Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Sweet or Dry Fortified? [Make Mine a Double #51]

SuperValu Ireland currently have their Spanish wine sale underway, running until Wednesday 4th March.  Here are a few of the wines included that I have tasted in the past and would be putting in my trolley in the next week:

  • Martin Codax Albariño (€12.00 down from €17.99)
  • Paco & Lola Albariño (€12.00 down from €14.99)
  • Segura Viudas Cava Reserva Heredad (€20.00 down from €30.00)
  • Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Gran Reserva (€20.00 down from €30.00)
  • Finca Labarca Rioja Reserva (€10.00 down from €15.99)
  • Cune Rioja Gran Reserva (€20.00 down from €30.00)

On top of the reductions there’s also €10 off any six wines – definitely worth thinking about if you’re stocking up.

Instead of picking a few of the usual table wines for my review I have instead picked two Spanish fortified wines, though they could hardly be more different:

Williams and Humbert “Dos Cortados – Oloroso” NV (19.5%, 75 cl. €20.00 at SuperValu)

Dos Cortados Sherry

From the sweet to the very dry; this is a savoury, aged Sherry which cries out for some umami accompaniment, despite having some wonderful sweet notes on the nose.  The closest I came to adequately describing the nose is salted caramel – and this follows through onto the palate, though there is no sugariness; imagine dabbing the end of your tongue with blotting paper and that might give you an idea of the dryness.  There are also rancio and yeasty notes which just add to the splendour.  This is a “special guest” wine which won’t be available indefinitely, so if you want to try it then get a move on!

Geek Speak

Now I am far from a Sherry expert – or even a regular Sherry drinker – but I do remember some of the info I learned during my WSET studies.  Very simplistically, dry Sherries are generally made in a lighter, yeast-influenced style such as a Fino or an oxygen-influenced style such as Oloroso.

There are some which start out as a Fino but where the flor yeast dies off and then oxygen does its work; this can either happen naturally or due to the addition of more alcohol.  The Sherry is then known as a Palo Cortado, or “cut stick”.

In the case of this wine the process was done twice so has been named “Dos Cortados”.  Slightly confusingly the producer calls it an Oloroso, but as it is very rich and dark in style that’s understandable.  On more recent labels Williams & Humbert does call it a Palo Cortado (thanks Sherry Notes).

Torres Floralis Moscatel Oro NV (15.0%, €15.00 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Torres Moscatel Oro

The name of this wine gives you plenty of  information; it’s very floral on the nose and quite golden in colour.  There are also notes of orange blossom, orange peel and Seville orange marmalade.  The palate is rich yet light, intensely sweet with 188g of residual sugar, but balanced by firm acidity – it is far from cloying.  My only criticism would be that the finish is not very long, but such a gorgeous wine at this price is well worth a try.

Geek Speak

Torres call this a “naturally sweet wine” which immediately brings to (my) mind the French term Vin Doux Naturel, a wine which is fortified before fermentation has finished so that some of the grapes’ natural sugar is left in the wine.  Muscat is often the grape of choice in France for these wines, and elsewhere around the Mediterranean: Moscatel in Spain and Portugal, Moscato in Italy.

Of course, Muscat is a family of grapes rather than a single variety; in France the smaller berries (and hence more flavoursome) Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains is often the version used, whereas other regions often use Muscat of Alexandria – as Torres do in this wine.

 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Single Bottle Review

Top Notch Malbec from Trapiche [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #29]

Trapiche make an almost bewilderingly wide range of wines, with around twenty different labels that vary from a single variety to a choice of thirteen for the “Vineyards” label.  Their “Terroirs Series” has three single vineyard Malbecs from different sites around Mendoza, an exercise in showing the effects of terroir has on the same grape.  Ambrosia comes from Gualtallary in Tupungato, the highest of the three at 1,307 metres above sea level.  The other two in the series are Suárez Lastra at 1,072m and Orellana de Escobar at a “mere” 990m.

Disclosure: this bottle was a sample, but opinions remain my own

Trapiche Terroir Series Ambrosia Single Vineyard Malbec 2014 (14.5%, RRP €36.99 at Martin’s Off Licence; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Ice Box Off Licence)

Trapiche Terroir Series Ambrosia Single Vineyard Malbec 2014

Even before the first glass is poured, on opening this reveals itself to be a serious wine, with a left bank Bordeaux sensibility: French oak rules the day.  The smokiness and hints of vanilla on the nose are joined by pencil shavings, leather, and bold black fruit.  On the palate, there’s ripe black fruit on the attack along with tangy oak.  Beautiful mineral notes join for the long, elegant finish.  Although this is a “fruity” wine, it’s far from jammy and confected; rather, it’s beautifully balanced and serious, though doesn’t take itself too seriously.   Ambrosia is well worth its status as a single vineyard wine.

Opinion

Solera Wine Selection (part 3)

It’s time for the big guns from Rioja and Tuscany!  After some fantastic whites in part 1, and some cracking reds in part 2, we now have wines from the esteemed Bodegas Roda and Mazzei.

once again, apologies for the poor quality of my snaps!

Bodegas Roda “Sela” Rioja 2016 (14.0%, RRP €27.95 at Blackrock CellarDeveney’s Dundrum; D-Six Off Licence; The CorkscrewJus de VineThe VintrySweeney’s D3Lotts & CoNectar WinesBaggot Street Wines)

Bodegas Roda Sela Rioja 2016

Bodegas Roda were founded as recently as 1987 but have already forged a reputation for excellence.  They have evaluated over 552 Tempranillo clones before settling on the best 20 to plant going forward.  French – rather that American – oak barrels are used for maturation, yet the oak treatment is always in balance with the fruit.

Sela is the “entry level” from Roda, with fruit hand harvested from 15 to 30 year old bush vines.  Maturation is for 12 months in seasoned French oak.  Of course, this wine could be labelled as a Crianza, but that term has a cheap and cheerful image in Spain, definitely not fitting for Bodegas Roda!  The blend is 87% Tempranillo, 7% Graciano and 6% Garnacha giving fresh red and black fruit.  Sela is an easy drinking style but also has the elegance to be served at the table.

Bodegas Roda “Roda” Rioja Reserva 2015 (14.0%, RRP €39.50 at 64 WinesBlackrock CellarDrink Store, Stoneybatter; Deveney’s DundrumJus de VineThe VintryNectar WinesThe Corkscrew)

Roda Roda Rioja 2015

The Roda Reserva is a clear step up from the Sela.  While the blend is almost identical –  86% Tempranillo, 6% Graciano and 8% Garnacha – the vines are all over 30 year old and yields are lower, both aiding concentration.  Alcoholic fermentation is in French oak vats followed by malolacic fermentation in French oak barrels (40% new, 60% second use) where the wine then matures for 14 months.  When bottled the Reserva is kept in Roda’s cellars for a further two and a half years before release.

The nose has red and black cherries, strawberries and raspberries with vanilla and smoky notes from the oak, and hints of cinnamon.  The wine feels thick and viscous in the mouth with the fruit aromas coming through to the palate.  The Roda Reserva is a vibrant wine, still in the flushes of youth, but should continue to evolve for the next decade or two.

Bodegas Roda “Roda I” Rioja Reserva 2012 (14.5%, RRP €64.00 at 64 WinesBaggot Street WinesBlackrock CellarClontarf WinesDeveney’s DundrumD-Six Off LicenceMartins Off-LicenceThe CorkscrewThe VintrySweeney’s D3Clontarf Wines)

Roda Roda I Rioja 2012

The main difference between Roda I and Roda (formerly Roda II) is in flavour profile – for Roda I grapes are picked from old bush vines which tend to show more black fruit characteristics rather than the red fruit of Roda.  The blend is Tempranillo dominated (96%) with a seasoning of Graciano (4%).  The oak regime is slightly different as well – the barrels are 50% new and ageing in barrel is for 16 months.

While obviously sharing some house similarities with its junior sibling, this is a different wine altogether, much more complex.  The nose is more perfumed and expressive with black fruit, smoky oak, earthiness and chocolate.  These notes continue through to the palate where some dried fruit and mineral flavours join them.  The mouth is voluptuous and soothing.  Fine grained tannins help to make a savoury, satisfying dry finish.  Although this would be a real treat to drink on its own it would shine even brighter with food.

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2015 (14.0%, RRP €48.95 at 64 WinesBlackrock CellarDeveney’s Dundrum)

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012
Yes, I forgot to take a snap of the 2015, so here’s my snap of the 2012. If you try really hard, I’m sure you could imagine how the 2015 bottle would look…

You can read the full background on this wine in my recent post on the 2012, so I won’t repeat that here.  The blend is consistent at 92% Sangiovese and 8% Malvasia Nera & Colorino and the oak regime is the same.   The 2015 is from a slightly warmer year so the exact alcohol reading is 14.26% versus 13.73% for the 2012; not a huge difference but an indication of the vintage.  This is a fabulous wine, really smooth but tangy and fresh, with red and black fruit bursting out of the glass.  Mazzei give it an ageing potential of 20 years but when wine is this good it would be really difficult not to drink now!

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli “Siepi” Rosso Toscana 2016 (14.5%, RRP ~ €125.00* at Blackrock Cellar)

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli Siepi Rosso Toscana 2016
*Blackrock Cellar currently just has the 150cl magnum in stock for around €250

It does seem to this cynic that any IGT Toscana with French grapes in the blend is classed as a “Super Tuscan” these days, but this is truly deserving of the epithet.  Siepi is named after the six hectare estate vineyard from where the grapes are sourced –  one of Mazzei’s best – and has been produced since 1992.  The blend is 50% Sangiovese and 50% Merlot; the varieties are picked at different times (17 days earlier for the Merlot which is known to be an early ripener in Bordeaux) and are given different maceration times (14 days for Merlot, 18 days for Sangiovese).  Ageing is for 18 months in French barriques, 70% new and 30% used.

This 2016 was released in October 2018 and tasted 12 months later.  It was still a little shy and closed, but already showing flashes of its future grandeur.  To depart from my usual style of tasting notes, drinking this wine was like sitting in front of a warm fire on a big, well-worn sofa with soft cushions.  As I write during Storm Dennis, that would be most welcome!

 

 

Tasting Events

Solera Wine Selection (part 2)

Onwards and upwards we go!  After some fantastic whites in part 1, now we turn to some fabulous Solera reds from Puglia, Barolo and Mendoza!

once again, apologies for the poor quality of my snaps!

Cantine Paolo Leo Primanero Appassimento 2016 (13.5%, RRP €16.95 at Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Deveney’s Dundrum; DrinkStore, Stoneybatter; Clontarf Wines; Lotts & Co; Martins Off-Licence; The Vintry; The Grape Vine, Glasnevin)

Cantine Paolo Leo Primanero Appassimento

Over the past five to ten years there has been a large increase in Italian reds on the market which have been made in the Appassimento  method, i.e. with some or all of the grapes dried before being pressed to concentrate sugar, flavour and body.  These wines have found favour with consumers, especially at lower price points where they deliver a big bang for buck.  Unfortunately, in my not-so-humble opinion, they are often unbalanced; sometimes jammy, too sweet, and even with too much extraction (the skins being pressed hard) in trying to compensate for the jam.

However, here we have an example of Appassimento done right.  From Puglia in Italy’s “heel”, we have a blend of the two local key black grapes, 60% Primitivo and 40% Negroamaro (hence the name Primanero if you didn’t get it.  The bunch stems are partially cut when the grapes reach the desired maturity, then left to dry for 12 weeks.  The result is a wine with very ripe fruit on the nose, but a very balanced palate.  It has a bit more oomph than Puglia wines from undried grapes but has enough savoury notes to be a good partner for hearty food.  Why can’t more be like this?

Elvio Cogno Barolo Ravera Riserva Vigna Elena 2012 (14.5%, RRP €125.00 at Deveney’s Dundrum; The Corkscrew; Sweeney’s D3)

Cogno Vigna Elena Barolo Ravera Riserva 2012

Although its wines are monovarietal, Barolo is a complex area – and I don’t pretend to have got to grips with it yet – so please bear with me as we dive in.  The Elvio Cogno Winery is based in the Novello commune, one of the eleven communes within the Barolo DOCG production area.  The eponymous winery owns approximately 15 hectares and produces a spectrum of Barolos (of which this is the top), plus other Nebbiolos, Barberas and even Nascetta (a native Novello white grape variety which was pioneered by Cogno).

11.5 of the 15 hectares are in the Cru of Ravera, in the north eastern sector of Novello.  Ravera is of the most well-known Crus and is one of the highest altitude at 380m.  The particular Nebbiolo clone used (Rosè) both flowers and ripens around ten days later than other clones.  The soil is mainly limestone and the aspect is predominantly south, meaning the vines still receive plenty of sunshine and heat despite their altitude.

Barolo DOCG Riserva Ravera “Vigna Elena” is a very traditional style of Barolo that is only produced “during great vintages”.  Fermentation is in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with pump-overs for 30 days afterwards for increased maceration.  Maturation is then in 4,000 litre Slavonian oak barrels for three years, increasing tannins still further.

Amazingly one of the notes this wine shows on the nose is chocolate cake!  There are also traditional floral and tobacco elements in the background.  When tasted (seven years after harvest) the tannins were still very grippy, but framed the fresh red fruit and exotic spices to perfection.  The finish was very long and elegant – just a fabulous wine.

Atamisque Uco Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (14.5%, RRP €32 at The Corkscrew; The Grape Vine Glasnevin; Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-Six Off Licence)

Atamisque Uco Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
According to the website, “Atamisque, is a bush of local origin, which grows naturally in the surrounding area of the winery.  It is the iconic brand of the winery.”

As Cabernet Sauvignon is my favourite black grape I was looking forward to trying this serious example from The Uco Valley in Mendoza, Argentina.  Signature grape Malbec is just one of the many grapes which prosper in Argentina, though it copes better with extremes of heat than the Cabernets which don’t like too much heat.  Bodega Atamisque are located in the Tupungato Department sub-region of Mendoza province, named after the huge Tupungato peak which reaches 6,750 m.  Of course, vines are not planted at the peak, but they are still at the high elevation of 1,300 m above sea level.  This gives the grapes excellent acidity and the day-night temperature variation gives them plenty of colour, flavour and tannin.

So what makes this wine so “serious”?  Firstly, the vines are all on their own rootstocks, i.e. ungrafted, as phylloxera is not a threat.   Secondly, yields are low at 5 tons per hectare – around 27 hl/ha.  Thirdly, there is rigorous selection for both bunches (picking is all by hand) and then berries, so only the best grapes get used.  Finally, Atamisque uses Taransaud-Demptos French oak barrels – they are considered one of the best coopers in France and supply many top Bordeaux Châteaux.  For the Cabernet Sauvignon maturation is for 14 months in 100% new barrels.

The payoff: it has an mistakable Cabernet nose, with pencil shavings and dark black fruit.  Given the grape variety and oak treatment, the obvious comparison is with Pauillac, but to be honest you wouldn’t get a wine with this amount of fruit, tannin and minerality for anything like the same price in the Médoc.  Ageing potential is given as 15 years, but I’d say it will still be going strong then.

Single Bottle Review

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #28]

What once was lost was found again!  

Let me explain.  In late 2017 I published a series of guest posts on my blog which were all on the theme of Xmas wines or. more exactly, the wines that some wine loving friends were looking forward to enjoying over the festive period.  Effi Tsournova was one of those friends and she wrote this guest post on Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Saering 2014 (obviously a favourite of mine) and a really good Chianti…but on top of that she arranged for a bottle of the very same Chianti to be sent to me here in Dublin!

But then, I managed to lose the bottle.  Misplace is probably a better word than lose, but I just didn’t know where it was, and assumed that it had probably been passed on as a gift to someone else (my wife is very generous with wine).  I was relieved and delighted in equal measures when I found the Lord Lucan of bottles tucked away at the back of a wine fridge.  Happy days!

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012 (14.0%, RRP £49.99 at Cambridge Wine Merchants, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Handford Wines, Whole Foods, Il Toscanaccio, The Vineking, Nickolls & Perks)

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012

Over the past forty years Mazzei have proved that winemaking is a science as well as an art.  Their Chianti Classico grapes are sourced from 120 parcels (50 owned) and number 36 different clones of Sangiovese, half of which are exclusive to Fonterutoli.  In 2012 the vines ranged from 10 to 25 years old – obviously add 8 to both figures for 2020.

The final blend for 2012 was 92% Sangiovese plus 8% Malvasia Nera and Colorino.  Maturation was in 225 and 500 litre French oak barrels, 60% new and 40% used.

Compared to the 2015 I tasted recently (more on which soon), the 2012 is already a little lighter in the glass, with ruby tinges on the rim.  The nose is complex: red and black cherries, raspberry and blackberry are wrapped in a light vanilla jacket, with highlights of exotic spice and garden herbs.  Black fruits are more to the fore on the palate, though the red fruits still linger.  The acidity (present, but in no way searing) and tannins (fine, not grippy) that were there on release have softened considerably.  This is a fine wine that has entered its peak drinking window.

 

Tasting Events

Solera Wine Selection (part 1)

Solera Wine Merchants is a specialist wine importer based in Dublin.  MD and owner Albert Baginski spent over 14 years working as a sommelier and restaurant wine director before going full time with Solera.  He is known for being a gentleman, a true professional and – perhaps most importantly – a really nice bloke.

Albert Baginski

The Solera portfolio is still growing, but from my perspective it has some of the real stars from each region that is represented – Fritz Haag from the Mosel, Roda from Rioja and Mazzei from Tuscany, to name just a few.  Below are some brief notes on the white wines I tasted with Albert late last year.

Villa Des Croix Picpoul de Pinet 2018 (12.5%, RRP €16.95 at Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Deveney’s Dundrum)

Villa des Croix Picpoul de Pinet

When twitter discussions on wine scoring circle round again and again, especially whether they are absolute or relative scores; Picpoul is sometimes given as a wine which will never hit the high 90s as it’s somewhat neutral and lacking in character, and therefore lends to credence to scores being relative.

Well, there are exceptions to every rule, and this is comfortably the most flavoursome and characterful Picpoul de Pinet that I’ve tried.  It’s highly aromatic, with light fruits and flowers on the nose.  The palate is fresh with lots of citrus and more depth of flavour than usually found in the grape.  This would be a great alternative to Loire Sauvignon Blanc.

Bodegas Altos de Torona Rías Baixas Godello 2018 (13.0%, RRP €20.95 at Baggot Street WinesBlackrock CellarMartins Off-LicenceNectar Wines)

Altos de Torono Rias Baixas Godello

Rías Baixas is (quite rightly) best known for being the home of some excellent Albariños, but other varieties are grown there, such as this Godello from Altos de Torona.  The wine is unoaked but has spent six months on fine lees which imparts a little texture and a creaminess.  Conference pears and red apples complete the palate.

Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Grosses Gewächs Riesling Trocken 2017 (12.5%, RRP €38.95 at Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Sweeney’s D3; The Corkscrew)

Fritz Haag Juffer Riesling Trocken

This is the first of two Fritz Haag Rieslings from the Mosel, though they are very different in character.  This is a dry Grosses Gewächs (Grand Cru) from the Juffer vineyard in Brauneberg (note that Brauneberger isn’t stated on the front label, probably to avoid confusion with the bottling of the best part of the vineyard around the sundial which is labelled Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr).

The nose is only lightly aromatic, but the palate is much more intense.  It tastes dry (residual sugar is 7.9 g/L) and refreshing with grapefruit, lime and quince on the palate. This is a veritable pleasure to drink now but is surely destined for greatness over the next two decades.

Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel 2017 (7.5%, RRP €33.95 (375ml) at Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines)

fritz haag brauneberger juffer riesling auslese goldkapsel
Sorry, forgot to snap this bottle myself!

From the same vineyard as the dry GG above, we now have the sweet Auslese Riesling.  If you are not fluent in German wine terms – no I’m not either – a bit of decoding is in order.  Auslese means “selected harvest” and is on the third rung of the Prädikatswein classification above Kabinett and Spatlese.  Goldkapsel refers to the gold capsule covering the cork, and signifies that this bottling is from the producer’s ripest and best grapes.

Coming in at 125.8 g/L of residual sugar this is definitely in dessert wine territory, but, as it’s a Mosel Riesling there is plenty of acidity to go with it (7.5 g/L TA in fact).  This is a fabulous, unctuous wine that creeps over your palate and isn’t in a hurry to leave.  “Make yourself comfortable”, your taste buds say.  It’s almost a crime to swallow, but the sweet flavours hitting your throat make up for it.  With honey, crystalline pineapple and a dash of lime this wine is close to perfection.

Part 2 will cover the fabulous reds

Tasting Events

Unfinished Sympathy

After a little reflection, one of the most important characteristics of a great winemaker (in my humble opinion) is sympathy for the vineyards they pick from and the grapes that they harvest.  Underlying this are intelligence, knowledge, and more than a little humility.

Many winemakers develop this sympathetic nature over the course of decades with a small number of plots of land and as few as two or even just one grape variety, as is the case in Burgundy.  Indeed, sometimes it’s an ancestral connection with knowledge that has been passed down in the family for generations.

In stark contrast to the timescale of the Burgundians, I give you Pieter Hauptfleisch Walser of BLANKbottle.  Pieter has 58 different varieties growing all over the Western Cape, though you won’t see them mentioned on the bottle.  A few months ago, thanks to WineMason I had the opportunity to try eight of this wines which were new to the Irish market (and only available in very small quantities).  Each has an intriguing backstory and a interesting label to go with it.

with apologies for the quality of my snaps…

Rabbitsfoot 2018 (14.5%, RRP ~ €30)

BLANKbottle Rabbits Foot 2018

We start with a Sauvignon Blanc, but not that you would probably recognise at first – it’s not like a Loire or Kiwi Sauvignon, and to be honest it’s not even like other South African Savvies, although perhaps some could be though of as baby versions of this.  It has more body, texture and alcohol than most Sauvignons, still grassy but with spicy notes.  Tasted blind my first guess would have been Grüner Veltliner!

Full details here

BOBERG 2018 (13.5%, RRP ~ €33)

BLANKbottle BOBERG 2018

Boberg means “on top of the mountain” and the mountain is pictured on the label – but not on its own.  It is depicted as being overlooked by seven generations of Pieter’s family who lived on the farm next to it.  These Chenin Blanc vines are old and low yielding, and have recently been certified organic.  For 2018 they were picked early and fermented in old French oak barrels with natural yeast.  The wine is fresh but with real depth; a whole basket of Granny Smith apples with a few Golden Delicious and lemons.

Full details here

Kortpad Kaaptoe 2018 (13.0%, RRP ~ €33)

BLANKbottle Kortpad Kaaptoe 2018

Pieter found these vines while on his travels and took a backroad shortcut to get to his next appointment – the name means “shortcut to Cape Town”.  The grape variety used is even more obscure (especially in South Africa): Fernão Pires!  If you’re a fan of Portuguese wine then it might not be so obscure as it is grown throughout Portugal, sometimes under the moniker Maria Gomes.  It’s a highly aromatic grape, somewhere in the realm of Gewurztraminer and Viognier, though fairly gentle (Alsace aficianados: think of Klevener de Heiligenstein).  I liked this wine though it didn’t shine quite as brightly for me as the two whites above.

Full details here

B.O.E.T. 2017 (14.0%, RRP ~ €36)

BLANKbottle B.O.E.T. 2017

It’s fairly well known among wine geeks that South Africa’s signature variety Pinotage was created as a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (the Rhône’s Cinsault, then known as Hermitage in South Africa).  This wine is something of a family reunion as it features all three grapes, though Pinotage is dominant with small amounts of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir.  On the nose I would never have guessed this to be a Pinotage blend – my best guess would perhaps have been a Languedoc red.  The palate is lighter, with medium body, lithe red fruit and good acidity.  This is the perfect example of BLANKbottle’s labelling philosophy – those who would be put off by the varieties might well love this wine if tasted without knowing.  I certainly loved it!

Full details here

My Koffer 2018 (13.5%, RRP ~ €37)

BLANKbottle My Köffer 2018

This is single vineyard Cinsaut (without the “l” as usually spelt in South Africa) – a variety known for high yields and large berries which is often used to make rosé or inexpensive bulk red wine.  It’s not a grape I taste as a single varietal very often, but if it’s as good as this then I definitely should.  The nose is all cherries, following through onto the palate where they are joined by exotic spices.  The finish is pleasantly dry.

Full details here

My eie Stofpad 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €38)

BLANKbottle My eie Stofpad 2017

This wine is principally Cabernet Franc but also has a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, all from different vineyards, so it’s technically a Bordeaux blend.  It tastes nothing like a Bordeaux, with thick mouthfeel and ripe blackcurrant fruit.  There’s a savoury edge as well plus fine grained tannins.  An excellent wine.

Oppie Koppie 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €39)

BLANKbottle Oppie Koppie 2017

This lovely Syrah reminded me of St Joseph or Hawke’s Bay on steroids – but not as ripe and juicy as most Aussie Syrah/Shiraz.  Perhaps we (I) just just stop with the comparisons and say it’s a great example of South African Syrah.  Whole bunch fermentation is used in varying degrees depending on the vintage (and in particular how ripe the stems are) – for this 2017 80% was whole bunch.  2017 was the first vintage that a little Syrah from Swartland and Cinsaut from Breedekloof were added to the main Syrah from Voor-Paardeberg, all for additional complexity.  The result is a fantastic red wine that is rich yet fresh, full of black and red fruit and spice, but no jamminess.

Full details here

B.I.G. 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €41)

BLANKbottle B.I.G. 2017

This is a single varietal blend; if that sounds strange it’s because it’s made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in eight different vineyards across South Africa.  Well, normally eight, from sea level up to mountain tops, except for the 2017 vintage which saw the fruit from two of the vineyards lost to smoke taint from fires – depicted on the label.  This is definitely a Cabernet Sauvignon but it’s not too far in character from the Cabernet Franc above, just a little richer and with more pronounced blackberry and blackcurrant fruit.  As you’d expect there are fine grained tannins to keep everything in check. A truly delicious wine.

Full details here

Make Mine A Double, Opinion, Tasting Events

Kiwi Chardonnays [Make Mine a Double #50]

Despite receiving flak from some, Sauvignon Blanc is still the key variety in New Zealand, accounting for 75.8% of the 2019 harvest.  There are three other varieties that lead the chasing pack; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris:

Picture1

As you can see, vintage variations account for a lot of the movement over the ten year period, but there is a definite upward trend in both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, with Chardonnay being fairly stable/stagnant (choose your own descriptor) in quantity.

Whereas Sauvignon Blanc is concentrated in Marlborough, which has the most distinctive style, the varieties above prosper in several NZ regions.  The most adaptable – in my opinion – is Chardonnay, which makes excellent wines in:

  • Auckland – e.g. Kumeu River
  • Gisborne – e.g. Wrights
  • Hawke’s Bay – e.g. Trinity Hill
  • Wairarapa – e.g. Ata Rangi
  • Nelson – e.g. Neudorf
  • Marlborough – e.g. Cloudy Bay
  • Canterbury – e.g. Bell Hill
  • Central Otago – e.g. Felton Road

Below are a couple of Chardonnays that impressed me at the recent “New Zealand in a Glass” tasting in Dublin.  They are both from the Villa Marie group, though different producers and quite different price points.

Vidal Legacy Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2018 (13.5%, RRP €35 – €43 at winesoftheworld.ie)

vidal legacy chardonnay

Unlike many New Zealand wineries which were founded by immigrants from the Balkans, Vidal was founded by a Spaniard – Anthony Joseph Vidal – in 1905.  He planted vines in Hastings (Hawke’s Bay, not Sussex) and the winery is still based there today (I actually visited it with my wife in 2009).

The Vidal range has four levels (in order of increasing quality):

  • Estate
  • Reserve
  • Soler
  • Legacy

The two reds in the Legacy range are a Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot blend and a single varietal Syrah, both from the Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawke’s Bay.  The sole Legacy white is this Chardonnay, but it stands alone proudly.  Unlike the wine below, quantities were relatively small (33 barriques which would produce less than 10,000 bottles) and from a single region.  Fermentation used wild yeast and took place in a mixture of new (45%) and old French barriques.  Maturation was for 10 months in those barriques (I assume with lees stirring) then a further 2 months in tank to blend the barrels together.

If I said I didn’t want to taste this wine, that might sound like I’m slating it…but I didn’t want to taste it as that would tear me away from its magnificent nose (Lady Gaga, you’ve got nothing on this wine!)  It’s obviously very young indeed, but it has amazing struck-match reductive aromas with rich fruit notes and toasty, tangy oak.  The palate is slightly less impactful as there’s an underlying freshness rather than butteriness, but it’s still fabulous.  For the price, this wine over-delivers.  Interestingly, on Vidal’s own website they offer this 2018 but also a mature release 2011.

Villa Maria Private Bin East Coast Chardonnay 2018 (13.0%, RRP €14.99 at SuperValu & Centra stores)

Villa Maria East Coast Chardonnay

If you look at a map of New Zealand’s wine regions then you find the majority of them on the East Coast; the East Coast designation is therefore a useful label for inter-regional blends which doesn’t necessarily mean much in itself.  Without spending hours on the origin of the term, my instinct is that it was brought in to satisfy EU regulations (similar to South Eastern Australia) though happy to be proven wrong.

For this wine the fruit came mainly from the warm climes of Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay, with a small dash from Marlborough for extra freshness.  The winemaking decisions were taken on a parcel by parcel basis; for some, indigenous yeast was used while others had cultured yeast; malolactic fermentation was encouraged – followed by bâtonnage – for some parcels while being blocked for others.  For all, fermentation took place “in contact with premium French oak”; given the modest price one might assume that the oak was in the form of chips or staves as there is no mention of actual oak barrels.

After all that, how did the wine turn out?  Very well indeed actually!  This entry level Chardonnay really surprised me as to how appealing it was.  The nose is balanced between pip fruit, stone fruit and oak tones, with a touch of flint and reduction.  There’s a real creamy texture from the lees work and tangy oak on top of the fruit.  It’s ready to drink now but another year or two wouldn’t hurt at all.

 

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Make Mine A Double, Opinion, Tasting Events

Earth Angel – Domaine des Anges [Make Mine a Double #49]

An Englishman, and Irishman and a Frenchman climb up a mountain…and make some great wine!  Domaine des Anges was established on the slopes of Mont Ventoux by English couple Malcolm and Janet Swan in 1973.  At that point grapes were mainly being processed by the local cooperative, so it was a bold venture, but help and advice was surprisingly forthcoming from the famous but less-than-approachable Jacques Rayas of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The Swans had variable levels of success, and after 20 or so years they sold the estate to Irishman Gay McGuinness.  He increased investment and hired professional winemakers – fellow Irishman Ciaran Rooney and after a decade Florent Chave.  Quality has continually increased and Domaine des Anges has received a plethora of praise from critics and consumers.

I recently had the opportunity to taste through the Domaine des Anges range thanks to a kind invitation from Boutique Wines, their Irish representative.  The wines were presented by historian and oenophile Giles MacDonogh – a close friend of the proprietors – and whose notes I have cribbed for background information.  While I liked all the wines I tried, two in particular stood out for me: the white and red AOC Ventoux “Archange” wines:

Domaine des Anges Archange Ventoux Blanc 2016 (14.5%, RRP €21 at La Touche, Greystones; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; Blackrock Cellar; Grape and Grain, Stillorgan; The Winehouse, Trim; Browns Vineyard, Portlaoise; Bakers Corner, Kill of the Grange; Mortons, Ranelagh)

Domaine des Anges archange Ventoux blanc

Whereas the regular Domaine des Anges Ventoux Blanc is a third each of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Bourboulenc, the Archange is 100% Roussanne – a grape that rarely gets the limelight all to itself.  In fact the winemaking is as much the star of the show here, with techniques very reminiscent of Burgundy.  The wine is aged in small oak barrels, giving notes of toast, toffee and vanilla.  Malolactic fermentation is blocked to preserve freshness, and regular lees stirring gives a wonderful creamy aspect.  The varietal character does come through the middle of all of this as an intriguing peachy tanginess…it’s like Burgundy but with a bit more going on.  The only downside to this wine is that it’s perhaps too good to drink every day – perhaps just save it for the weekend?

Domaine des Anges Archange Ventoux Rouge 2015 (14.5%, RRP €21 at La Touche, Greystones; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; Blackrock Cellar; Grape and Grain, Stillorgan; The Winehouse, Trim; Browns Vineyard, Portlaoise; Bakers Corner, Kill of the Grange; Mortons, Ranelagh)

Domaine des Anges archange Ventoux rouge

Although the Rhône Méridional is known for its Grenache-based blends, in the cooler heights of Mont Ventoux Syrah can play a much bigger role.  In this blend it accounts for a full 90% with the balance being Grenache.  As the 14.5% alcohol indicates this is a powerful wine, but it does not have the sweetness of a Barossa Shiraz, for example. There’s a distinct richness, but with smoky notes, black pepper, black fruits and leather, with an altogether savoury finish.  My “go-to” Rhône appellation is Saint-Joseph with its savoury Syrahs, but this Ventoux presents a great alternative – and at a great price.

Conclusion

These two wines are an outstanding pair and really over-deliver for the price tag.  They won’t fade in a hurry, either, so it would be well-worth putting a few (dozen) down to see how they evolve over time.

 

 

And for you film buffs out there, here’s a clip from the film which inspired part of the title of this post:

Opinion

O’Briens Fine Wine Sale 2019

The Irish off-licence chain O’Briens has various promotions on throughout the year, but probably the most eagerly awaited is the annual Fine Wine Sale.  This year it runs from Monday 9th to Sunday 15th December.  Below are the wines I’d be snapping up this year.  Note that I haven’t necessarily tried the vintage stated of each wine, but I have tasted them often enough over the years to comfortably recommend them.

Gaia Santorini Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2016 (13.0%, €24.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)

Gaia-Assyrtiko-Wild-Ferment

I have previously written about the 2013 and 2016 vintages of this wine as well as its younger brother Monograph, and tasted it many times in between; it remains one of my favourite “mid-priced” white wines available in Ireland.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough  Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (13.0%, €35.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)

Cloudy-Bay-Sauvignon-Blanc

An iconic wine at a very reasonable price!  I recently tried the 2017 (which was maturing nicely) and the 2019 which, for such a young wine, was surprisingly settled and ready to go

Julien Brocard Chablis La Boissoneuse 2018 (12.5%, €29.95 down to €25.95 at O’Briens)

Brocard-La-Boissoneuse-Organic

The 2017 vintage was #1 in my Top 10 Whites of 2019 so any reduction in price of this fantastic organic, biodynamic Chablis makes it worth snapping up!

Chanson Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2017 (12.5%, €34.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)

Chanson-Chablis-1er-Cru-Montmains

Chanson has been part of the Bollinger group for two decades and produces consistently good wines.  This Montmains is an excellent Premier Cru and while delicious now, deserves another five years or so before being opened.

Man O’War Waiheke Island Valhalla Chardonnay 2017 (14.5%, €32.95 down to €28.95 at O’Briens)

Man-O_War-Valhalla-Chardonnay

I wrote about the 2010 vintage (in 2014) the 2011 (in 2016) and the 2016 (earlier this year) and loved them all.  This is a fairly full on Chardonnay which will please those who like bold wines – and that includes me.

L’Ostal Cazes Minervois La Livinière Grand Vin 2015 (14.5%, €23.95 down to €20.95 at O’Briens)

L_Ostal-Cazes-Grand-Vin

The JM Cazes family who have long owned Lynch Bages in Bordeaux have spread their interests to the Rhône and Languedoc, amongst other places.  In my not-so-humble-opinion this Minervois La Livinère is the best value wine in their portfolio.

Château Franc-Maillet Pomerol 2015 (13.5%, €48.00 down to €42.00 at O’Briens)

Ch_teau-Franc-Maillet

The 2014 of this wine was very good, so the even better vintage of 2015 is definitely worth a shout.  This wine is worthy of a place on my Christmas dinner table, so it’s definitely worthy of yours, too!

Sierra Cantabria Rioja Gran Reserva 2008 (14.0%, €32.95 down to €23.95 at O’Briens)

Sierra-Cantabria-Gran-Reserva

If you like Tempranillo-based wines but tend to favour Ribero del Duero, this a Rioja house which can match the black fruited savoury wines from there.  I have previously tried the 2010 Crianza which was great, but a Gran Reserva from 2008 should be even more of a stunner!

d’Arenberg  McLaren Vale Dead Arm Shiraz 2015 (14.6%, €54.95 down to €44.95 at O’Briens)

d_Arenberg-Dead-Arm-Shiraz

While Penfolds Grange prices have rocketed off into the stratosphere, here’s an iconic Aussie wine that is (relatively) more affordable – and approachable at a younger age, too, though if you manage to keep your hands away it will last for a decade or two.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (13.8%, €80 down to €68 at O’Briens)

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 3

The (virtual) ink has only just dried on my review of the 2012 vintage of this wine but it’s already included in the fine wine sale.  If you want to treat yourself for Christmas (2019 or 2029) then this is a great bet!