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

A Fun Blind Tasting Event

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When I was asked to put on a wine tasting event for a birthday party, I asked what format the host wanted and the average level of wine knowledge among the guests. He replied that he was open about the format but that the partygoers would have varying levels of interest and knowledge in wine (a couple of heathens not even liking wine!) Furthermore, there would be different groups within the guests, so an arrangement which got them to mix well would be preferable.

The format we agreed on was one that has worked well for me at many events in the past, and has been progressively honed over the years. I split the guests into two teams, led by the birthday boy and his wife respectively. Six wines were served blind: two sparkling, two white and two red. For each wine, the teams had to guess five aspects:

  1. Geographical Origin
  2. Grape(s)
  3. ABV %
  4. Vintage
  5. Price Band

Now, blind tasting is actually pretty difficult even for seasoned professionals, so to make things a bit more reasonable there were 5 answers to chose from for each question, for each wine.  The teams could then go for more points if they were pretty sure what the wine was (e.g. choosing “Italy – Veneto” for origin and “Glera” for grape(s) if they thought it was a Prosecco) or hedging their bets.

As for the wines selected?  The host is a fan of classic Bordeaux and Burgundy but wanted to try other styles, so he asked me to choose some personal favourites.  I sourced them from Tesco (supermarket) and Sweeney’s wine merchants, so that if attendees liked the wines they would have a reasonable chance of finding them later.

So without further ado, here are the wines and the options for each question:

Marqués de la Concordia Cava 2013 (11.5%, €17.99 at Sweeney’s)

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Both teams guessed this was a Cava and had it in the right price band.  I’m not a fan of cheap Cava but this is actually a nice bottle at a pretty nice price.  I’d much prefer to drink this than most budget Proseccos!

Tesco Finest Vintage Grand Cru Champagne 2007 (12.5%, €35.00 at Tesco)

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Perhaps the proliferation of cheaper Champagnes at Lidl and Aldi have changed people’s preconceptions of how much Champagne costs, as both teams selected €20 – €30.  The biggest Champagne brand in the world – Möet & Chandon – is usually listed at €50+…but I reckon this is far better, at a significantly lower price.

Prova Regia Arinto VR Lisboa 2014 (12.0%, €13.00 at Sweeney’s)

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This is an old favourite of mine from the days of Sweeney’s regular tastings.  It now comes in two versions, the above pictured Vinho Regional and a slightly more upmarket DOC. Whispers of “It’s Riesling, look at the bottle” were heard, and I can see the logic (the bottles were wrapped in foil so the silhouette was visible).  Several tasters thought it didn’t taste of much at all, and I’d have to agree to a certain extent – it’s definitely worth trading up to the DOC for more flavour intensity.

McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Hunter Valley Semillon 2005 (12.0%, €19.99 at Tesco)

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This was a really polarising wine, and one that totally misled tasters as to its age – most thought it a 2015 or 2014, when in fact it was from the 2005 vintage!  Hunter Valley Semillon is one of the true original styles to have come from Australia.  Unoaked, it is all fresh lemon in its youth, but with significant bottle age it gains toastiness and rich flavours.  This is a bottle you can buy now and hide in the bottom of a wardrobe for a decade!

Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014 (13.5%, €26.00 at Sweeney’s)

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Probably the best-received wine of the evening!  This is a lovely wine, and one that beats off most of the competition at anything close to the price.  Its richness and spiciness (for a Pinot Noir) did lead some to think it was a Shiraz – understandable.  This was the wine which people queued up to snap the label of so that they could seek it out!

Diemersfontein Pinotage 2014 (14.0%, €23.00 at Sweeney’s)

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Another polarising wine, with several not sure if they liked it or not – and to be fair, it’s not for everyone.  This is the “Original Coffee and Chocolate Pinotage” and I happen to like it – don’t listen to the Mochas (sorry!) Of course the grape and origin weren’t explicitly listed so they were both “other” – a bit sneaky on my part?  Perhaps…

**If you are interested in having a wine tasting party or other event then please ask me for details**

 

 

A Pair of Contrasting Chardonnays [Make Mine a Double #24]

20160925_223433Another installment in the Frankly Wines ABC = Always Buy Chardonnay odyssey!  These two wines from different countries and made in different styles show what a versatile grape Chardonnay is.

Tesco Finest Bourgogne Blanc Chardonnay 2014 (12.5%, €12.00 from Tesco)

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The small print and the back label reveal that this wine is made by the Vignerons de Buxy co-operative in the Côte Chalonnaise.  This is an under-appreciated area – Chablis is world famous, as are the majestic vineyards of the Côtes de Nuits and Beaune.  The southernmost area of the Maconnais is now receiving lots of attention but the Chalonnaise remains off the radar.

At a fairly light 12.5% this is made in a fresher style.   The main notes are ripe (but not over-ripe) honeydew melon and apple, with just a kiss of vanilla hinting at a small proportion matured in oak.  A far more accessible wine than I expected, and great value for money.

Marques de Casa Concha DO Limari Chardonnay 2010 (14.0%, €17.00* from Sweeney’s)

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Marques de Casa Concha is one of the upmarket labels of Concha Y Toro, the Chilean giant. This Chardonnay is made from grapes in the Quebrada Seca Vineyard, 190 m above sea level and just 19km from the Pacific Ocean, giving it a relatively cool microclimate.  That said, at 14.0% this is no Chablis (nor Côte Chalonnaise!)  More recent vintages are noted as spending eleven months in French oak and the flavour profile of this 2010 suggests it probably did too – though not a large proportion of it new.

Flavour wise this is all about apple pie, with cream!  Perhaps a touch of pineapple candy and vanilla on the side.  It has quite a bit of body so would stand up to creamy chicken, pork or veal dishes.  At six years after vintage the 2010 is holding up well, but I’d probably look to drink it in the next few years rather than leave it for another six.

*This bottle has been tucked away in one of my wine fridges for a fair while – possibly several years – so the price is likely to have been before some of the disproportionate increases in taxes on wine in Ireland.  I’d imagine €20 is a more realistic price now.

 

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

 

The Victorians at Molloys [Make Mine a Double #23]

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Once past the humongously big area that is “South Eastern Australia”, the next level of appellation is usually the state.  As the biggest wine producing state it’s usually South Australia that is most prominent on the wine shelves, with perhaps Western Australia next (WA is a relatively small producer in volume terms though it does produce a good proportion of Australia’s quality wines).  NSW has the Hunter Valley and others, but it’s those regions whose names make it onto labels.

Victoria has lots of quality wine regions such as the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Heathcote, but blends between them are not that common either.  Here are a couple of Victorian wines I tried recently that are multi-region blends:

MWC Pinot Gris Victoria 2015 (13.5%, €18 down to €15 in September at Molloy’s)

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The stylistic division between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris is quite a divider (and I’ve commented on it myself several times).  The divide is now being blurred by many wine makers who want to make a fresh, mineral style but with a lot more flavour than bulk Italian Pinot Grigio – Fiona Turner at Tinpot Hut is one.

This example is quite rich, though not as sweet or oily as Alsace versions can be.  There’s lots of tangy fruit flavours as a result of extended time on the skins.  It’s got enough to please both crowds without selling out to either – a great achievement!

MWC Shiraz Mourvedre Victoria 2014 (14.0%, €18 down to €15 in September at Molloy’s)

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Wines sold in the EU don’t have to mention minor parts of the blend if they are less than 15% in total, so mentioning the Mourvedre component of this 95% Shiraz 5% Mourvedre wine is a deliberate choice by the producers.  That tells you something – they want to stand out from the crowd of varietal Shiraz and they also think that even 5% of a variety adds something to the final wine.

As its sibling above, this is a blend from different premium vineyards across Victoria.  My educated guess would be that it contains a fair bit from the cooler southern regions such as Yarra Valley as it’s much lighter than most I’ve had from the warmer inland areas.  In the mouth it’s nice and smooth, but well-balanced.  It has the usual black fruit and spice but they are fresh rather than stewed or jammy.  This Shiraz blend would be fantastic with a peppered steak!

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

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

SuperValu French Wine Sale

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Irish supermarket chain SuperValu has an extensive range of French wines at keen prices, which are even keener during their French Wine Sale.  Here are a few which will make their way into my shopping trolley:

Château Moulin Lafitte Bordeaux 2012 (12.5%, €18.99 down to €14.00 or 2 for €20.00 at SuperValu)

chateau-moulin-lafitte-neutreThis is much how Bordeaux wines tasted before Robert “Bob” Parker started leading vignerons astray with his flattery.  A blend of 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc, it has both red and black fruit characters, with a touch of spice.  It’s lighter and fresher than many, and would go well with BBQ pork / blue cheese or raspberry tart – whichever takes your fancy!

Château Lacombe Cadiot Bordeaux Superieur 2011 (13.5%, €16.99 down to €13.00 or 2 for €20.00 at SuperValu)

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A blend of classic Bordeaux varieties, with Merlot providing the plum and Cabernet Sauvignon the blackberry.  There’s also a savoury note, whether it’s black olive or black liquorice I can’t decide, plus pencil shavings which mark it out as a proper Claret.

Château La Baronnerie Grand Vin Bordeaux 2010 (14.0%, €15.99 down to €12.00, 2 for €20.00 at SuperValu)

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When I began my adventure into wine it was in France where Bordeaux reds were freely available. At that time it was not unusual to see Claret at 12.0% or even 11.5% – so this 14.0% is a far cry from the weedy reds of 20 years ago.  Like most wine made in France, Bordeaux shines best at the table, but this doesn’t need food – it has voluptuous, but powerful fruit with a lick of vanilla.  If I could only buy one wine from this selection then Château La Baronnerie takes the prize!

Saint Auriol Chatelaine Corbières Blanc 2015 (12.5%, €14.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

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I tried this wine for the first time recently and was very impressed – not just by how nice it tasted but also by its potential for ageing, a rare trait in inexpensive white wines.  See here for my full review.

Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux du Giennois AOC 2015 (12.5%, €14.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)

Coteaux du Giennois Blanc Alchimie 2014

I tasted the 2014 of this wine last year and was blown away by its freshness and intensity of flavour for the price.  It is absolutely a Loire style Savvy, but a very approachable and enjoyable one.

 

 

 

So you think you know Douro wines?

Port is one of the great fortified wines of the world.  Even though it’s not particularly fashionable at the moment, many wine drinkers keep a special place in their heart – and their drinks cabinets – for Port.  On top of the usual Vintage and LBV Ports there are lots of new styles being created such as Bottle-matured LBV and Rosé Port.

Then we have “dry” Douro reds which are dark, tannic and powerful – though full of fruit. In some ways they really are dry Ports, made from the same grapes, full-bodied and occasionally surpassing 15%.  The quality of Douro table wines has improved significantly over the past decade or two (as has most Portuguese wine) so they are generally well-received.

….and now for something completely different…

Niepoort Clos de Crappe Douro 2013 (12.5%, RRP €23)

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So first you notice the name – pretty amusing in my opinion, especially when you realise it sounds quite like “a load of crap“, but then I have quite a childish sense of humour.  At least it stands out!

Then you notice the verses on the label – what the actual heck is this?  You can just about make out one of them on the photo above, here’s another:

A modern old style wine.
A wine full of character, some mistakes.
Technically a disaster.
But a wine full of passion and expression.
A wild , intense nose full of reduction.
A palate “the incredible lightness of being”.
Fine, elegant and very long.
“What the hell is Clos de Crappe?”

How novel!  It really seems as though Niepoort were having a lot of fun with this wine and its packaging – and I think more producers should take note.

When reading the label you might also notice the alcohol – only 12.5%, which is a far cry from the typical big Douro reds.  Before popping the cork, you already know that the contents are going to be something different.

Then finally the wine itself.  In the glass it’s much lighter than most Portuguese reds, and really brings the funk on the nose (regular readers may have noticed that I love funky wines).  Smoke and “struck-match” reductive notes add to the intrigue.

Then to taste, red fruit is in abundance, with fresh acidity and a light mouthfeel.  This wine drops large Burgundian hints, though of course the local grapes (Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Sousão, Alicante de Bouschet, Rufete and others) are different.

Tasted blind, I would never place this wine in the Douro.  Even though I had poured it out of the bottle myself, I had some doubts!  It’s a wonderful wine…but the sting in the tail is that production is very small, and only a few cases allocated to Ireland.  Seek it out before it all goes!

Many thanks to Ben and Barbara from WineMason who parted with one of their precious bottles.

That Petrol Emotion – DNS do Riesling

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When DNS Wine Club recently met to taste a few different Rieslings, two significant conclusions presented themselves:

  1. Although Riesling can be very pleasant in the €15 – €20 bracket (in Ireland), it’s at €25+ where the wines start to be special
  2. Despite normally being a 100% varietal, Riesling can taste incredibly different depending on where and how it is made.

Here are the three which really stood out:

Pewsey Vale The Contours Eden Valley Riesling 2010 (12.5%, €24.95 at The Corkscrew)

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While the cool Clare Valley is celebrated as the home of most of Australia’s best Riesling, the higher parts of the Eden Valley are also favourable for the variety.  Pewsey Vale winery can claim a number of firsts:

  • It was the first winery founded in (what is now) the Eden Valley in 1847
  • It was the first winery to plant Riesling in Australia (also in 1847)
  • It became the first winery in Australia to use the Stelvin screw cap closure in 1977

The Contours is Pewsey’s flagship single vineyard bottling that they only release five years after vintage as a “Museum Release” – so it already shows significant development.  And that development shows most on the nose, an amazingly intense cocktail of toast, brioche, lime, sage and petrol.  The palate is just a little less intense, but still beautiful.

Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011 (14.0%, €30.00 at Mitchell & Son)

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As the DNS Wine Club had already held an Alsace tasting earlier in the year, and given my predilection for the region’s wines, I had intended not to include any Alsace wines in the Riesling tasting.  However, I failed!  As the Sipp Mack Vieilles Vignes Gewurztraminer showed so well previously I was minded to show the equivalent Riesling, but as stocks of that had not quite arrived in the shops from the docks I was “forced” to step up to the Grand Cru!

Of all the Rieslings we tried this had the highest alcohol at 14.0% – the Grand Cru sites get lots of sun (so the grapes develop lots of sugar) and Sipp Mack’s house style is to ferment until totally dry, so all the sugar is turned into alcohol.  This Rosacker is super smooth, with apple and tangy lime fruit plus chalky minerality.  A profound wine.

Weingut Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Mosel Riesling Spätlese 2013 (8.0%, €29.95 at The Corkscrew)

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The Mosel is considered by some to be the ultimate region for Riesling, with steep slate-laden vineyards running down to the river.  Being relatively far north makes the ripening season longer and so flavours get even more chance to develop.  While there is a modern trend toward dry Riesling, for me the beauty still lies in the traditional sweeter wines such as this Spätlese (literally “late harvest”.

Sonnenuhr literally means “sun-hour” or “sun-clock”, but is better translated as sundial!  The significance seems to be that the prime south facing sites were the ones where a sundial would work so they made sure to advertise the fact.

Even before pouring it was obvious that this wine was different from the others with its golden hues.  Residual sugar is not “volatile” meaning it can’t be detected by the human nose, but the aromas of honey, soft stone fruit and flowers were phenomenal.  I did see one taster look shocked on first sniffing this wine – it’s that good!  Although quite sweet on the palate this Spätlese was perfectly balanced with zingy acidity.

Conclusions

All three of these wines were excellent, and well worth the price tags.  I would be extremely happy drinking any of them and all were well received by the club, but by a narrow margin the Max Ferd. Richter was declared wine of the night!

 

And here’s the musical reference from the article title…

Tesco Summer Whites [Make Mine a Double #22]

While we are still clinging to summer (here in Dublin at any rate) here are a couple of fresh whites that make for a perfect summer tipple:

Palais Des Anciens Gaillac Perlé 2013 (12.0%, €8.99 at Tesco)

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This wine has a very interesting background, so please excuse me if I get a little wine geeky here.

  • Gaillac is one of the oldest wine-producing areas of France: there are records showing wines being made there in the first century CE (only Côte Rôtie is thought to be older)
  • Some rare varieties are grown here, including Mauzac and Len de l’El*
  • This “Perlé” style white is bottled just before fermentation has ended, and thus the carbon dioxide produced is retained in the wine as a slight spritz!

I first tasted this wine nearly two years ago (see my friend Anne’s review) and I do remember it had a light spritz at the time, not unlike some Vinho Verde does.  Now the fizz has faded, but the wine still tastes fresh.  It has an almost saline quality to it with Mediterranean herbs.  There’s far more character here than you might expect from a €9 wine!

*Len de l’El is the official name for this grape – based in the Occitan language – and is also known an Loin-de-l’Oeil (amongst other names) which is the French term for the same thing: “far from the eye”.  This is because the stalks attaching the grape clusters to the vine are relatively far away from the bud, or “eye”

 

Tesco Finest Terre de Chieti Passerina 2015 (13.0%, €9.99 at Tesco)

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Passerina is a grape that I first came across when discussing Pecorino wine with Fergus O’Halloran, General Manager & Sommelier of The Twelve Hotel in County Galway.  The producer in the Marche that Fergus sources his Pecorino from – Il Crinale – also make a fresh, dry and aromatic wine from Passerina.

Now Tesco are in on the act!  Just like Pecorino, Passerina is predominantly made in the Marche and Abruzzo regions (the latter of which is obviously more famous for its Montepulciano reds).  Tesco’s “Finest” Passerina is made in Chieti in Abruzzo, a stone’s throw from the Adriatic.

As an Italian white, the obvious comparison is with the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio, and (thankfully) it has far more going on than the average PG plonk.  It is dry with crisp acidity, but has an array of citrus and stone fruit on the nose and the palate.  It’s a perfect patio wine!

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

I Wish They All Could Be California

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Although the French wouldn’t like to hear it, there are some high level similarities between the USA’s AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and the French Appellations d’Origine Controlées (AOCs), namely that the most prestigious delineated areas are small and sit within larger areas, sometimes with multiple layers – for example, just as Puligny-Montrachet is a part of the Côte de Beaune and then the larger Burgundy area, Russian River Valley is part of Sonoma County, then the North Coast and finally the general California area.

Confusing?  Perhaps, but the relative size of an appellation within a region is one (of several) indicators to a wine’s quality.  Here are three wines from Cline Cellars – a producer I hold in high regard – that illustrate this.

Cline Cellars North Coast Viognier 2013 (14.0%, €17.99 at jnwine.com)

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The North Coast AVA is illustrated on the map above – it contains the world-renowned Napa and Sonoma plus other great areas such as Los Carneros.  If a producer uses grapes from one of those prestigious areas then s/he will use that on the label, but if the vines lie outside them or the wine is a blend from different regions then North Coast will be used.

This is a 100% Viognier, the aromatic grape that was once almost lost apart from a few plots in Condrieu in the Northern Rhône.  It manages to be fresh and rich at the same time, with typical Viognier aromas of flowers and stone fruit such as apricot and peach.  It has a little oiliness in the mouth and more body than many whites.  Viognier is a grape that I don’t always get on with, but this is the best Californian Viognier I’ve tried to date – and great value too!

Cline Cellars Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013 (14.5%, €22.50 at jnwine.com)

 

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Sonoma Coast is the part of Sonoma County that lies – you guessed it! – on the coast.  This obviously makes it a cooler climate area than inland Sonoma (it also receives more rain than the rest of the county), so it’s more suited to varieties such as Pinot Noir.  That being said, at 14.5% this is no shrinking violet of a Pinot – you’d never wonder if it was actually a rosé rather than a red, like some Pinots!  It has a lot of body and power, but it’s no monster either, as there’s plenty of acidity to keep it in balance, and although it feels silky and voluptuous in the mouth there’s no alcohol burn on the finish.  In line with the experience there’s an abundance of bold black fruit and a twist of exotic spice.  It’s an all-round impressive wine!

Cline Cellars Contra Costa County Big Break Vineyard Zinfandel 2011 (16.0% €29.50 at jnwine.com)

 

cline_singlevineyard_bigbreak_zn_nv_final small

Based on my somewhat basic understanding of California’ geography, Contra Costa County is actually just outside the North Coast wine area, right at the bottom of the map at the top.  This is a single vineyard wine, so perhaps some sort of equivalent of Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Folatières?  Well, that might be a bit fanciful, but the (unirrigated) vines here are a century old and produce impressive concentration.  The sun beats down fiercely during the day but the nearby Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers provide cooling breezes at night which allow the grapes to rest.

Okay, there’s no hiding from the size of the Big Break Zin (named after an old levee in the area which broke decades ago) but you don’t have to – it’s approachable and cuddly rather than intimidating.  It wears its 16.0% well, just like its little brother Pinot, all down to balancing acidity.  In fact the acidity comes through in the type of fruit tasted on the palate – fresh black cherry and blackberry, with hints of cinnamon and other spices.

Conclusions

Of course the comparison between AVAs and AOCs can only go so far – the latter can be incredibly prescriptive in terms of varieties, yields, vine training, irrigation, alcohol levels and many other things, whereas AVAs are primarily just based on vineyard location.  But I think that the wines above do show that there are different quality levels and that smaller is generally better.  It could just be down to the nature of the grapes for each wine, but above all paying more definitely brings the rewards of higher concentration in the glass.

Are you inclined to agree?

 

And of course, those lyrics…

 

 

 

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)

Bourgogne Pinot Noir Goichot small

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

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