevin, Dublin

Sweeney’s Wine Merchants in Glasnevin recently held a Wine Fair to celebrate 60 years of business, and 10 at their current home on Hart’s Corner after 50 years closer to town on Dorset Street.  Find them on the web, Facebook and Twitter.

As well as four tables of wines hosted by suppliers there were also Irish craft beers from Kinnegar Brewery plus Gin and  Vodka from Dingle Distillery.  While I enjoyed the sideshows I have chosen five of the best white wines from the main event:

5 Pato Frio DOC Alentejo 2013 (Grace Campbell Wines, €15.00)

Pato Frio DOC Alentejo 2013

Pato Frio DOC Alentejo 2013

Grape: Antão Vaz

As the saying goes, if it looks like a duck, talks like a duck, then it must be a dangerously drinkable Portuguese white wine. I might have made that last bit up. It’s a quacker!

OK, enough of the lame duck jokes now. This is several steps above almost anything you will find in your local Spar, Centra or petrol station (Peter!), but without costing much more. It’s crisp and refreshing with zingy citrus.  It would be delightfully fresh on its own – as an aperitif or sitting out in the sun – or with seafood in particular.

The 2012 vintage showed very well in a tasting of Alentejo wines hosted by Kevin O’Hara of Grace Campbell wines last year.

4 Wild Earth Central Otago Riesling 2011 (Liberty Wines, €22.00)

Wild Earth Central Otago Riesling 2011

Wild Earth Central Otago Riesling 2011

Grape: Erm Riesling

Central Otago, or “Central” as the locals call it (well two syllables is quicker to say than five), is being feted as possibly the best place for Pinot Noir in New Zealand – and therefore a contender for the world outside BurXXXdy. But it is also home to some magnificent Chardonnay and Riesling.

This is just off dry, but you don’t notice the sweetness unless you look for it. Instead, there’s a kiss of sugar enhancing the fruitiness. If it was a young bottle that would have been about it, and very nice it would be too. But this 2011 has close to four years bottle age, so has now developed considerable tertiary flavours and (in particular) aromas.

Aged Riesling is one of the “holy grails” that wine aficionados look for, and of all wines that deserve to be given a chance to age, it’s the big R. To the uninitiated, descriptions of petrol, diesel or even Jet A1 sound far from appealing, but they are enchanting.

The aromas coming off this Wild Earth Riesling were so beguiling that they would have kept me happy all afternoon…though I knew there were lots more wine to taste!

3 Coto de Gomariz DO Ribeiro 2012 (Distinctive Drinks, €20.00)

Coto de Gomariz DO Ribeiro

Coto de Gomariz DO Ribeiro

Grapes: Treixadura / Godello / Loureira / Albariño

This is damned interesting wine that hails from one of Spain’s less well known wine regions, Ribeiro, close to Rías Baixas in Galicia.  Ribeiro shares many grapes with its neighbours in Galicia and just over the border into Portugal

Coto de Gomariz is a grown up wine, fine to drink on its own but perhaps a little subtle in that role. I think it would really shine at the table, where its freshness and texture would be a great partner for seafood, light poultry dishes or even just nibbles.

2 Herdade do Rocim Branco VR Alentejano 2012 (Grace Campbell Wines, €16.50)

Herdade do Rocim Branco VR Alentejano 2012

Herdade do Rocim Branco VR Alentejano 2012

Grapes: Antão Vaz / Arinto / Roupeiro

You might never have heard of the grapes before, but don’t worry, this is a quality wine. One of the attractions of Portuguese wine is that indigenous grapes are still used in the vast majority of wines, so there are still new tastes and sensations to be discovered.  As winemaking has modernised dramatically over the past few decades there are some old vines whose fruit is finally … erm… bearing fruit in the shape of quality wine.

There’s a little fresh citrus but it’s stone fruit to the fore here, peach and apricot.  It is lovely now but I could see this evolving for several years.  The quality is such that I’d happily pay a tenner more than the actual price.

1 Louis Jadot “Bourgogne Blanc” AC Bourgogne 2013 (Findlater WSG, €18.50)

Louis Jadot “Bourgogne Blanc” AC Bourgogne 2013

Louis Jadot “Bourgogne Blanc” AC Bourgogne 2013

Grape: Chardonnay

It’s rare that I would countenance picking up a white Burgundy saying just that – and no more than that – on the label. It’s close to the bottom of the many rungs in Burgundy and so is often used for collecting dilute, unripe and characterless grapes together into a big vat and charging money for the B word.

Jadot take a different approach and are highly selective about the grapes that go into their Bourgogne Blanc. I suspect that some were grown in more prestigious appellations and declassified, as well as growers outside the posh areas who value quality as well as quantity.

Oak is apparent on the nose, though at the tasting this was emphasised by the ISO/INAO tasting glasses which don’t allow Chardonnay to shine (or many grapes, to be Frank). As well as citrus and a hint of stone fruit there’s a lovely creamy texture to this wine, most likely the result of lees stirring. The oak is soft and well integrated on the palate, it doesn’t overpower the fruit in any way.

Real fruit, real oak, and most importantly, the fruit to justify the oak.  This is a real bargain in my eyes and was my favourite white wine of the tasting.