In Praise of Co-operatives – Part 1 – Setting the Scene

The greatest wines on earth aren’t made by co-operatives. Whether your preference is for Claret, Barolo, Burgundy or Champagne, co-operatives aren’t ranked in the upper echelons of each region’s producers.

Way down the quality scale, a lot of ordinary wine is made by co-operatives – owned by a multitude of producers who can’t afford their own vinification and maturation space and equipment – who make wine to suit growers’ yields and production decisions rather than quality.

Cave de Turckheim

Cave de Turckheim

It’s often the lower common denominator type of wine – it follows the DO / DOC / AOC regulations and is somewhat faithful to variety and terroir, but it’s just a bit ordinary. Dilute, but rarely bad. Humdrum. Boring! (There, I said it!)

Acknowledging all of the above, this series aims to highlight the better co-operatives…those which, if they don’t hit the heights, certainly make wines in the top quartile of quality, that are both interesting and value for money.  The better co-operatives are becoming increasingly skilled not just at wine-making but also at marketing specific bottlings designed to look and taste every bit as distinctive as the individually produced competition.

La Chablisienne

La Chablisienne

The worst co-operatives play almost exclusively with subsidies and politics. Co-operatives are at their strongest in areas where wine’s selling price is relatively low and where the average size of individual holdings is small, although co-operatives are also quite significant in Champagne and there are several in the Médoc, for example. The majority of wine co-operatives were formed in the early 1930s in the immediate aftermath of the Depression.

As you will see, most of the co-operatives covered in this series are in Europe, specifically France.

The former is down to ownership patterns, particularly those jurisdictions that have Napoleonic inheritance laws (splitting properties equally between children of each generation). With a growing population this can result in vignerons (and other farmers of course) owning smaller and smaller land holdings to the point where, unless the land is in one of the very best appellations, there isn’t sufficient economic scale to justify making, bottling and maturing wine on the property.

Le Mesnil sur Oger, Champagne

Le Mesnil sur Oger, Champagne

This leaves a “grape farmer” with restricted choices – sell his or her grapes to a négociant or join a co-operative. The first usually carries lower risk, though certainly lower income. The second has the potential for a little more control and a share in the surplus.

And why will this series focus on France? The simple reason is that I am far more familiar with French wine than that of any other European country!

Some of the forthcoming articles in the series:

Part 2 – La Chablisienne (Chablis)
Part 3 – Cave de Turckheim (Alsace)
Part 4 – Le Mesnil (Champagne)

 

 

 

 

Essential Wine Accessories (that won’t break the bank) – Part 2

If you’re a budding wine drinker (or you know one) looking to ensure you have the most essential wine accessories, but without laying out big bucks, this is the right guide for you.

PART 2 – Something to pour the wine into – decanter

Posh decanter

Posh decanter

Decanters are a statement and the centrepiece of every wine aficionado’s dining table. Showing off aside, there are two main reasons to decant a wine:

1. To separate the wine from its sediment

If a wine – particularly red wine – is mature, it might well have developed some sediment. It’s perfectly harmless, but can taste unpleasantly crunchy, and looks quite unsightly.

Sediment is usually the sign of a well-made wine that hasn’t been fined or filtered too much; these techniques remove tiny solid particles that might eventually fall out as sediment, but they also take out some of the flavour compounds which made a wine so enjoyable.

Vintage port is a great example of a wine that throws a sediment.  It’s usually bottled quite young and not opened until after a few decades.  Look at this contraption:

Port Decanting Cradle

Port Decanting Cradle

Turning the handle slowly tilts the bottle, and hopefully the sediment is visible from the light of the candle, so you can pour the wine but stop it just before the sludge.

Sediment is far less common with white wine, and usually comes in the form of white crystals.  Again these are natural and not harmful – they are tartrate crystals, and their occurrence is often due to a positive quality decision by the winemaker.

2. To let the wine breathe

Here are two statements for you to evaluate, true or false:

A: Virtually every wine will benefit from some time to breathe

B: Simply opening a bottle is a perfectly fine way of letting the wine breathe

Whaddya think?

Well it is all down to opinion, but I reckon that A = True and B = False

As a general rule, the younger the wine the more time it needs to breathe properly.  This allows chemicals in the wine to react with oxygen in the air and hence aromas and flavours are unlocked.  Tannins taste softer, so young red wines really do benefit.

And as for just opening a bottle of wine to let it breathe, so little of the wine comes into contact with air that the effect is almost negligible over a few hours.  If you don’t have any sort of decanting device to hand, then just pour a glass and that will speed things up!

A word of caution for older wines – if fully decanted, which might well be desirable if they have thrown a sediment, they will go out of condition if left for too long.  I have experienced something similar at vertical tastings where wines have been poured out well in advance of tasting, and some from the last millennium were already deteriorating.

So, if you are on a budget, what sort of decanter should you go for?

I would argue that a simple glass jug will do a fine job, without costing the earth.  So how about this:

Ikea Vanlig Pitcher

Ikea Vanlig Pitcher

Less than 5 Euros/Pounds/Dollars etc – and stackable!

Now, if you want to take a bottle of wine to a dinner party or BYO restaurant, but also want to decant it to show it at its best, what do you do?  Double decanting is the answer!  So you’ve poured the wine into your glass jug / decanter, and want to get it back into the bottle without spilling.

The budget wine accessory you’re looking for is a Stainless steel funnel:

Stainless Steel Funnel

Stainless Steel Funnel

 Part 3 will look at something to drink the wine out of…

Essential Wine Accessories (that won’t break the bank) – Part 1

If you’re a budding wine drinker (or you know one) looking to ensure you have the most essential wine accessories, but without laying out big bucks, this is the right guide for you.

PART 1 – Something to open the bottle – Corkscrew

Of course if you only ever drink screwcapped wine then you won’t need a corkscrew, but although some great wine is available with a tin lid there’s still lots out there that isn’t.

DO GET one (or more) of the following:

1. A foil cutter

Foil cutter

Foil cutter

Using one of these is quicker and safer than a knife for cutting the foil off bottle tops.  It’s also somehow more satisfying.  Not expensive so grab a few!

2. A waiter’s friend

Waiter's friend

Waiter’s friend

There’s a reason this has its name, it’s probably the most efficient and easy to use design, but compact enough to slip into a pocket.  Sometimes has a bargain extra crown cap opener as well.

3. A waiter’s friend with double hinge

Waiter's friend with double hinge

Waiter’s friend with double hinge

For long corks where a regular waiter’s friend just can’t reach, this is just the ticket.  Also, for delicate corks that threaten to break when they are slightly bent on opening, the double hinge lets you minimise this.

4. A waiter’s friend with foil cutter

Waiter's friend with foil cutter

Waiter’s friend with foil cutter

The best of 1 and 2 above!  What’s not to like?  This is actually my favourite design, I have about a dozen around the house.

DON’T GET any of these:

5. Screwpull

Screwpull

Screwpull

Yes these look(ed) delightfully trendy, and gadgety, and …well…blokey, but it’s heavy and cumbersome, and it’s just total overkill.  As for the ones attached to a bar, don’t get me started…

6.Twin wing lever with solid core

Twin lever wing corkscrew

Twin lever wing corkscrew

This just destroys the cork so it might not even get back into the bottle, never mind be relatively airtight to serve as a stopper for a day or two.  Unfortunately they are fairly commonplace.  There are versions which don’t have a solid core, but to be quite honest they still look crap!

If you have a favourite, or you disagree with any of the above, leave a comment and let me know!

Part 2 will look at something to pour the wine into…

Build – A little more from WineMason

Masonry

Masonry

My article in the latest edition of The Taste gives some of my recommendations from the WineMason portfolio tasting I attended many weeks back.  Here are a few more fresh whites which I loved but didn’t have room for on The Taste:

Eichinger Grüner Veltliner “Wechselberg” Kamptal 2013 (€23, 64 Wine, Redmond’s)

Wechselberg

A step up from an entry level summer style of Grüner, this has more weight, more flavour and more interest. The nose gets you first – nectarine and peach – followed by a fruit explosion in your mouth. This wine has sweet fruit but isn’t sugary, as linear acidity provides something for it to lean on.

If you’ve only tried junior Grüners then you owe it to yourself to try this style!

Max Ferd Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Auslese Cask 77 Mosel 2005 (€40, Redmond’s, 64 Wine)

Cask 77

Whereas its younger brother had dessert apples, this is a desert island wine, just spectacular. It’s far from cheap, but it offers great value. Auslese means “selected harvest”, so you know the grapes were picked when perfectly ripe. In the Mosel, this means they will still have refreshing acidity and lots of flavour. Now almost ten years on from harvest, this specially selected cask still has freshness but has developed more mature notes such as marmalade, peach and apricot. Lip-smackingly good!

Thanks again to Ben, Barbara and the WineMason team for an excellent tasting!

And of course, the title above was partially inspired by this favourite from the 80s:

The Housemartins – Build

check out Norman Cook’s basslines!

New Trafford

vineyard

New Trafford: De Trafford & Sijnn Winemaker’s Dinner @ Stanley’s, Dublin

Last month I had the pleasure to attend a fantastic Winemaker’s dinner at Stanley’s Restaurant in Dublin. Regular readers may remember a previous dinner event I attended there with Yves Cuilleron and his wines.  On this occasion it was the wines of David Trafford, co-hosted by importer/distributor Dr Eilis Cryan, the lady behind Kinnegar Wines of Galway.

David was originally an architect – with a few clues in the names and designs of his wines – but felt compelled to make wine in such an amazing land as Stellenbosch.  Many years later, he set up Sijnn in a hamlet down near the coast.

This tasting featured wines from both wineries, plus a starter from another Kinnegar producer:

Aperitif
Thelema Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011

Thelema Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011

Thelema Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011

For those not familiar with the term, Méthode Cap Classique (or MCC for short) is a traditional-method sparkling wine from South Africa.  Thelema are much better known for their excellent still wines, particularly their reds, but this is a serious effort.

As the Blanc de Blancs name suggests this is 100% Chardonnay.  Fulfilling the same requirements as vintage Champagne, it was (second) bottle fermented and left on the lees for three years.  It was disgorged in Sept/Oct 2014 and given an “extra-brut” dosage of 3.2 g/l.

It’s a lovely fresh, citrus style, perfect as an aperitif at this time in its life.  With a few more years it should mellow out so that more mature fruit develop and the acidity softens a little to let the bready characters from time on the lees show through.

Amuse Bouche

Crab and radish amuse bouche

Crab and radish amuse bouche

One of the things that great chefs can do is challenge your preconceptions.  The amuse bouche had radish which I don’t particularly care for, but with crab it was just heavenly.

Marinated scallops, cucumber, bergamot, fois gras butter

Marinated scallops starter

Marinated scallops starter

I love scallops, but I’m no fan of cucumber – I’ll pick it out of salads and send back a G&T that someone has stupidly infected with cucumber.  However, I have now become a convert of cucumber and mint soup – it was served in a mini tea cup on the side and was just divine!

De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012 & Sijnn White 2012

De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012

De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012

Sijnn White 2012

Sijnn White 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chenin Blanc is a versatile grape, capable of playing several different roles, though always with its trademark high acidity.  Personally, I prefer it when it has either (1) a bit of oak, (2) a bit of age or (3) a bit of sugar; without these it can be too simple or too harsh for my taste.

David Trafford has been making Chenin for twenty years.  As with all his wines only wild yeast is used for his De Trafford Chenin, and then around 15% is matured in new oak barrels.  Bingo!  The oak adds a bit of roundness and texture, but it’s not an overtly oaky wine – it’s still fresh.  Malolactic fermentation is blocked by adding a dash of sulphur and the low cellar temperature.

The Sijnn White is also Chenin based, but as well as 20% oak maturation, it also has another trick up its sleeve: Viognier!  Around 16% of the blend is Viognier which gives stunning aromatics and a tempting texture.  I now have to add a fourth type of Chenin to my list!

Guinea fowl, green asparagus, black bacon, carbonara jus

Guinea fowl main course

Guinea fowl main course

There were no weird surprises here as I’m a fan of guinea fowl.  It was tasty and succulent, with lots of additional interesting flavours from the accompaniments. Asparagus and green beans provided a contrast against the richness of the meat.

De Trafford Elevation 393 2010 & Sijnn 2010

De Trafford Elevation 393 2010

De Trafford Elevation 393 2010

Sijnn Red 2010

Sijnn Red 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For many attendees I expect this was the main (vinous) event of the evening.

Elevation is De Trafford’s flagship red.  As the 2010 is such an approachable, ripe style it has been released ahead of the 2009 which needs more time to mellow out.  This is partially due to the blend of the 2010 which was a third each of Cab Sauv, Merlot and Shiraz – there is usually a higher proportion of Cabernet in the blend which makes it a little more austere.

Although definitely fruity, the Elevation had more of a savoury aspect than many Australian Cabernet blends, for example.  South Africa really does straddle the boundaries of Old and New World.

The Sijnn Red was an altogether different blend, mainly a cross between the Rhône and the Douro: Syrah 41%; Touriga Nacional 27%; Mourvèdre 18%; Trincadeira 10%; Cabernet Sauvignon 4%.  And funnily enough, both of these influences were apparent in the finished blend – the spice, blackberry and blueberry of the Rhône were joined by the plum and prune of the Douro.  It’s quite a big wine, but totally delicious.

A fantastic wine geek fact that David gave us was that Mourvèdre needs more vine age than most other varieties before it begins producing quality fruit in reasonable quantities.

Rooibos tea custard tart, guava sorbet

Rooibos tea custard tart dessert

Rooibos tea custard tart dessert

This was so tasty that I barely managed to take a snap before wolfing it down!  You may recognise rooibos as a South African speciality – it’s a herbal tea, though often taken with milk and sugar down there.

De Trafford Straw Wine 2006

De Trafford Straw Wine 2006

De Trafford Straw Wine 2006

This might be something of a mystery for many – a straw wine?  The name is a translation of Vin de Paille – pronounced “van de pie” – which is the French term for this style of dessert wine.

It starts as 100% Chenin Blanc grapes, picked at normal ripeness.  The grapes are then dried outside on mats for three weeks, partially in the shade and partially in the sun.  The must takes a whole year to ferment, followed by two years maturation in 225L barriques (60% French and 40% American).

The finished product has a high 230 g/L of residual sugar, but with a streak of Chenin acidity it remains balanced and far from cloying.

Thanks to David, Eilis, Morgan, Stephen, Patrick and all the staff at Stanley’s for a wonderful evening!

The Field of Dreams – Tinto Pesquera

pesque02gk-is-510

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…