10 ways to mildly irritate a wine enthusiast

10 ways to mildly irritate a wine enthusiast

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Normally I come up with all the ideas for my posts myself, but recently my friend Jim Dunlop (on Twitter as @jimofayr) shared an article with me that he had enjoyed:
10 ways to mildly irritate a whisky enthusiast and suggested I do an equivalent for wine.

I was happy to oblige, so here it is.  Please comment if there are any others which particularly irritate you!

1. Describe a restaurant wine list as having “both red AND white wine”

I shit you not. This was exactly how a hotel restaurant wine list was described to me when I asked to see it while having lunch in the hotel bar. I know family hotels aren’t necessarily going to be a wine enthusiast’s paradise, but you’d hope that the hotel staff would know a little more than red or white.

Irritation factor: amused

2. Top up their glass with a different wine from the one they are drinking

“Sure, it all goes down the same way?” “Well they’re both French aren’t they?” Or even worse: “well they’re both red aren’t they?” Many wine enthusiasts like a sociable drink, but the odds are, when different wines are being served (at a dinner party or elsewhere), they want to try them individually rather than being forced to try some foul blend. Sometimes a well-meaning host can drive a wine enthusiast over the edge!

Irritation factor: miffed

3. Expect them to be a sommelier if they have a wine industry qualification

I happen to have the WSET Advanced certificate, which is a widely recognised qualification. It would be very useful to have if working for an importer, merchant or in a restaurant with a good wine list. However, just holding the cert does not make me a sommelier; I haven’t spent a single hour working as a sommelier so I have zero basis to claim to be one. I have a lot of respect for the trade as long hours are often unfortunately rewarded by mediocre pay. Some sommeliers don’t have an official qualification and still do a great job.

Irritation factor: exasperated

4. Ask them what they are celebrating when they open a bottle of Champagne

The Champenois are very protective of their image and “brand equity”, a good part of which has been built up by marketing and advertising the drink as a reward for success – think of F1 drivers spraying each other with fizz on the podium. But Champagne is still a wine, and plenty of wine enthusiasts are interested in drinking it on exactly that basis, with nothing in particular to celebrate – so don’t assume that they are.

Irritation factor: peeved

5. Remark that a wine shop is very expensive as most of the bottles are €15 or more

Most wines bought in Ireland and the UK are bought in supermarkets. Over the last ten years or so the choice in most supermarkets has diminished significantly, and although there are nice bottles available the bulk are by-the-numbers-at-a-price-point. This means that the majority of interesting wines are only available through wine merchants, who don’t (aren’t able to) offer huge discounts to tempt shoppers in to buy other things, and in any case aren’t able to procure their wines at the same cost as the supermarkets. All this means that most wines in merchants have a higher price than in supermarkets, but – and this is important – they often offer better value.

Irritation factor: bothered

6. Be an ill-informed wine snob

There are a few wine enthusiasts who are also wine snobs, but I contend that the majority are not. Many are used to hearing silly or even downright stupid comments from “know-all” wine drinkers who like to show off their allegedly superior knowledge. The classic is, of course, “Give me a Chablis any day, none of that Chardonnay crap!” which I have heard on more than one occasion.

Other beauties include “I don’t like French wines” (it’s fine to have an opinion, but have you really tasted ALL types of French wine to arrive at that opinion?) and “Wines from Australia all taste the same” which is of course poppycock.

Irritation factor: annoyed

7. Insist on topping up their glass in a restaurant

Some people enjoy being “waited on” in restaurants, including having their glass topped up by a hovering waiter. Others don’t, and I suspect that – like myself – many wine enthusiasts would be in the “no thanks” camp, for several reasons.

Firstly, as a responsible adult I feel capable of pouring wine from a bottle into a glass myself. Secondly, I like to drink at my own pace, so don’t top up my glass in an attempt to make me drink more.

Thirdly, as temperature can have a profound effect on the aromas and flavours of a wine I like to semi-consciously monitor that as I evaluate a wine – difficult if someone dumps a load more into your glass. As for restaurants where an open bottle is left out of reach or – and this is just terrible form – out of sight, I rarely go back!

Irritation factor (topping up): vexed

Irritation factor (hiding bottle): incandescent

8. Give them a crap glass to drink out of

A good wine glass doesn’t have to be expensive and, conversely, some which are expensive aren’t great for appreciating wine. Even a modest wine will taste better out of the right size / shape / material / thickness of glass. See this article for more thoughts on the subject.

Irritation factor: bothered

9. Ask them a stupidly broad question about wine

If I had a Euro for every time I’ve been asked a stupid, banal question about wine I’d probably have enough for a bottle of Cristal, or at least a bottle of Tesco Value Cava. These include:
• “What’s a good wine?” (Like asking “What’s good food?”)
• “What sort of wine do you like?” (Like asking “What sort of music do you like?”)
• “What wine should I drink with chicken?” (The answer for which is highly dependent on the method of cooking, sauces and other accompaniments)

Irritation factor: headbutting the nearest wall

10. Charge over double a wine’s retail price in a restaurant

Restaurants have more costs to cover than wine merchants, so it seems fair that they make a higher gross margin to cover these costs.  However, some just seem to take the piss: just before Xmas I was at a busy, well-regarded restaurant in Dublin which listed Torres Celeste (a lovely wine, it has to be said) at €50.  The RRP for the wine is €20.95 and I have seen it for less at respected merchants, so it was 2 1/2 to 3 times retail price (which is obviously more than wholesale price).  This is why I rarely splash out on a nice wine in restaurants, the Ely Group being a notable exception!

Irritation factor: thermonuclear destruction

Nugan Estate Personality Wine Range

The Nugan Group was founded by Spanish emigré Alfredo Nugan in Griffith, New South Wales, in 1940.  Initially it was in the fruit packing business and then moved into premium fruit juice production in the 1970s.  A further expansion in 1993 involved the planting of vineyards and selling the grapes – just another fruit, at that time.  The natural progression was then into making wine, and now Nugan Estate has 590 hectares of vineyards in Riverina (NSW), King Valley (Victoria) and McLaren Vale (South Australia).

Nugan recently introduced the “Personality Range” – four single varietal wines that have been named after some of the larger-than-life people working at Nugan Estate.  I think it’s a great idea, most people love a story and a bit of history behind a wine – even if they just have a glance at the bottle while having a glass on a Wednesday evening.

Nugan Estate King Valley “Bossy Boots” Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (12.5%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Nugan Personality Bossy Boots Sauv Blanc

“Dedicated to my grandmother – I learned early on never to judge a book by its cover and never underestimate the women in my family! Take Bossy Boots, she might look soft and feminine but don’t be fooled! After the world wars, Australia became home to many immigrants from Europe. They settled in the rugged outback where our vineyards are today. My grandmother was one of them. She was strong and spoke her mind, determined to build a new life for her family no matter what it took. She was a determined woman – so much admired by everyone.”

The King Valley is in North-East Victoria – and when looking up its location I found I have actually been there when dropping into Brown Brothers in Milawa!  It’s a fairly hilly area which makes it a good location for cooler climate wines.  Australia isn’t known for varietal Savvy – it’s more commonly seen in a blend with Semillon or even Chardonnay – so I was very interested to find out how this tasted.

This would never be mistaken for a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, but then why should it? On tasting there’s a tropical fruit explosion in the mouth – pineapple, mango and passionfruit.  The wine still has plenty of acidity but it’s not tart or sharp.  In fact, if Kiwi SB isn’t for you then I would recommend giving this a try.

Nugan Estate Riverina “Dreamers” Chardonnay 2013 (13.5%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Nugan Personality Dreamers Chardonnay

“My mother has this uncanny knack of dreaming big then making her dreams come true. Like when she decided she wanted to start our winery over twenty five years ago. She came in one day and said we are going to plant vineyards. Large ones, all over Australia! We all thought the old girl is really going too far this time. But turns out she was spot on. We planted our vineyards from scratch and you’re drinking the fruits of our hard yakka right now. I always hated that saying ‘your mother’s always right’ but perhaps there’s something in it.”

It’s very rare to see “Riverina” on a wine label – a lot of bulk wine is made there so producers often prefer to use the more generic “South-Eastern Australia” instead (and that also lets them include fruit from other states as well).  Of course Nugan are based in Griffith which is the capital of the Riverina agricultural area, so they proudly declare their origins on the label.  Wine fans should note that Australia’s most celebrated sweet wine – De Bortoli’s Noble One – is made just round the corner!

The Dreamers Chardonnay sees no new oak – as is the current vogue for Chardonnay in Australia – just two and three year old barrels which provide added roundness and texture. It does spend six to eight weeks on the lees, with daily stirring to give some yeasty characters and interesting texture.  It’s fresh and tangy – and far more moreish than Aussie Chardonnays of old!

Nugan Estate Riverina “Scruffy’s” Shiraz 2014 (14.0%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Nugan Personality Scruffy Shiraz

Scruffy is our Shiraz vineyard manager – he’s a mountain of a man and always looks like he’s been wrestling the local wildlife. Despite constantly looking untidy and in desperate need of a shave, he’s a real charmer with the ladies. We excuse him for being so rough around the edges as that’s his style and the world would be so boring if everyone was the same and he really knows what he’s doing in our vineyards.”

Another Riverina wine, this is partially matured in oak – both French and American – 25% of which is new.  Winemaker Daren Owens keeps vineyard yields low to help intensify flavours and insists on careful fruit selection to maintain quality.

Scruffy by name, but not by nature – this wine is full of juicy berries, blackberry and blackcurrant in particular.  There’s just a lick of vanilla from the oak which adds complexity.  Probably the most drinkable wine at this price point!

Nugan Estate Riverina “Stompers” Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (14.0%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Nugan Personality Stompers Cab Sauv

“My mother can be an intimidating person and there’s a few blokes that still wish they’d never given her a hard time. That said, our one vineyard manager named Stomper seems to have found a way to sidestep her wrath with his seemingly carefree attitude. We call him Stomper because the whole building shakes when he walks in – a gentle giant!”

Whereas the Shiraz has both American and French oak, the Cabernet Sauvignon’s more reserved character is better suited to just French oak – though again only a quarter of it is new.

Stomper’s wine is more about cassis and chocolate, with some noticeable Cabernet graphite and cedarwood characters.  It’s a little more serious, but would pair very well with red meat.

Choices, Choices

To be honest I’d be very happy to pay €12.99 for each of these wines, but at €10.00 they are an absolute steal.  The choice between the whites depends on whether you prefer a little more subtlety (the Chardonnay) or a little more expressiveness (the Sauvignon).  I’d probably pick the former two out of three times.  Between the reds I’d have a preference for the Shiraz (as does my wife!).

 

Disclosure: wines were kindly provided for review

 

Smooth SuperValu Reds [Make Mine a Double #21]

In the search for authenticity through ever-smaller areas of delineated terroir, one of the key qualities that the average wine drinker looks for is sometimes overlooked: drinkability!  Just as blends of different grapes can sometimes be preferable to single varietals, outside of the best sub-regions, a blend from different terroirs can be the best solution for approachable and easy drinking wine.

Here are two reds which have distinct origins (Burgundy and Tuscany) but are well put-together blends from within those regions:

Maison André Goichot Naudin Tiercin Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2011 (12.5%, €14.99 from SuperValu / Centra)

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Of course virtually all red Burgundy is made from Pinot Noir (apart from a little Gamay in a few places) but it does no harm to have the grape variety on the front label for those who are more casual drinkers.  As a world famous region that is celebrated as the home of Pinot Noir, Burgundy has significant cachet on a label…but as can be the case in many regions, some wines are sold based on the region rather than the quality of the contents.

And on opening this bottle I thought I was tasting another such wine – acidic and lean with little fruit – oh no!  But then a little more time in the glass and it changed completely – the acidity remained but was the backbone for delicious raspberry and strawberry fruit, with perhaps a hint of vanilla.  I highly recommend decanting this wine and drinking just under room temperature – say 15C – perfect for a summer day!

Castellani Arbos Sangiovese Toscana 2013 (13.5%, €12.99 from SuperValu / Centra)

Castellani Arbos Sangiovese

Good Chianti combines red and black fruit with some bitter and sour notes to make a complex, savoury whole.  Sadly, poor Chianti doesn’t always have the fruit to go with the counterpoints, so it can taste austere or even harsh.  There is an alternative from Tuscany (but outside of the Chianti DOC regulations) at the less expensive end: IGT Toscana.

The Castellani family produce some serious Chiantis, particularly from their own estates, but they also produce more accessible everyday wines such as their Arbos Sangiovese. The Arbos is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes bought in from other growers (based on my reading of their website) but subject to strict quality control.  It has Sangiovese’s classic cherry, strawberry and raspberry notes with a little spice, yes, but with a super-smooth mouthfeel.  Drink with steak, pasta or a friend!

This is the best IGT Toscana I’ve tried by a country mile!

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

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

I like Swiss Wines – Cos That’s How I Roll (part 2 – familiar grapes)

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I hope you enjoyed reading about the rarities in part 1; of course there is far more to Swiss wine than just those – Petite Arvine and Chasselas are must-tries from the country as well. For those who would like a more familiar introduction to Swiss wines, here is a trio made from international grapes:

Gialdi Vini Terre Alte Bianco 2015 (12.5%, £19.68 at Alpine Wines)

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Nearly every wine drinker has heard of Merlot, even if they are like my mate Jim who has an acute aversion to it (the unconfirmed rumour is that he can taste Merlot in a wine even if it’s at homoeopathically minute proportions). Perhaps only wine scholars will know Merlot Blanc, a cross of Merlot (Noir) and Folle Blanche, the Cognac grape also known as Gros Plant in the western reaches of the Loire.

However, this is a white Merlot wine but it is not Merlot Blanc – it’s a white wine made from black grapes, a Blanc de Noirs. Of course Blancs de Noirs are common in Champagne and other sparkling wines, but they are rarely seen as still wines.

It’s dry yet fruity, with so much texture – it’s very quaffable but would stand up to some sturdy food if required.  Don’t serve ice cold – allow the flavours to express themselves.

PS Jim really liked this as well!

Cicero Alto Reben AOC Graubünden Pinot Noir 2012 (13.5%, £26.40 at Alpine Wines)

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At last, a well-known grape in a well-known format!  Not having tasted Swiss Pinot Noir for a long time, I would most liken this to a good German Spätburgunder – a little more power than a lot of Burgundy equivalents, but still fresh and savoury.  It shows lots of red (strawberry & raspberry) and black (blackberry & blackcurrant) fruit – it’s in no way austere, but neither is it shouty.

I recently attended a Pinot Noir masterclass in Dublin and I would rate this as better than both the French and New Zealand representatives – it definitely stands up against Burgundy of the same or higher price.

Syrah de Sion, Maître de Chais, Réserve Spéciale 2009 (14.5%, 2011 is £29.88 at Alpine Wines)

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Now I knew that Syrah can perform well in a diverse range of climates, but for some reason I still didn’t expect to find it grown in Switzerland.  This is one of the more full-bodied and opulent Syrahs produced in the country – at 14.5% it’s not going to be a shrinking violet!  – to show how far Swiss Syrah can go.

Only 900 bottles of this 2009 were made (we were tasting bottle 0645).  It’s full of spice and berries, but smooth.  There’s still some oak apparent but it’s well integrated.  The tannins are soft and supple.  Some might find it a touch over-extracted but I thought it downright delicious!  

For comparison, to me it brings to mind Saint-Joseph (northern Rhône) or Hawke’s Bay (North Island of NZ) – two excellent Syrah producing areas.

Spanish Treats from O’Briens

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Here are a few of my favourite Spanish wines available at O’Briens – and until 17th August they are on sale with 20% or more off, so it’s a great time to snap them up!

Martín Códax Rías Baixas Albariño 2013 (12.5%, €17.95 down to €14.36 at O’Briens)

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The fresh one: Named after a literary hero from Galicia in northwest Spain, this wine also uses the celebrated local grape Albariño.  While some examples can be a little too tart for my taste, several months of ageing on the lees before bottling and a few years’ rest make this wonderfully round, though still fruity and refreshing.  Expect citrus and soft stone fruit notes.

Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Capellanía 2010 (13.5%, €24.95 down to €19.96 at O’Briens)

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The Marmite one: this is generally a love or loathe type of wine due to the deliberate introduction of some oxygen during the winemaking process – i.e. giving it a slight “Sherry” taste.  It’s how traditional style white Rioja is made – and to be honest I’m all for it as technically better modern examples are often a bit dull.  I also tasted a 2005 vintage recently and it was still going strong, so don’t be in a hurry to drink it!

Torres Ribero del Duero Crianza Celeste 2012 (14.0%, €21.95 down to €17.56 at O’Briens)

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The regular one: Although it’s fairly well distributed, this is a classy wine that always delivers – it’s a regular tipple for me.  It’s made from Tempranillo which is of course the mainstay of red Rioja, but the hotter days and cooler nights of the Ribero del Duero give the local variant a thicker skin and hence the wine has more colour and flavour – dark berries with a pinch of spice!

Monte Real Rioja Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €30.45 down to €24.36 at O’Briens)

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The surprising one: This wine was one of the stand outs for me at the O’Briens Spring Wine Fair.  When it comes to Rioja I don’t usually go for a Gran Reserva as they can be woody and dried out from too much time in oak, but this was a revelation.  30 months in American oak followed by 3 years in bottle have set it up superbly.  The strawberry fruit is so, so soft with vanilla on the side, and a slight smoky edge to the wine.  The oak is definitely noticeable but it’s now well integrated.  A fabulous wine!

Marques de Murrieta Castillo De Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2007 (14.0%, €85.00 down to €68.00 at O’Briens)

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The no-expense spared one: Yes, this is an expensive wine, but it is counted among the best in Spain, so if you’re splashing out then why not?  It’s a blend of 86% Tempranillo and 14% Mazuelo (a.k.a. Carignan) matured in oak for 28 months.  It tastes pretty damned amazing, but it’s still a baby – put a couple of bottles away for a special occasion in a few years time!

SuperValu French Whites [Make Mine a Double #20]

Here are a couple of lovely French whites from the excellent 2015 vintage, both fairly moderate in alcohol at 12.5% but very different in style:

Saint Auriol Chatelone Corbières 2015 (12.5%, €12.99 at SuperValu / Centra)

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Corbières is the biggest Appellation Contrôlée within the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region of France, the central part of southern France stretching from the Spanish border across the Mediterranean coast up to Provence.  It’s obviously a sunny place so has long been the source of easy-drinking, fruity reds which are produced in abundance.  It is very much a region on the up, with a new wave of quality-conscious producers making their own wines with low yields rather than selling grapes to the local co-operative.

This is a white Corbières, which makes up only around 2% of the AOC’s production, so it is something of a rarity.  The wine is a blend of grapes popular in the Rhône, Provence and Languedoc – Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache BlancBourboulenc.  The vines face south-east so they get plenty of sun but not too much heat in the afternoon.

Each of the grapes adds something to the wine – there’s soft pear, apple and stone fruit, a touch of citrus and nutty notes – and a delightful texture.  The back label suggests drinking between 10C and 12C – so make sure it’s not served straight from a domestic fridge which would be too cold.

The back label also has another surprising snippet: the producer reckons the wine will keep for 6 years or more if stored well – if you are the sort of person who likes to see how a wine evolves and gains in complexity over time then this would be a great bottle to try it with!

La Vigne Des Sablons Vouvray 2015 (12.5%, €14.99 at SuperValu / Centra)

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Still in France but further north, Vouvray is made in the Touraine region around the city of Tours.  Touraine region wines can be red, white, rosé or sparkling; reds are made from Gamay, Pinot Noir, Côt (Malbec) and Breton (Cabernet Franc), amongst others with Sauvignon Blanc and Pineau Blanc de la Loire (Chenin Blanc) the main white grapes.

Vouvray is east by north east of Tours and is predominantly Chenin country.  The sweetness of the wines varies considerably from producer to producer, and particularly from vintage to vintage – warmer years mean more sugar in the grapes and usually more sugar in the finished wine.

This bottle by La Vigne des Sablons is off-dry or perhaps a touch sweeter, but doesn’t taste overtly sweet due to Chenin’s naturally high acidity.  The main notes are fresh and baked apple, drizzled with a touch of honey.  It’s dangerously drinkable!  A great introduction to Vouvray from which you could explore others.

 

Disclosure:  both wines kindly provided for review

 

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

Chardonnays from California and Kent [Make Mine a Double #19]

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I have long being a fully paid-up member of the alternative ABC club – Always Buy Chardonnay (rather than Anything But Chardonnay) – whether it’s in or out of fashion makes no difference to me.  As long as it’s well made, I like all the different styles it comes in – oaked, unoaked, tropically rich or mineral and lean (and that’s without going into fizz).

Here are two which are very different in style – one from a well-known Chardonnay producing area, and another where (still) Chardonnay is almost unheard of!

Hush Heath Estate Skye’s English Chardonnay 2015 (11.0%, £16.50 from Hush Heath Estate)

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English sparkling wine is riding high at the moment – more and more producers are being set up and quality is constantly improving.  English still wines are still very variable, in my opinion. Many of them are based on less well known varieties which were created to survive and thrive in cool German vineyards, but are less than celebrated elsewhere.  Some Alsatian style wines have proved to be very good (e.g. Stopham Estate), but here is the first (still) English Chardonnay I have ever tasted.

Hush Heath Estate can’t claim anywhere near the same continuous history as a working winery compared to Beringer below – the current winery was only set up in 2010 – but the estate was created as far back as 1503 when Columbus* was still making his transAtlantic jaunts.   Hush Heath make quite a broad range of drinks, including the cider I reviewed here and award winning Balfour Brut Sparkling.

And it’s an absolutely delightful wine!  Not at all shouty, it’s gently delicious – in fact with both Golden Delicious and Granny Smith’s apple characters, plus a touch of citrus.  I detected a little bit of residual sugar on the finish (a few g/L, though I’m happy to be corrected) which adds to the juicy round fruit character and doesn’t make it taste “sweet”.

As my opening suggested, some people just don’t like Chardonnay, but I asked a friend who is among them to try this and she was pleasantly surprised – “If only all Chardonnay was like this”.  Truly a wine for both ABC clubs!

Beringer Founders’ Estate California Chardonnay 2013 (14.0%, €19.99 from stockists listed below)

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The Beringer Brothers were pioneers of winemaking in the Napa Valley, now the most prestigious wine region in the United States.  Their original winery is claimed to be the oldest continually operating winery in the Napa Valley (since 1876), which is rather notable if the prohibition era is taken into account.  In fact, Beringer was the first California winery to offer tours after the repeal of prohibition – inviting A list stars such as Clark Gable might have helped!

From 1971 to 2000 ownership changed hands a few times, until it finally became part of the Australian Fosters Group, twinned with Wolf Blass to become Beringer Blass, and is now the stablemate of other famous Treasury Estates brands such as Penfolds and Wynns Coonawarra.

The Founders’ Estate series is a step up from Beringer’s Classic range and “offer[s] concentrated expressions of the most popular varietals, steeped in quality that comes from Beringer’s history of crafting great wines from all over California for over 130 vintages“.  So how does the Chardonnay taste?  Like a well-made Californian wine!  Which should be no surprise, really.  The fruit is ripe and tropical, with a little bit of juicy red apple and pear.  There’s some oak here, but it’s not overbearing at all.  This isn’t Chablis but neither is it an oak monster.  Would be great with creamy chicken dishes.

Stockists: Clontarf Wines, Dublin; O’Driscoll’s, Caherciveen, Co. Kerry; Salthill Off-Licence, Galway; Hole In The Wall, Blackhorse Avenue, Dublin; Kellys Wine Vault, Clontarf, Dublin; La Touche Wines, Greystones, Co. Wicklow; Sweeneys, Glasnevin, Dublin; McHugh’s of Kilbarrack & Artane, Dublin; Amber of Fermoy, Co. Cork

 

Apple or pineapple?  The choice is yours!

 

* The Explorer, not the Harry Potter Director / Producer

Disclosure:  both wines kindly provided for review

 

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

Sicilian Blends from Feudo Luparello [Make Mine a Double #18]

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Credit: NormanEinstein

All of Italy’s regions produce wine, and most of them have indigenous grapes which are rarely seen outside the country – or sometimes even outside the province.  Although rightly proud of their native grapes, when exporting wines to other countries the lack of recognition can be an issue.  Italy’s southernmost region has a clever solution: blends of local and international varieties.  If consumers don’t know the local then they might still buy the wine if they know the other, and over time the local grapes get better known.

Of course, the blends have to work well as wines, otherwise they would be forgotten quickly.  Here are two Sicilian blends I tried recently which I think are very successful:

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly provided for review.

Feudo Luparello Grillo – Viognier 2015 (13.0%, €15.85 at winesdirect.ie)

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Grillo is a native Sicilian grape which copes well with the island’s sun-baked climate. Sometimes on the neutral side, it has received most recognition to date as the grape behind Marsala, Sicily’s famous fortified wine (One of “Frankie’s Rules of Thumb”: where regular wine is turned into another product (Sherry, Cognac, Champagne etc.) the underlying wine is usually bland as hell).

Careful viticulture, restricting yields and better winemaking techniques have allowed Grillo to be quite expressive, but Feudo Luparello add 30% Viognier in this wine.  It’s quite apparent on the nose, as Viognier is highly aromatic, with floral and stone fruit notes.  On the palate it adds richness, and almost a touch of oiliness (which I love in varietal Viognier).  It’s not a flabby wine as the Grillo keeps it on the straight and narrow with fresh acidity.

This is an interesting and versatile white wine which represents great value for money.

Feudo Luparello Nero d’Avola – Syrah 2014 (13.5%, €15.85 at winesdirect.ie)

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Nero d’Avola is the most widely planted black grape in Sicily – and indeed takes its name from the city of Avola in Syracuse – though it is held in considerable esteem.  It has been likened to Syrah / Shiraz by some, though personally I don’t find them that alike.  In the past it has been seen as a little rustic in character, but that was mainly down to the winemaking.

This red keeps the same proportions as the white – it’s 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Syrah. Feudi Luparello is based in Pachino, just down the coast from Avola in Syracuse, so the vines get plenty of cooling sea breezes.  That sounds lovely, I hear you say, but what effect does it have on the wine?  The main one is to make it smoother and more elegant – there’s no hint of rusticity at all.  It is jam-packed full of juicy black fruit, with a touch of exotic spice.  Even French friends who had a taste grudgingly admitted that a “foreign” wine was pretty good!

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I like Swiss Wines – Cos That’s How I Roll (part 1 – rarities)

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Please forgive the article title, it’s so cheesy and full of holes….OK, I’ll stop now, I promise!

Swiss wines aren’t well known outside their country – and sometimes even outside their own cantons – for a simple reason: production quantities are quite small (both in terms of overall volumes and the average amount made by each producer) and most is drunk by the Swiss themselves, leaving little available for export.

With vineyards that are mainly steep (and hence hard to work) and high labour costs, Swiss wines are never going to be cheap, but in the hands of a good producer the quality can be excellent. As you might imagine given the Alpine setting, the wines tend to be light and perfumed rather than big and bruising.  Oak – especially new oak – seldom features as delicate flavours are better left to shine by themselves.

Another interesting feature of Swiss wines is the abundance of unusual grape varieties. Some – such as Chasselas – are made elsewhere, but in small quantities. Some – such as Gamaret and Garanoir – are locally conceived crosses which are suitable for the climate and terroir, and haven’t been commercially planted elsewhere.

The final category contains ancestral grapes which have virtually died out everywhere else. When diseases and pests wiped out a large proportion of European vines during different epidemics, remote locations on Swiss hillsides saved some of the grapes from extinction. Even when a few vines had survived elsewhere, the silver lining of the disasters was that vignerons got to start again with new varieties, so everything old was ripped up and vineyards replanted.

This summer I had the pleasure of tasting some fantastic Swiss wines courtesy of Alpine Wines who have an office in Yorkshire.  As well as Switzerland they also specialise in Alpine wines from Austria, France, Germany and Italy.

Below are my notes on three rare varieties and one Swiss speciality with an Italian twist!

Chanton Weine AOC Wallis Gw࣭äss 2010 (11.5%, 2006 & 2011 are £31.20 at Alpine Wines)

Gwäss

Better known by its French name Gouais Blanc, Gwäss used to be widely cultivated across Europe as it was relatively easy to grow and produced bumper harvests.  Due to its ubiquity it ended up being the father of many of the quality grapes which are still cultivated today: Chardonnay, Riesling, Blaufrankisch, Gamay Noir, Aligoté, Petit Meslier, Colombard, Auxerrois, Melon de Bourgogne plus many lesser known varieties.

The nose is predominantly citrus with a touch of stone fruit, and just the slightest hint of oxidation (to me anyway).  On tasting, this Gouais proves to be a very lean, linear wine – it’s unoaked, dry with high acidity, and again citrus notes, perhaps with hints of honey. The closest approximation I can make is a dry, cool climate Chenin Blanc, or perhaps a Muscadet.  The acidity means it would be a fantastic match for oysters, or salty nibbles, but I would be very interested to see how this develops further over the coming years.

Chanton Weine AOC Wallis Lafnetscha 2011 (12.3%, 2010 is £35.62 at Alpine Wines)

Lafnetscha

Lafnetscha is probably the rarest variety I have ever tasted.  In the Valais there is a grand total of 1.29 hectares planted and Chanton have just 0.17 of that, or a tenth the size of Romanée Conti!  Apparently the name comes from the local dialect for “don’t drink too young”, which gives you a hint that it can be fierce in its youth.

At five years this was still fairly acidic, but with plenty of fruit to go with it – zesty orange and lemon.  Compared to the Gwäss it’s a little rounder in the mouth and has more texture, so could pair well with shellfish or a light salad.

Chanton Weine AOC Wallis Eyholzer Roter 2010 (11.5%, £32.54 at Alpine Wines)

Eyholzer Roter

Another rarity from Chanton, but this time a red wine, and one with synonyms in other mountainous territories – Hibou Noir in Savoie and Avanà in Piedmont (in the Susa Valley where it is slightly more widely planted).  The spread across three countries makes more sense when you wind the clock back several centuries: from 1418 to 1713 Piedmont, Savoie and Valais were all part of the Duchy of Savoy.

It’s a lighter type of red, in the general style of Beaujolais Villages or Burgundy Pinot Noir. Chanton’s is unoaked – which I’d imagine is generally the case – so the fruit can shine through unabated.  It’s mainly red fruit – cherry, strawberry and raspberry – and very fresh thanks to the crisp acidity.  There’s a little bit of tannin but it’s in no way austere – such a moreish wine!

Cave de la Côte Gamar’One 2012 (14.0%, 2011 / 2013 is £32.64 / £32.45 at Alpine Wines)

GamarOne

Gamaret is a cross created specifically for the French speaking part of Switzerland, with its full sibling Garanoir used in the German-speaking part.  They are both a cross between Gamay and Reichensteiner (a white variety found in cool climate countries such as Germany and England).

The Italian twist I alluded to before is the use of dried grapes to concentrate flavours and alcohol – the Amarone method – hence Gamaret becomes Gamar’One.  It’s a powerful wine, but not like being beaten over the head as with some Amarones.  Soft plum and black fruit burst out of the bottle, with a touch of residual sugar helping round out the palate.  You owe it to yourself to give this a try!

Look out for part 2 which will feature some Swiss interpretations of better known grapes.

6 Fab Wines From H2G

Honest 2 Goodness – H2G for short – recently held their summer wine tasting event at their base in Glasnevin.  A contingent from the DNS Wine Club (for which I am chief bottle washer) was in attendance and we were entertained by a jazz band as we drank tasted.

Here are the top 3 whites and top 3 reds which piqued my interest:

Domaine de Valensac Chardonnay Vin de Pays d’Oc 2015 (13.5%, €14.95 at H2G)

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Although lying much further south than Chardonnay’s spiritual home of Burgundy, being situated just 10 km from the Mediterranean means that Domaine de Valensac’s vineyards are well cooled by the sea influence.  Perfectly ripe fruit gives both citrus and tropical notes – definitely more like the Mâconnais than Chablis – but nicely balanced by acidity and texture.  No oak is used so it might surprise you if you don’t like the taste of “Chardonnay”.

Betomish Blanco Tarragona 2015 (11.0%, €15.95 at H2G)

BeTomish-White

Irish brothers Tom and Eoin Gallagher have created a modern wine brand aiming to offer well made wines that reflect their Catalan origins without being tied down by too much tradition.  At present their wines are just a white from Tarragona and a red from Priorat (see below), though they do have plans to increase their range.

The bulk of the white consists of 70% local favourite Macabeo, to which 20% Muscat (for aromas) and 10% Sauvignon Blanc (for freshness) are added.  The Muscat certainly comes through on the fragrant nose, while orange, grapefruit and lemon hit the palate.  It’s a well made wine that’s more than the sum of its parts, enjoyable to quaff on its own or pretty handy with dinner.

Mandrarossa Ciaca Bianca Fiano Sicilia 2015 (13.5%, €15.95 at H2G)

Mandrarossa Fiano

Fiano is probably most well regarded in Campania where it makes up at least 85% of the DOCG Fiano di Avellino, but it also performs well in Sicily.  It has come back into favour over the last decade or so as it has more character than many of the higher-yielding but more neutral grapes which are widespread in Italy (you know the ones I mean).

Mandrarassa’s vines are situated on the south west corner of Sicily, almost touching distance from Africa.  This is a 100% Fiano with aromas and flavours of all manner of citrus and mouth-watering stone fruit.  It’s the finest Fiano I’ve tasted to date!

Also check out the Mandrarossa Nero d’Avola if you like blueberries!

Cuarto Dominio Chento Reserva Malbec 2013 (14.0%, €21.95 at H2G)

chento

This is undoubtedly a Malbec, but an elegant and perfumed one at that – I wonder if the vineyards are at a significant altitude?  More research required!  Although €6 more than its unoaked little brother, I found this to be the better value for money of the pair.  Plum, blackberry and blackcurrant are on show here, with a little cinnamon spice for extra interest.  Doesn’t have to be drunk with a steak, but probably will be!

BeTomish Tinto Priorat 2013 (14.5%, €23.50 at H2G)

BeTomish Crianza

The Gallaghers’ red is a blend of local and international grapes: 60% Garnacha, 20% Merlot, 10% Syrah and 10% Samso.  Priorat is one of the trendiest wine regions of Spain, but its wines can sometimes be very tight and unapproachable in their youth.  This is an open book of a wine – lots of dark black fruit and spice, but accessible and easy to like.  It’s not a frivolous wine, but has a very modern sensibility – a winner for me!

Corte Adami Valpolicella Superiore 2014 (13.5%, €21.95 at H2G)

corte-adami-valpolicella-superiore

A blend of local grapes Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella.  To receive the Superiore tag the wine has to be a minimum of 12.0% and spend a year in barrel.  Valpolicella wines are traditionally quite light (hence the qualifying alcohol level for Superiore is still fairly modest).  To boost the body and intensity of flavour, the producer of this wine actually dry some of the grapes for a short time before fermentation, as is done on a larger scale for Amarone.

However they got there, it works!  The nose had enticing spice aromas which follow through to the palate with ripe cherry and black fruits, plus a little vanilla.  This is probably the finest Valpolicella I’ve ever had!

 

You might also want to check out these previous articles on Honest 2 Goodness wines:

Barn-storming New Discoveries: Highlights of the H2G Tasting

H2G Organic & More Tasting

 

Wine World Colouring Book [book review]

Adult Colouring Books are all the rage nowadays – meaning of course colouring books designed for adults rather than containing 18+ material.  Primarily they are used to aid relaxation and stress-reduction, though I think it would be fair to say that there is also an element of nostalgia.

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Up to now I haven’t succumbed to this fashion, though I have been known to “help” my 4 1/2 year old son with his colouring.  However, my Twitter friend and fellow blogger Zelda Sydney has authored an adult colouring book that has me searching for colouring pencils – because the illustrations are all related to wine!

The first three pages explain (a brief) history of wine production, Zelda’s interest in wine and illustration, and why she thought to combine them.

There are 20 hand-drawn comic-style illustrations each of which has a wine-related theme.  It’s obvious that a great deal of thought has gone into their composition – they have (at times) quite technical wine themes but are approachable for those with only a passing interest in wine.  Don’t be fooled by the simplistic lettering, this lady knows her stuff!

Here is my overall favourite: before any colouring and after I have started work (Disclaimer: please bear in mind that I am partially colourblind and so the actual colours used may bear no resemblance to those intended to be used.)

 Before:beforeAnd after:

after

What fun!

Click on the image to buy the book on Amazon