Book Review: Wilson On Wine 2015: The Wines To Drink This Year

John Wilson

John Wilson

Wine consultant and Irish Times wine correspondent John Wilson has authored and edited numerous wine books over the past decade or so.  In the great tradition of Hugh Johnson, Oz Clarke and Blue Peter, his latest annual has been released just before the start of the year whose name it bears.  Of course, that makes it an ideal Christmas present…

Wilson On Wine 2015 (front cover)

Wilson On Wine 2015 (front cover)

Content

It covers the top 123 most interesting wines that he has tasted during the year and are available somewhere in Ireland, mainly from independent wine merchants.  Without beavering away to confirm the fact, I think that many of the wines will be available in other territories such as the UK and USA.

Format

Rather than a simple alphabetical or geographical listing, the wines are divided into the following categories:

  • Sparkling wines
  • Crisp refreshing white wines
  • Fresh and fruity white wines
  • Rich and rounded white wines
  • Light and elegant red wines
  • Rounded and fruity red wines
  • Rich and full-bodied red wines
  • Fortified wines

The heading on each wine is helpfully colour coordinated with the category for those of you who aren’t colour blind (I am!)

Example of a wine featured

Example of a wine featured

Each wine then gets two pages which contain:

  • Name, area of origin and vintage
  • A picture of the wine (to help you find it on the shelf!)
  • Price and stockists
  • Alcohol level
  • Tasting note (fairly concise, not flowery or obtuse, meaningful & helpful for most readers)
  • Drink with (i.e. food matching suggestion)
  • Style
  • Grape variety
  • Backstory (the story behind the grape, the area or the producer – accessible but definitely interesting to wine geeks such as myself)

Roadtest

A Book, A Bottle, A Glass

A Book, A Bottle, A Glass

To properly assess the book I thought it only right and proper to test it by pouring one of the featured wines and comparing my thoughts to the written entry.  I think it fair to say that there are some wines John likes that I’m not quite as keen on, and vice versa – but isn’t that the beauty of wine?

One type of wine we both adore is German Riesling, so I poured myself a glass of Geil Riesling Trocken 2013 from Rheinhessen.  The Tasting Note reads “Free-flowing fresh and spritzy with delicate apple fruits.  Summer in a glass.”  Although I am enjoying this wine on a cold December night he has it summed up perfectly.

Verdict

A useful and well-written book that will encourage me to drink 123 wines in 2015!

My Favourites from the James Nicholson Christmas Portfolio Tasting (Part two)

Part one of my report covered some delicious sparkling and white wines.  Now it’s time to focus on the red wines that I really liked at the James Nicholson Christmas Portfolio Tasting:

Vignobles Alain Maurel Château Ventenac La Réserve de Jeanne 2012 (€15.45)

Domaine Vententac La Reserve de Jeanne 2012

Château  Ventenac La Réserve de Jeanne 2012

An unusual (officially speaking) but traditional (entirely off the record) blend of Bordeaux and Rhône varieties, this typically consists of Cabernet Franc (30%), Merlot (30%), Syrah (35%) and Grenache (5%), though the precise assemblage is vintage-dependent.  There is a long tradition of using robust and fruity wines from the Rhône to add a bit of oomph to Burgundy and fruitiness to Bordeaux.  In Australia the Shiraz-Cabernet blend is an established part of the winescape, but only recently have premium multi-region blends started to reappear in France.

Vignobles Alain Maurel is based near Carcasonne in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Domaine Ventenac is used for everyday-drinking varietal wines whereas Château Ventenac is for terroir-driven more complex wines under the Cabardes AOC.

Vinification is in large stainless stell tanks.  The grapes are cold soaked for five days then fermented at 28°C.  The juice is pumped over every day for the whole 35 days of the process.  10% of the blend spends 12 months in American oak barriques and 90% spends 12 months in slightly porous concrete  tanks.

Although in the south of France the aspect of the vineyards enables the wines to be kept fresh rather than jammy.  This wine exhibits lots of herb and spice characters, particularly liquorice, with acidity keeping it interesting.  An absolute steal at this price!

Societa  Agricola Piero Busso Barbaresco Mondino DOCG 2009 (€39.50) & Barbaresco San Stunet DOCG 2008 (€57.50)

Societa  Agricola Busso Barbaresco Mondino DOCG 2008

Societa Agricola Piero Busso Barbaresco Mondino DOCG 2008

I couldn’t decide which I preferred of this pair so I put them both in!  Produced in the “other” top wine area of Piedmont’s Langhe (the more famous being Barolo) this is a 100% Nebbiolo. If you are interested in the differences between the two areas then Kerin O’Keefe’s new book “Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine” is a great place to look further.

The winery was founded by Piero’s father in 1953 and is still a family affair – his wife Lucia, his daughter Emanuela and his son Pierguido are all intimately involved in the vineyard and the winery.  Fermentation is in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and then maturation is 18 months in large oak barrels with a further 6 months in bottle.

The biggest difference between the two wines was explained as the altitude of the respective vineyards; the Mondino is at 190 M whereas the San Stunet Stefanet M.  The obvious implication is that temperatures tend to be cooler at higher altitudes and the wines are “cooler” as a consequence.  On tasting, both wines showed power and tannin but finesse.  The Mondino was more feminine in character, and the San Studet Stefanetto was definitely masculine.  For Bordeaux lovers, Margaux v Pauillac is something of an illustration.

So which would I chose?  I’m not sure the San Studet Stefanetto is worth the price premium for my palate so I’d buy the Mondino – but if someone else was paying then definitely the former!

Cline Vineyards Sonoma Coast Cool Climate Pinot Noir 2012 (€18.45)

Cline Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012

Cline Vineyards Sonoma Coast Cool Climate Pinot Noir 2012

I was lucky enough to taste this wine when James Nicholson had a table at the Big Ely Tasting (keep your eyes peeled for the post(s)!) and liked it so much that I was very keen to try it again at JN Wine’s own tasting.

Based in California’s Sonoma County, Fred and Nancy Cline started out by restoring old vineyards planted with Rhône varieties, then adding Zinfandel and later Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.  They produce several different quality levels, from “California Classics” up to more premium “Single Vineyard” bottlings.

This is their excellent version of a “cool climate” Pinot Noir, though “cooler” would be more fitting as it still manages to hit 14.5% abv.  The alcohol level is not apparent when tasting as the wine is so well balanced.  It’s big and powerful, yes, and more Central Otago than Marlborough, but it’s savoury and smooth rather than jammy.

Cline Vineyards Big Break Zinfandel 2011 (€29.50)

Cline Vineyards Big Break Zinfandel 2011

Cline Vineyards Big Break Zinfandel 2011

Another fine Cline wine – and if you thought the Pinot sounded big, it’s but a baby brother to this Big Zin which boasts 16.0% abv!  It is a huge wine but it’s not monstrous, it’s well balanced and tasty.  Black fruit rules here, with stewed, dried and fresh plums, black cherry and blackberry, along with toasted notes from the oak, and framed by firm tannins.

It’s not a summer afternoon wine, but now winter is upon us it very much fits the bill of what I want in my glass.

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My Favourites from the James Nicholson Christmas Portfolio Tasting (Part one)

James Nicholson is an award-winning wine merchant based in Northern Ireland.  For over 35 years he has been supplying wines wholesale, to restaurants and to the public, all over the island of Ireland.

James Nicholson, Crossgar

James Nicholson, Crossgar

I was recently invited to their “Meet The Winemakers” tasting event in Dublin – a great opportunity to speak to the people who produce the wine, and of course to taste it!

Although it was difficult to narrow it down, here are a few of the sparkling and white wines that I really liked:

Quinta Soalheiro Alvarinho Espumante 2012 (€28.50)

Quinta Soalheiro Alvarinho Espumante 2012

Quinta Soalheiro Alvarinho Espumante 2012

Heading south from Rías Baixas in Galicia takes you over the border into Portugal and Albariño becomes Alvarinho.  All good so far – and I often prefer the Portuguese stuff.  But what’s this – a fizzy version?

Made by the traditional method, i.e. there’s a second alcoholic fermentation in bottle, this is fresh and fruity – and it’s real rather than artificial fruit.  This might sound a bit silly – but it tastes just like you’d expect a fizzy version of Alvarinho to taste!

This is an excellent aperitif – and a refreshing different taste. 

Nino Franco Prosecco San Floriano 2012 (€30.50)

Nino Franco Prosecco San Floriano 2012

Nino Franco Prosecco San Floriano 2012

Nino Franco’s Primo Franco recently won the trophy for best Prosecco in Tom Stephenson’s “Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships”.  The fact that there is a Prosecco category at all is not a sop to the producers of off-dry fruity pop, but rather it’s recognition that Prosecco can be a serious sparkling if the producer wishes.

Produced from a single vineyard after which it is named, San Floriano is made by the Charmat (or tank) method like all other Prosecco, but has four months on the lees while in tank, and therefore picks up a little autolytic character.  It’s also dry and savoury, so it tastes like a serious wine – you could easily drink this with a meal as well as the usual aperitif.

Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009 (€46.99)

Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009

Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs 2009

My favourite wine of the whole tasting!

The Gusbourne Estate in south east England dates back to 1410, though sparkling wine production has a much more recent history – the first vintage was in 2006!  The main vineyard is on a south facing ancient escarpment in Appledore, Kent.  The soil are clay and sandy loam slopes – you might expect chalk given the proximity to the White Cliffs of Dover, but it does mean that Gusbourne copes better with wet weather and drought.

Blankety-blanks (as I childishly call them) are sometimes on the simple side but this spent a full three years on the lees which gives it lots of lovely bready characters, in addition to lemon sherbet from the Chardonnay.  Being an English sparkler it has lots of zippy acidity with a dosage of 10.5 g/L for balance (I guessed 10 – 11, can’t get much closer than that!)  This style of wine makes a great aperitif or goes wonderfully with seafood.

Villa Wolf Gewürztraminer 2013 (Loosen Estate) (€14.99)

Villa Wolf Gewürztraminer 2013

Villa Wolf Gewürztraminer 2013

Although I’m a huge fan of Alsace wines, sometimes I find the Gewurztraminers made there a little dry for my tastes.  Just like Pinot Gris, I prefer my Gewurz to have a little sweetness on the finish to match the richness of the mid palate.  This off dry German Gewürztraminer (note the umlaut over the u) ticks all the boxes for me!  The most aromatic of varieties, the nose is instantly recognisable, with rose petals and lychees jumping out of the glass.  Added to these on the palate is Turkish Delight.

Gewürz is something of a marmite variety, but this is an excellent introduction.

Château Beauregard Pouilly Fuissé Vers Cras 2011 (€37.00)

Château Beauregard Pouilly Fuissé Vers Cras 2011

Château Beauregard Pouilly Fuissé Vers Cras 2011

One of the first things aspiring wine geeks learn is the difference between Pouilly-Fumé and Pouilly-Fuissé; although they’re both French and white they are stylistically very different.  The former is one of France’s top two Sauvignon Blanc areas, just over the river from the more celebrated Sancerre.  Pouilly-Fuissé is the most important appellation within the Mâconnais, the most southerly region of Burgundy proper.

Compared to the much more prestigious Côte d’Or, The Mâconnais has gentler slopes and mixed agriculture – and being a bit further south it gets more sun, so its grapes tend to be riper.  Accompanying that is a tendency to use oak barrels quite liberally, especially in the better appellations, so the wines become more New World in style.  Although the producer is still very important, Pouilly-Fuissé and St-Véran are white Burgundies that I would happily order from a restaurant wine menu without recognising the maker.

Château Beauregard is one of the top producers of Pouilly Fuissé.  Its standard 2012 bottling (€28.75) is showing very nicely now, but I would be a little more patient and pick up the single vineyard Vers Cras.  Although a year younger it had a lot more time in oak and so is not yet quite fully integrated.  There’s lots of tropical fruit and toasty vanilla from the barrel ageing.

It’s not the currently fashionable cool climate style but it’s a wine I’d happily drink all evening from big fishbowl glasses.

Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (€30.00)

Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010

This is Marlborough Sauvignon Jim, but not as we know it.

For those who don’t know Dog Point, the founders James Healy and Ivan Sutherland are both ex-Cloudy Bay.  As well as producing their own wine they sell grapes to other winemakers, including former colleague Kevin Judd who makes his Greywacke wines in their facility.

NZ Sauvignon can be sometimes be summed up as “the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long” – it has riotous explosions of fruit in its youth but fades quickly.  This elegant example from Dog Point is designed to age and evolve positively.  It spent 18 months in older French oak barrels so has plenty of texture and refinement.  It has the tropical fruit of regular Savvy plus peach and other stone fruit – it’s just such a pleasure to drink.  There’s a funky edge from the wild yeast, and as malolactic fermentation was blocked there’s plenty of fresh acidity.

 

Part two looks at a few of my favourite reds from the tasting!

Book Review: Sediment: Two Gentlemen and Their Mid-Life Terroirs

If Jack Dee wrote a wine blog, it might read something like this…

Charles Jennings and Paul Keers, writing as CJ and PK respectively, have been blogging together for half a decade, ostensibly on the subject on wine.  Their blog isn’t really about wine per se, it’s more about the everyday and absurdities of middle age middle class life refracted through an empty wine bottle.  And it will be empty because, as their motto goes, “I’ve bought it, so I’ll drink it”.

This book is a collection of some of their favourite posts.  You might not get any tips on interesting new wines to try, but you’re highly likely to find yourself grinning in recognition, wincing at some of the descriptions or laughing out loud at some of the situations. Befriending a wine merchant?  Joining a wine club?  Buying bin ends in supermarkets? They’re all in here.

There’s something for the casual tippler right up to serious wine lovers. Most of us wine drinkers are on a journey, and whether we are starting out on the road all freshly packed or seasoned travellers seeking the next thrill, we’re on all a similar path. We’ve all started somewhere, so we recognise the trials and tribulations that others have encountered.

Ladies don’t read this bit – look away now
Gents: This is the sort of book which might well find a home in your bathroom for times when you just want to read a few pages.  Nuff said.

Available from Amazon UK

Competition!

Frankly Wines has 2 copies to give away just in time for Christmas.  To enter, please answer the question below by email to frankiecook72 at gmail.com by noon on Friday 12/12/14 and put Sediment in the subject line.  If there are more than 2 correct answers then 2 will be pulled from a hat

Q: which language does the term “terroir” come from?

Good luck!

Disclosure: the copies for review and prizes were provided by John Blake Publishing Ltd.

Highlights from the Lidl Xmas Tasting (Part two)

Part one covered the sparklers and the whites, now here’s a look at some of the red wines which I enjoyed at the Lidl Xmas Press Tasting:

Bordeaux Superieur AOP 2012 (€7.49)

Bordeaux Supérieur AOP

Bordeaux Supérieur AOP 2012

This is traditional fare to go with steak or roast beef.  I’m sure someone could also recommend a cheese this would be a great match for…but that someone’s not me!  Ignore the Supérieur part of the label – it means the wine is at least 10.5% alcohol versus 10.0% for Bordeaux on its own – and in the last few decades missing that target has been rare.

Soft black fruit wrapped up in silky tannins, this is proper Bordeaux at a properly low price. A majority of Merlot gives plum and blackcurrant with just a touch of leather.  Decant for a few hours to help it open up.

Cepa Lebrel Rioja DOCa Joven 2013 (€6.99)

Cepa Lebrel Rioja DOCa Joven 2013

Cepa Lebrel Rioja DOCa Joven

Cepa Lebrel Rioja DOCa Crianza 2011 (€7.99)

Cepa Lebrel Rioja DOCa Crianza 2011

Cepa Lebrel Rioja DOCa Crianza

Cepa Lebrel Rioja DOCa Reserva 2009 (€8.99)

Cepa Lebrel Rioja DOCa Reserva 2009

Cepa Lebrel Rioja DOCa Reserva 2009

I’ve grouped these three together as they showcase three of the four main styles of Rioja.

The style is taken as an indicator of quality but for me it’s down to personal preferences. Do you like fresh, vibrant red fruit or creamy vanilla with black fruit?  Or perhaps somewhere in between?  Here’s your chance to find out for yourself – buy a bottle of each and try them all together (but don’t finish them all at once on your own!)

The classification requirements are for more time in barrel and bottle before releases, hence the difference in vintages. The barrel ageing really comes through on the nose and palate, with the Reserva showing the most American oak character, though not dried out wood.

Medici Riccardi Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2012 (€9.99)

Medici Riccardi Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2012

Medici Riccardi Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2012

For those new to the name it is a Sangiovese dominated blend (known locally as Morellino) produced in coastal Tuscany.  While not as intense as the much more famous Chianti Classico or Brunello di Montalcino, it nevertheless provides a very enjoyable, velvety wine.  As is typical for the variety, black cherry and liquorice are the main flavours.  Tannin and acidity are present but correct.

Medici Riccardi Sangiovesi / Shiraz IGT Toscana 2011 (€19.99)

Medici Riccardi Sangiovesi / Shiraz IGT Toscana 2011

Medici Riccardi Sangiovesi / Shiraz IGT Toscana 2011

A step down the official quality ladder, but a doubling in price?  It’s not quite as straightforward as that – and it rarely is in Italy!  Shiraz is actually a good partner for Sangiovese, taming the tannin and acidity, and adding juicy fruit, body and power.  Too high a proportion of Shiraz in the blend means that the producer cannot use the Chianti label – but IGT Toscana is a recognised label in its own right thanks to the Supertuscans (see here).

This wine combines the cherry of Sangiovese and the blackberry of Shiraz.  It’s a serious wine, well worth splashing out on.

Medici Riccardi Sangiovesi / Cabernet Sauvignon IGT Toscana 2011 (€19.99)

Medici Riccardi Sangiovesi / Cabernet Sauvignon IGT Toscana 2011

Medici Riccardi Sangiovesi / Cabernet Sauvignon IGT Toscana 2011

If you followed what I wrote for the previous wine, just imagine Cabernet Sauvignon replacing Shiraz in the blend.  Still lots of juicy fruit, but blackcurrant rather than blackberry.  Twelve months ageing in oak barrels also gives vanilla notes.  If you can’t decide which of the two to go for – buy them both!

 

 

 

Highlights from the Lidl Xmas Tasting (Part one)

In the UK and Ireland, cost-conscious shoppers (i.e. most of them nowadays) are increasingly moving from traditional supermarkets to the German budget chains Aldi and Lidl.  So is there anything for the wine lover there?  A previous post covered the highlights from the Aldi press tasting, now I look at a few of my favourite fizzy and white wines from the Lidl Ireland press tasting:

Champagne Bissinger Premium Cuvée Brut NV (€29.99)

Champagne Bissinger Premium Cuvée Brut NV

Champagne Bissinger Premium Cuvée Brut NV

Straight to the main event: this is a long-standing favourite of mine from Lidl and my favourite wine of the whole tasting.  The blend is 60% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay so expect lots of strawberry on the nose and on the palate.  There’s also plenty of toasty and yeasty complexity, with a pleasing dry finish.  I suspect the dosage is quite modest compared to the standard Lidl offerings from Champagne, so less of a crowd-pleaser but better balanced.  I’d be happy to drink this anytime!

Crémant d’Alsace Brut NV (€10.49)

Crémant d'Alsace Brut NV

Crémant d’Alsace Brut NV

A couple of hours drive east from Reims takes you to Alsace, and France’s second most (domestically) consumed sparkling wine.  Of course Alsace has much more than that, but its fizz is very approachable and good value.  The grapes permitted include most of those allowed in still Alsace – Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois Blanc – plus the world’s favourite white grape for fizz, Chardonnay, which is definitely not permitted in still Alsace.  In practice Pinot Blanc is often the biggest component.

The minimum for non-vintage is nine months on the lees (c.f. fifteen in Champagne) so fruit is to the fore – and that’s what you get here.  Apple is the primary note, but there’s also a lovely honeyed aspect.  This is a fairly simple fizz but one that I would quaff in preference to most Prosecco or Cava.

Chablis AOC 2012 (€11.99)

Chablis AOC 2012

Chablis AOC 2012

From the most northerly outpost of Burgundy, Chablis is (almost always) a 100% varietal Chardonnay.  Especially at the basic AOC/AOP level, it is usually unoaked and steely rather than lush and buttery.  In fact, it’s not unknown for people who don’t like “Chardonnay” to love Chablis.  Go figure.  Now that the wine fashion needle is pointing firmly at “cool climate”, it’s a wonder that Chablis isn’t even more popular.

Vintage is important here, not for the vintage itself but for the age of the wine – Chablis is often released too young, but this has an extra year on many now appearing on the shelf. This has given it a bit of time to settle down and integrate. It shows typical green apple and lemon fruit on the palate with racy acidity to keep it fresh but not austere.  Smoked salmon starter over Christmas?  This would do nicely!

Mâcon-Villages AOP 2013 (€9.99)

Macon-Villages AOP 2013

Mâcon-Villages AOP 2013

Mâcon is the most southerly district of Burgundy proper, before the soils change to the granite of Beaujolais.  The top villages have their own AOCs – think Pouilly-Fuissé, St-Véran, etc. – then the next level down add their name to Mâcon, thus Mâcon-Igé and Mâcon-Uchizy.  Another level down again is Mâcon-Villages – still a good wine in the right hands.

Of course this is still Chardonnay, and as we’re quite far south here there’s often a tropical note to the fruit. This example showed lemon and ripe grapefruit with a pleasant round mouthfeel. There’s a touch of oak, I’d suggest a few months in one to three year old barrels, but it doesn’t dominate.

Gavi DOCG 2013 (€7.49)

Gavi DOCG 2013

Gavi DOCG 2013

So lightening does strike twice! After unexpectedly recommending a Gavi from arch rivals Aldi, I’m now doing the same at Lidl!  Again it’s not the most complex wine but it’s got plenty of pear and soft stone fruit. Acidity is high but refreshingly so – very drinkable.

Cimarosa Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (€8.49)

Cimarosa Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Cimarosa Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013

2013 was a great year in Marlborough, and it shows in this well-made savvy. This is one to drink now rather than save for next summer, while it’s still got zing.  The nose is unmistakably Marlborough – grapefruit and passion-fruit – followed up by a big round mouthful of fruit. Great value for money.

Part two will cover my favourite red wines from the tasting.

The BIG Rhône Tasting at Ely Bar and Brasserie, Dublin (Part two)

Part one gave the background to the BIG Rhône tasting at Ely as part of Rhône Wine Week in Ireland and some of the whites which really caught my eye.

So now we’re on to the main event:

thinkredthinkCDRW vertical

Of course the Rhône is much more celebrated for its red wines, so below are some of the red beauties that really stood out for me (in no particular order).  Once again, apologies for the image quality – the low light downstairs at Ely is very atmospheric but smartphone cameras struggle.

Pierre Gaillard Cornas 2012 (Mitchell & Son, €45.99)

Pierre Gaillard Cornas 2012

Pierre Gaillard Cornas 2012

The only AOC (well AOP now, but you know what I mean) that mandates 100% Syrah, Cornas in the northern Rhône is reputed to be rustic – and given the label you might have no reason to think otherwise – but this was anything but rustic.  Pierre Gaillard’s most southerly vineyard is a parcel of old vines over the age of 70, situated on altered granite slopes, offering good drainage and warmth from the hot temperatures of its micro-climate.

Perhaps it’s modern, hygienic winemaking equipment that banishes rusticity, or maybe the east-facing aspect of the vineyard that endows the wine with power.  Whatever the cause, it’s a delicious wine that showcases some of the best that Rhône Syrah can do.  There is bacon and black olives, pepper and spice, but above all refined power from the fruit.

As a former Cornas doubter, I doubt no more.

M. Chapoutier Rasteau 2012 (Findlater, €19.99)

M. Chapoutier Rasteau 2012

M. Chapoutier Rasteau 2012

Maison M. Chapoutier (M for Max, then his sons Michel and Marc) produces wine from all across the Rhône region, though is most well known for their top Hermitage wines, of both colours.  Chapoutier’s wine labels are distinctive because of their raised Braille dots on the labels – and as a happy coincidence they are aesthetically pleasing for sighted people as well.

Rasteau AOC was well known as a Vin Doux Naturel for a long time, its dry reds were Côtes du Rhônes Villages-Rasteau until their promotion with effect from the 2009 vintages.  It is therefore one of the more modest Cru but this bottle really delivers – plump red and black fruit from the Grenache, with a little spicy edge from the Syrah.  At a fairly modest price this is something that would stand up to hearty winter dishes but would be great sipped out of a big glass on its own.

Château de Montmirail Gigondas “Cuvée de Beauchamp” 2012 (Didier Fiat, €26.00)

Château de Montmirail Gigondas "Cuvée de Beauchamp" 2012

Château de Montmirail Gigondas “Cuvée de Beauchamp” 2012

Gigondas is now the unofficial second-ranked Cru in the southern Rhône behind Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  With the heavy, embossed bottle there’s no doubt it’s trying to ape its more famous neighbour.  A small amount of rosé is made here, but the main event is the red, made from a maximum 80% Grenache, a minimum 15% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre, then the balance made up of certain other Rhône varieties.

The Cuvée de Beauchamp consists of 75% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre, a classic GSM blend.  It’s big and powerful without being jammy – supercharged strawberries was my main tasting note!

Les Vignerons d’Estézargues Côtes du Rhône Villages-Signargues “Sy” 2012 (Tyrrell & Co, €22.00)

Les Vignerons d'Estézargues Côtes du Rhônes Villages-Signargues "Sy" 2012

Les Vignerons d’Estézargues Côtes du Rhônes Villages-Signargues “Sy” 2012

“Sy” is actually short for Syrah which is 90% of this blend which is almost unheard of from the Southern Rhône – and this area is within touching distance of the Mediterranean, it’s so far south.  The southerly latitude accounts for the additional weight and power compared to average Rhône Syrahs – 14.5% alcohol and a huge mouthfeel.

The high proportion of Syrah planted in the area is a result of moving from mixed agriculture (particularly olives) to predominantly viticulture in the 1960s – landowners were free to choose the most appropriate Rhône variety and many went for the prestigious Syrah.

Of all the Rhône Syrahs I’ve tasted recently this is the closest to a New World Shiraz.  Blackberry and plum with exotic spice combine on the palate, with enough acidity to keep it from being blowsy.  Every New World Shiraz fan should try this!

Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2012 (Tyrrell & Co, €45.00)

Château Pesquié Ventoux "Artemia" 2012

Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2012

Like a drunken reveller leaving a nightclub, Ventoux has dropped its Côtes, which signifies a step up in status and quality.  Although it is situated in the southerly reaches of the Rhône, the cool winds coming off the Mont de Ventoux and Valcluse mountains help maintain acidity and freshness.

Château Pesquié is named after the Provençal word for a fishpond – springs and natural water sources being very important in such a warm climate.  Artemia is their premium bottling made of equal parts of Grenache and Syrah, both from low-yielding sites.  All the grapes are handpicked and after ruthless selection they are destemmed and given a long fermentation and maceration.  Malo and maturation take place over 18 months in 50% new and 50% two and three year old oak barrels.

Everything about the making of this wine is designed to make it epic!

And is it!  It’s rich and unctuous, dark black fruit and spice compete for your attention.  But it’s not all about big fruit, there’s also acidity and minerality there.  This is obviously very very young, but it is already drinkable.  Do you mind if I say “epic” again?

Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2006 en magnum (n/a)

Château Pesquié Ventoux "Artemia" 2006 en magnum

Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2006 en magnum

Just to show what the wines look like with a bit – but only a bit – of age, Monsieur Chaudière brought along a magnum of Artemia 2006, the third release.

Even accounting for the slower ageing in magnum, this was still a baby.  It had started to add a few more developed notes to the primary fruit, but this will be drinking well in another fifteen years.  Want!

Domaine La Monardière “Les 2 Monardes” Vacqueyras 2010 (JN Wine, €22.85)

Domaine La Monardière Vacqueras 2010

Domaine La Monardière “Les 2 Monardes” Vacqueyras 2010

Vacqueyras became the third major Cru of the southern Rhône in 1990, and is one of the very rare AOCs that produces wine in all three colours (though is predominantly known for its red).  The Domaine was created by the Vache family (no sniggering please, it’s childish) a few years before, in 1987, and now has 20 hectares under vine.  “Monarde” is a medicinal herb similar to bergamot which grows widely in the area.

A blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah, the grapes are hand picked and sorted then fully destemmed.   Wild yeast is used rather than commercial yeast.   The two grapes are fermented separately for two to three weeks – the Syrah is punched down to extract colour, flavour and tannin, whereas the thinner skinned Grenache is treated more lightly. Maturation is 12 months in concrete tanks and barrels and then bottling is done without fining or filtration.

There’s lots of primary cherry and blackcurrant fruit here – particularly coming from the Grenache – but also lots of herbs and spices.  It’s a veritable spice rack in a bottle!

JL Chave Côtes du Rhône “Mon Coeur” 2012 (La Rousse Wines, €22.90)

JL Chave Côtes du Rhône "Mon Coeur" 2012

JL Chave Côtes du Rhône “Mon Coeur” 2012

Although this is “only” a Côtes du Rhône the quality in the bottle is a lot higher than the appellation might suggest.  It also commands a higher price than other basic CDRs, but the producer’s name carries a lot of weight.  The Chave family have been growing grapes in the Rhône for half a millennium, with the current man in charge being Jean-Louis (JL).

The fruit comes from the Southern Rhône’s northerly villages of Valréas, Vinsobres and Visan which are fairly high in altitude and have more Syrah than usual in the south – perfect for a house from Hermitage!  This is quite serious for a Côtes du Rhônes and has firm tannins, but its red and black fruits with a savoury black olive streak are just delicious!

Santa Duc Rasteau “Les Blovac” 2009 (Le Caveau, €18.45)

Santa Duc Rasteau "Les Blovacs" 2009

Santa Duc Rasteau “Les Blovac” 2009

As you might expect from Le Caveau this is an organic wine made by a small producer. After over a hundred years selling their grapes, they began making their own wines in 1985.   Their home base is in Gigondas at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, but they make wines from several appellations across the southern Rhône.  The Domaine’s name is taken from the Provençal for a calling owl which is common to the area – there’s no saint or duke involved!

Once again we have a typical southern Rhône blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre (the precise blend does change from vintage to vintage).  The grapes are picked when fully ripe, but then have a long fermentation with gentle extraction.  At five years old it’s starting to become more even interesting and adds smoky, gamey notes to the dark black fruit.   Espresso and dark chocolate make for a full house of flavour.

JL Chave Hermitage “Farconnet” 2009 (La Rousse Wines, €58.00)

JL Chave Hermitage "Farconnet" 2010

JL Chave Hermitage “Farconnet” 2010

So we’ve already seen what Chave can do with a basic Rhône appellation, now to look at the most prestigious appellation of the northern Rhône – Hermitage.  Famed as the original home of Syrah, Hermitage became almost synonymous with the grape itself – hence Penfolds icon Grange was labelled as Grange Hermitage until 1989 (though I’m not sure how it became the name for Cinsaut in South Africa!).

Ostensibly a négotiant wine, the grapes are sourced from both Chave’s own vineyards and those of long term contract growers on the western slopes of the granitic Hill of Hermitage.  The power of the vintage really comes through in the fruit – some dried but mainly fresh black berries with the signature Syrah spice.

The BIG Rhône Tasting at Ely Bar and Brasserie, Dublin (Part one)

November 2014 saw the second Rhône Wine Week extravaganza in Ireland, hugely expanded on the already successful inaugural Week in 2013.  The expansion was both geographical and in terms of the number of events – it would have been physically impossible to get to all of them, even just the Dublin ones.  Kudos to my team mates Morgan, Diarmuid and Suzanne of Team Slapshot, together we came a creditable joint 3rd in the Big Rhône Quiz.

Spearheaded by Tyrrell & Co. Wine Importers and Inter Rhône, this year other importers and venues joined the fray – see rhonewineweekireland.com for the full calendar of events and participants

This post (and the next) will concentrate on the Big Rhône Tasting held at Ely Bar and Brasserie in the IFSC, Dublin.  A former 200 year old tobacco and wine warehouse in Dublin’s Financial district, it has spectacular vaulted cellars.  My smartphone pics below of the tables set up for tasting really don’t do it justice!

Didier Fiat

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So now onto a few of the white wines that really stood out for me:

Château la Canorgue Pays du Vaucluse Viognier 2012 (Le Caveau, €18.45)

Château la Canorgue Pays du Vaucluse Viognier 2012

Château la Canorgue Pays du Vaucluse Viognier 2013

Viognier isn’t a grape I tend to pick off the shelf very often.  Some of the examples I’ve tasted have been too dry and not flavoursome enough to be enjoyed on their own; while I applaud the continental practice of drinking wine mainly at the table, the reality is that I’m far more likely to pop a cork sat in the lounge rather than the dining room.

However THIS is a Viognier that drinks very well on its own, and at a very reasonable price.  It has ripe stone fruit and an oily, rich viscosity that make it a real pleasure.

Domaine Grand Veneur Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “La Fontaine” 2012 (Mitchell & Son, €48.99)

Domaine Grand Veneur Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc "La Fontaine" 2012

Domaine Grand Veneur Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “La Fontaine” 2012

White Châteaneuf-du-Pape can be made of any or all of the six white grapes in the list of eighteen permitted grapes for the AOC.  It’s pretty rare though, making up only around 5% of total CNDP production – and even rarer is it cheap!

Made from 100% Roussanne grown in the wind-swept northern slopes of Châteauneuf, the grapes are hand picked and gently pressed.  Fermentation and maturation is carried out in oak barriques, 50% new and 50% one year old, for ten months.

Surprisingly, oak doesn’t dominate the palate – Roussanne gives a rich and fat body plus plenty of fruit which can stand up to the oaking.  As a youngster the main fruit flavour is pear – but not the pear drop flavour which is common on many modern cool-fermented whites.  Instead, imagine that you’ve been lost in a desert for a few days with nothing to eat or drink and then you find a few fresh, juicy pears – it’s that intense!

The vineyard’s windy aspect helps maintain acidity and this comes through in the freshness – it’s rich but not at all flabby.  White Châteauneuf needs a good while before it starts to develop tertiary flavours – we tasted a 2006 at the Big Rhône Quiz which was only just approaching middle age!

Eric Texier Opâle 2012 (La Rousse Wines, €21.90)

Opale Viognier

Eric Texier Opâle

And now for something completely different!  This is the first time I had come across anything like this from the Rhône – it’s a sweet Viognier, not made by fortification as with Vins Doux Naturels, but rather by reducing the temperature to stop fermentation once the must has reached 7% alcohol.  The grapes were picked early to maintain acidity so the resulting sweetness has a balance – it’s not at all cloying.

While this wine does reveal some varietal characteristics, stylistically it reminded me of a Mosel Riesling – and thankfully that’s what Monsieur Texier is aiming for.  Being fairly low in alcohol also means you can have a small glass and still drive afterwards!

Part two will be the main course – the Rhône Reds!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s A Family Affair – Antinori of Tuscany

A Brief History Of Chianti

It’s not all straw baskets and fava beans!  Chianti is a delimited area between Siena and Florence in Tuscany.  The name has been in use for over 700 years and on wines for at least 600 years, but has changed a lot over that time.

The Chianti wine producing area was one of the first to be officially demarcated anywhere in the world by the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s 1716 decree.  At that time various different grapes were used, including Canaiolo, Mammolo, Malvasia and Sangiovese.

In 1872 the Florentine statesman Baron Bettino Ricasoli (who later became Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy) decided upon and promoted a blend for Chianti based on 70% Sangovese, 15% Canaiolo, 10% Malvasia and 5% other local red varieties.  As it happens it was a Ricasoli wine that gave me my first taste of quality Chianti!

In 1932 the Italian government significantly expanded the area allowed to use the term Chianti on their labels, and created seven subdivisions within it: Classico (pretty much the original Chianti heartland), Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano and Rùfina.

Gallo Nero - Chianti Classico's Black Rooster emblem

Gallo Nero – Chianti Classico’s Black Rooster emblem

In 1967 the DOC regulations were introduced for Chianti, accompanied by a further expansion of the boundaries and mandating the use of the Ricasoli “recipe” – so all producers were forced to use 10% white Malvasia.  The expansion in vineyard area was done without great attention being paid to clones (Sangiovese mutates easily like Pinot), rootstocks or soil types, and quality fell markedly.

First Amongst Equals

The noble Florentine Antinori family (Marchese means Marquis in Italian) trace their entry into the wine trade back to 1385, though in all likelihood they cultivated grapes on their estates before then.  The current firm was founded in 1895 by the brothers Lodovico and Piero Antinori, and expanded within Tuscany and into Umbria by Piero’s son Niccolò.

Marchese Piero Antinori (front) with his daughters (L-R) Albiera, Alessia & Allegra

Marchese Piero Antinori (front) with his daughters (L-R) Albiera, Alessia & Allegra

It was Niccolò’s son Piero who really lit a fire under the company after taking the reins in 1967.  He increased the land under vine by fifteen times and constantly strove to innovate with the assistance of his oenologist Giacomo Tachis.  Now joined by his three daughters, the company has around 1,800 ha in central Italy and a further 400 ha overseas, particularly Napa.

Antinori is the biggest but also the most important producer in Chianti, and perhaps all of Italy.  They are founding members of the Primum Familiae Vini – the First Families of Wine – an association of family owned and run wineries which are in the top echelon of their respective region.

Chianti Saved by the Super-Tuscans?

Another kind of Super Tuscan

Another kind of Super Tuscan [Photo credit: The Car Spy]

Constricted by the reliance on Sangiovese, ban on foreign grapes and insistence on the inclusion of white grapes in the blend, Piero Antinori and others began experimenting outside the DOC laws.  Tignanello was released in 1971 under the humble Vina de Tavola label.  It was a Sangiovese / Cabernet Sauvignon blend aged in small barrels (quite different from the huge botti which were the norm) and caused the world to look at Tuscany again.

Tignanello label

Tignanello label

Antinori also made Solaia, and helped to launch Sassicaia.  Together these wines improved the image of Tuscan wine and encouraged Chianti producers to up their game.

It also encouraged the wine authorities to rethink their stance on grape varieties (in particular).

Antinori Chianti Classico Tasting with Allegra Antinori

And so to a recent tasting in Dublin in the delightful company of Allegra Antinori.

Allegra took us through four of Antinori’s Chianti Classicos, from everyday quality to seriously premium:

Allegra Antinori

Allegra Antinori

 

Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico 2011 (RSP €19.99)

Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico 2011

Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico 2011

Stockists: O’Brien’s Off-Licences; Next Door Off-Licences; Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Dublin; Carpenters of Castleknock, Dublin; Savages of Swords, Dublin; Bradley’s of North Main Street, Cork; O’Driscolls, Cork; Mortons of Galway; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; Terroirs, Donnybrook; Mitchell & Sons

 

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This is a fruity, accessible style of Chianti Classico designed to be drunk withing a year or so of purchase.  The grapes are grown on the Pèppoli estate between Sienna and Florence;  90% Sangiovese is complemented by Merlot and Syrah.  A light touch of oak adds a bit of chocolate and vanilla to give a little complexity and approachability, but this is unmistakably Sangiovese – plenty of ripe red cherry fruit with acidity and marked, but silky soft tannins.  The finish is dry but long, and far from austere.

A great introduction to Chianti Classico!

Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 (due in Ireland Q2 2015)

Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2011

Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2011

This bottling was specifically designed for the US market (Italian wine does very well in the States) but has become so popular that it is being released in Europe as well.  After opening their new Chianti Classico cellars Antinori wanted to pay tribute to their classic Villa Rosso Chianti Classico Riserva.

Again Sangiovese dominates the blend at 90%, but this time it’s an all-Bordelais Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot top up.  As you’d expect with a Riserva, it’s a definite step up in intensity, both on the nose and on the palate.  There’s more fruit, with raspberries being supported by darker berries, but also more tannin to give a savoury balance.

Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 (RSP €27.99)

Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2011

Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2011

Stockists: O’Brien’s Off-Licences; McHughs of Kilbarrack & Howth; Higgins Off-Licence Clonskeagh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the jewels in the Antinori portfolio is the 160 ha Tignanello estate, known for the Super-Tuscans Solaia (Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Franc) and Tignanello (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) itself.  These two icons are selected from vines covering 60 ha, but half of the estate is dedicated to the production of the “Marchese”.

In the glass the wine is deep ruby with a youthful purple rim.  Red and black fruit jump out of the glass before you’ve even managed to take a sip.  The first thing which strikes you in the mouth is how smooth and rich the Marchese is – just so voluptuous to drink.

The flavours encompass red and black cherries, raspberries and blackberries, liquorice, smoke and vanilla.  There are grippy tannins which frame the fruit but give it context rather than detract.

Definitely a serious wine, but a fine one at that.

Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 (RSP €42-€44)

Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008

Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008

Stockists: Fallon & Byrne, Dublin; Greenacres, Wexford

 (once the 2008 vintage is sold through, the next vintage – 2011 – will fall under the new Gran Selezione classification)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Antinori bought the Badia a Passignano estate (a few kilometres from the Tignanello monastery) in 1987 and set out to create the ultimate expression of Tuscan Sangiovese.  Clones were specially selected to give velvet and acidity and planted with a vine density of 5000-7000 plants per hectare.  Maturation is in French barriques and “double-barrels” of 500 litres for 14 to 15 months in the cellars under the Abbey

At the tasting, it was easy to see who had picked up their glass of Badia for a sniff – the astounded and awestruck looks on their faces.  It has an amazing nose of red and black fruit, but these are joined on the palate by rich dark chocolate.  It has an international sensibility but is unmistakably Chianti Classico.

This wine is special, and in my opinion, despite having the highest price tag, it’s the best value of the four we tasted.

Some Highlights from the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting – Reds and Sweet

Following on from my review of the sparkling and white wines in part one, here are the red and sweet wines which impressed me at the O’Briens Wines Autumn Press Tasting:

Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012 (€10.99)

Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012

Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012

Navarra (or Navarre in English) is a wine region in the north of Spain close to the more famous Rioja.  It used to be well-known for its rosados but now produces plenty of quality reds and whites, from both indigenous and international grape varieties.  In fact, the old Garnacha vineyards previously used for simple rosés are now being put to a more noble use in reds such as this one.  The other grapes in the blend are the local Tempranillo and the international Merlot.

It’s unmistakably Spanish, with bold red and black fruit cossetted in a basket of vanilla. This is smooth and very easy to drink on it’s own, but would stand up to beef or lamb with aplomb.  Great value for money.

Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011 (€15.99)

Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011

Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011

The Spanish speakers among you may have spotted from the label that this was matured in oak for 12 months, and thereby qualifies for the Crianza designation.  The oak used was mainly French (80%) with the balance American.

Jumilla is a region on the rise, as modern viticultural and vinification techniques are applied to some old bush vine vineyards.  Monastrell (the Rhône’s Mourvèdre) dominates the blend here with beefiness and spice, augmented by Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and a little Merlot.  The fruit is black rather than red – and it almost explodes out of the bottle.

Longview The Piece Shiraz 2009 (€42.00)

ongview The Piece Shiraz 2009

Longview The Piece Shiraz 2009

Longview are based in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia, just into the hills above….err…Adelaide!  Known as a cool(er) climate region, it can produce sublime Chardonnays and is now getting a serious reputation for Shiraz: Shaw + Smith excel at both.  “The Piece” is their top wine with all grapes handpicked, sorted and fermented in four separate one tonne open fermenters. It was aged for 24 months in new and old 300 litre French oak hogsheads.

At five years of age the wine has now settled down and is beginning to unfurl its petals.  It has sweet black fruit with soft integrated oak.  Medium acidity and silky tannins provide the structure for balance and additional ageing if you can resist drinking it now.

Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007 (€75.00, €67.00 in Nov/Dec)

Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007

Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007

How much? you might ask.  Yes, it’s an expensive bottle, but it’s a high end wine, and if you feel like splashing out for Christmas this would be perfect.  2007 was a good year for Bordeaux’s southerly Sauternes subregion so it should last for at least a decade from now.

On opening the wine has a divine, honey and apricot nose that you just want to inhale all day.  This follows through onto the palate, and while it’s definitely a dessert wine, there’s enough acidity to provide balance and stop it being cloying.

If you are a fan of foie gras then a glass of this would be a sublime match.

Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989 (€27.99)

Gerard Bertrand AOC Muscat de Rivesaltes 1989

Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989

For me this was the standout wine of the tasting.  For those not familiar with the term, a Vin Doux Naturel is a fortified sweet wine where grape spirit is added early in the fermentation process to kill off the yeast, stopping fermentation and leaving some of the natural sugars from the grapes.  The Muscat grape is a staple for this job, especially around the Mediterranean, but Grenache offers an alternative style in several appellations.

The  Rivesaltes appellation takes its name from the town of the same name in the Roussillon area, which means “High Banks” in Catalan.

The Muscat versions are often sweet, simple and grapey, nice but nothing to write home about. This 25 year old Rivesaltes demands you buy a big book of stamps!

Time has caused the colour to fade from the wine – Grenache doesn’t tend to hold on to its colour that well anyway – but in return there are layers upon layers of complexity.  You could lose yourself for an hour just smelling the aromas, before diving into the heavenly Christmas pudding palate.  Spice up your wine selection here!

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny (€23.99)

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny

The obvious word missing from the name of this wine is “Port”, and that’s because it’s from Australia not Porto.  Most people are very familiar with Australian table wine but aren’t aware that fortified wines were the majority of the industry’s output until the 1970s.  Port and Sherry imitations dominated the domestic market but were never able to compete with the real deal overseas.  Nowadays the proportion of production devoted to fortifieds is small with virtually nil exported.

Happily this is one of the bottles in that small rounding error, made from the traditional Barossa fortifieds grapes of Grenache and Shiraz.  Barrel ageing has given it some wonderfully intense raisin and nutty “rancio” characters.

Try this as an alternative to LBV or Tawny Port.