Part one covered the sparklers and the whites, now here’s a look at some of the red wines which I enjoyed at the Lidl Xmas Press Tasting:
Bordeaux Superieur AOP 2012 (€7.49)
This is traditional fare to go with steak or roast beef. I’m sure someone could also recommend a cheese this would be a great match for…but that someone’s not me! Ignore the Supérieur part of the label – it means the wine is at least 10.5% alcohol versus 10.0% for Bordeaux on its own – and in the last few decades missing that target has been rare.
Soft black fruit wrapped up in silky tannins, this is proper Bordeaux at a properly low price. A majority of Merlot gives plum and blackcurrant with just a touch of leather. Decant for a few hours to help it open up.
Cepa Lebrel Rioja DOCa Joven 2013 (€6.99)
Cepa Lebrel Rioja DOCa Crianza 2011 (€7.99)
Cepa Lebrel Rioja DOCa Reserva 2009 (€8.99)
I’ve grouped these three together as they showcase three of the four main styles of Rioja.
The style is taken as an indicator of quality but for me it’s down to personal preferences. Do you like fresh, vibrant red fruit or creamy vanilla with black fruit? Or perhaps somewhere in between? Here’s your chance to find out for yourself – buy a bottle of each and try them all together (but don’t finish them all at once on your own!)
The classification requirements are for more time in barrel and bottle before releases, hence the difference in vintages. The barrel ageing really comes through on the nose and palate, with the Reserva showing the most American oak character, though not dried out wood.
Medici Riccardi Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2012 (€9.99)
For those new to the name it is a Sangiovese dominated blend (known locally as Morellino) produced in coastal Tuscany. While not as intense as the much more famous Chianti Classico or Brunello di Montalcino, it nevertheless provides a very enjoyable, velvety wine. As is typical for the variety, black cherry and liquorice are the main flavours. Tannin and acidity are present but correct.
Medici Riccardi Sangiovesi / Shiraz IGT Toscana 2011 (€19.99)
A step down the official quality ladder, but a doubling in price? It’s not quite as straightforward as that – and it rarely is in Italy! Shiraz is actually a good partner for Sangiovese, taming the tannin and acidity, and adding juicy fruit, body and power. Too high a proportion of Shiraz in the blend means that the producer cannot use the Chianti label – but IGT Toscana is a recognised label in its own right thanks to the Supertuscans (see here).
This wine combines the cherry of Sangiovese and the blackberry of Shiraz. It’s a serious wine, well worth splashing out on.
Medici Riccardi Sangiovesi / Cabernet Sauvignon IGT Toscana 2011 (€19.99)
If you followed what I wrote for the previous wine, just imagine Cabernet Sauvignon replacing Shiraz in the blend. Still lots of juicy fruit, but blackcurrant rather than blackberry. Twelve months ageing in oak barrels also gives vanilla notes. If you can’t decide which of the two to go for – buy them both!
In the UK and Ireland, cost-conscious shoppers (i.e. most of them nowadays) are increasingly moving from traditional supermarkets to the German budget chains Aldi and Lidl. So is there anything for the wine lover there? A previous post covered the highlights from the Aldi press tasting, now I look at a few of my favourite fizzy and white wines from the Lidl Ireland press tasting:
Straight to the main event: this is a long-standing favourite of mine from Lidl and my favourite wine of the whole tasting. The blend is 60% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay so expect lots of strawberry on the nose and on the palate. There’s also plenty of toasty and yeasty complexity, with a pleasing dry finish. I suspect the dosage is quite modest compared to the standard Lidl offerings from Champagne, so less of a crowd-pleaser but better balanced. I’d be happy to drink this anytime!
Crémant d’Alsace Brut NV (€10.49)
A couple of hours drive east from Reims takes you to Alsace, and France’s second most (domestically) consumed sparkling wine. Of course Alsace has much more than that, but its fizz is very approachable and good value. The grapes permitted include most of those allowed in still Alsace – Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois Blanc – plus the world’s favourite white grape for fizz, Chardonnay, which is definitely not permitted in still Alsace. In practice Pinot Blanc is often the biggest component.
The minimum for non-vintage is nine months on the lees (c.f. fifteen in Champagne) so fruit is to the fore – and that’s what you get here. Apple is the primary note, but there’s also a lovely honeyed aspect. This is a fairly simple fizz but one that I would quaff in preference to most Prosecco or Cava.
Chablis AOC 2012 (€11.99)
From the most northerly outpost of Burgundy, Chablis is (almost always) a 100% varietal Chardonnay. Especially at the basic AOC/AOP level, it is usually unoaked and steely rather than lush and buttery. In fact, it’s not unknown for people who don’t like “Chardonnay” to love Chablis. Go figure. Now that the wine fashion needle is pointing firmly at “cool climate”, it’s a wonder that Chablis isn’t even more popular.
Vintage is important here, not for the vintage itself but for the age of the wine – Chablis is often released too young, but this has an extra year on many now appearing on the shelf. This has given it a bit of time to settle down and integrate. It shows typical green apple and lemon fruit on the palate with racy acidity to keep it fresh but not austere. Smoked salmon starter over Christmas? This would do nicely!
Mâcon-Villages AOP 2013 (€9.99)
Mâcon is the most southerly district of Burgundy proper, before the soils change to the granite of Beaujolais. The top villages have their own AOCs – think Pouilly-Fuissé, St-Véran, etc. – then the next level down add their name to Mâcon, thus Mâcon-Igé and Mâcon-Uchizy. Another level down again is Mâcon-Villages – still a good wine in the right hands.
Of course this is still Chardonnay, and as we’re quite far south here there’s often a tropical note to the fruit. This example showed lemon and ripe grapefruit with a pleasant round mouthfeel. There’s a touch of oak, I’d suggest a few months in one to three year old barrels, but it doesn’t dominate.
Gavi DOCG 2013 (€7.49)
So lightening does strike twice! After unexpectedly recommending a Gavi from arch rivals Aldi, I’m now doing the same at Lidl! Again it’s not the most complex wine but it’s got plenty of pear and soft stone fruit. Acidity is high but refreshingly so – very drinkable.
Cimarosa Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (€8.49)
2013 was a great year in Marlborough, and it shows in this well-made savvy. This is one to drink now rather than save for next summer, while it’s still got zing. The nose is unmistakably Marlborough – grapefruit and passion-fruit – followed up by a big round mouthful of fruit. Great value for money.
Part two will cover my favourite red wines from the tasting.
Part one gave the background to the BIG Rhône tasting at Ely as part of Rhône Wine Week in Ireland and some of the whites which really caught my eye.
So now we’re on to the main event:
Of course the Rhône is much more celebrated for its red wines, so below are some of the red beauties that really stood out for me (in no particular order). Once again, apologies for the image quality – the low light downstairs at Ely is very atmospheric but smartphone cameras struggle.
Pierre Gaillard Cornas 2012 (Mitchell & Son, €45.99)
The only AOC (well AOP now, but you know what I mean) that mandates 100% Syrah, Cornas in the northern Rhône is reputed to be rustic – and given the label you might have no reason to think otherwise – but this was anything but rustic. Pierre Gaillard’s most southerly vineyard is a parcel of old vines over the age of 70, situated on altered granite slopes, offering good drainage and warmth from the hot temperatures of its micro-climate.
Perhaps it’s modern, hygienic winemaking equipment that banishes rusticity, or maybe the east-facing aspect of the vineyard that endows the wine with power. Whatever the cause, it’s a delicious wine that showcases some of the best that Rhône Syrah can do. There is bacon and black olives, pepper and spice, but above all refined power from the fruit.
As a former Cornas doubter, I doubt no more.
M. Chapoutier Rasteau 2012 (Findlater, €19.99)
Maison M. Chapoutier (M for Max, then his sons Michel and Marc) produces wine from all across the Rhône region, though is most well known for their top Hermitage wines, of both colours. Chapoutier’s wine labels are distinctive because of their raised Braille dots on the labels – and as a happy coincidence they are aesthetically pleasing for sighted people as well.
Rasteau AOC was well known as a Vin Doux Naturel for a long time, its dry reds were Côtes du Rhônes Villages-Rasteau until their promotion with effect from the 2009 vintages. It is therefore one of the more modest Cru but this bottle really delivers – plump red and black fruit from the Grenache, with a little spicy edge from the Syrah. At a fairly modest price this is something that would stand up to hearty winter dishes but would be great sipped out of a big glass on its own.
Château de Montmirail Gigondas “Cuvée de Beauchamp” 2012 (Didier Fiat, €26.00)
Gigondas is now the unofficial second-ranked Cru in the southern Rhône behind Châteauneuf-du-Pape. With the heavy, embossed bottle there’s no doubt it’s trying to ape its more famous neighbour. A small amount of rosé is made here, but the main event is the red, made from a maximum 80% Grenache, a minimum 15% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre, then the balance made up of certain other Rhône varieties.
The Cuvée de Beauchamp consists of 75% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre, a classic GSM blend. It’s big and powerful without being jammy – supercharged strawberries was my main tasting note!
Les Vignerons d’Estézargues Côtes du Rhône Villages-Signargues “Sy” 2012 (Tyrrell & Co, €22.00)
“Sy” is actually short for Syrah which is 90% of this blend which is almost unheard of from the Southern Rhône – and this area is within touching distance of the Mediterranean, it’s so far south. The southerly latitude accounts for the additional weight and power compared to average Rhône Syrahs – 14.5% alcohol and a huge mouthfeel.
The high proportion of Syrah planted in the area is a result of moving from mixed agriculture (particularly olives) to predominantly viticulture in the 1960s – landowners were free to choose the most appropriate Rhône variety and many went for the prestigious Syrah.
Of all the Rhône Syrahs I’ve tasted recently this is the closest to a New World Shiraz. Blackberry and plum with exotic spice combine on the palate, with enough acidity to keep it from being blowsy. Every New World Shiraz fan should try this!
Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2012 (Tyrrell & Co, €45.00)
Like a drunken reveller leaving a nightclub, Ventoux has dropped its Côtes, which signifies a step up in status and quality. Although it is situated in the southerly reaches of the Rhône, the cool winds coming off the Mont de Ventoux and Valcluse mountains help maintain acidity and freshness.
Château Pesquié is named after the Provençal word for a fishpond – springs and natural water sources being very important in such a warm climate. Artemia is their premium bottling made of equal parts of Grenache and Syrah, both from low-yielding sites. All the grapes are handpicked and after ruthless selection they are destemmed and given a long fermentation and maceration. Malo and maturation take place over 18 months in 50% new and 50% two and three year old oak barrels.
Everything about the making of this wine is designed to make it epic!
And is it! It’s rich and unctuous, dark black fruit and spice compete for your attention. But it’s not all about big fruit, there’s also acidity and minerality there. This is obviously very very young, but it is already drinkable. Do you mind if I say “epic” again?
Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2006 en magnum (n/a)
Just to show what the wines look like with a bit – but only a bit – of age, Monsieur Chaudière brought along a magnum of Artemia 2006, the third release.
Even accounting for the slower ageing in magnum, this was still a baby. It had started to add a few more developed notes to the primary fruit, but this will be drinking well in another fifteen years. Want!
Vacqueyras became the third major Cru of the southern Rhône in 1990, and is one of the very rare AOCs that produces wine in all three colours (though is predominantly known for its red). The Domaine was created by the Vache family (no sniggering please, it’s childish) a few years before, in 1987, and now has 20 hectares under vine. “Monarde” is a medicinal herb similar to bergamot which grows widely in the area.
A blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah, the grapes are hand picked and sorted then fully destemmed. Wild yeast is used rather than commercial yeast. The two grapes are fermented separately for two to three weeks – the Syrah is punched down to extract colour, flavour and tannin, whereas the thinner skinned Grenache is treated more lightly. Maturation is 12 months in concrete tanks and barrels and then bottling is done without fining or filtration.
There’s lots of primary cherry and blackcurrant fruit here – particularly coming from the Grenache – but also lots of herbs and spices. It’s a veritable spice rack in a bottle!
JL Chave Côtes du Rhône “Mon Coeur” 2012 (La Rousse Wines, €22.90)
Although this is “only” a Côtes du Rhône the quality in the bottle is a lot higher than the appellation might suggest. It also commands a higher price than other basic CDRs, but the producer’s name carries a lot of weight. The Chave family have been growing grapes in the Rhône for half a millennium, with the current man in charge being Jean-Louis (JL).
The fruit comes from the Southern Rhône’s northerly villages of Valréas, Vinsobres and Visan which are fairly high in altitude and have more Syrah than usual in the south – perfect for a house from Hermitage! This is quite serious for a Côtes du Rhônes and has firm tannins, but its red and black fruits with a savoury black olive streak are just delicious!
Santa Duc Rasteau “Les Blovac” 2009 (Le Caveau, €18.45)
As you might expect from Le Caveau this is an organic wine made by a small producer. After over a hundred years selling their grapes, they began making their own wines in 1985. Their home base is in Gigondas at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, but they make wines from several appellations across the southern Rhône. The Domaine’s name is taken from the Provençal for a calling owl which is common to the area – there’s no saint or duke involved!
Once again we have a typical southern Rhône blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre (the precise blend does change from vintage to vintage). The grapes are picked when fully ripe, but then have a long fermentation with gentle extraction. At five years old it’s starting to become more even interesting and adds smoky, gamey notes to the dark black fruit. Espresso and dark chocolate make for a full house of flavour.
JL Chave Hermitage “Farconnet” 2009 (La Rousse Wines, €58.00)
So we’ve already seen what Chave can do with a basic Rhône appellation, now to look at the most prestigious appellation of the northern Rhône – Hermitage. Famed as the original home of Syrah, Hermitage became almost synonymous with the grape itself – hence Penfolds icon Grange was labelled as Grange Hermitage until 1989 (though I’m not sure how it became the name for Cinsaut in South Africa!).
Ostensibly a négotiantwine, the grapes are sourced from both Chave’s own vineyards and those of long term contract growers on the western slopes of the granitic Hill of Hermitage. The power of the vintage really comes through in the fruit – some dried but mainly fresh black berries with the signature Syrah spice.
November 2014 saw the second Rhône Wine Week extravaganza in Ireland, hugely expanded on the already successful inaugural Week in 2013. The expansion was both geographical and in terms of the number of events – it would have been physically impossible to get to all of them, even just the Dublin ones. Kudos to my team mates Morgan, Diarmuid and Suzanne of Team Slapshot, together we came a creditable joint 3rd in the Big Rhône Quiz.
This post (and the next) will concentrate on the Big Rhône Tasting held at Ely Bar and Brasserie in the IFSC, Dublin. A former 200 year old tobacco and wine warehouse in Dublin’s Financial district, it has spectacular vaulted cellars. My smartphone pics below of the tables set up for tasting really don’t do it justice!
So now onto a few of the white wines that really stood out for me:
Château la Canorgue Pays du Vaucluse Viognier 2012 (Le Caveau, €18.45)
Viognier isn’t a grape I tend to pick off the shelf very often. Some of the examples I’ve tasted have been too dry and not flavoursome enough to be enjoyed on their own; while I applaud the continental practice of drinking wine mainly at the table, the reality is that I’m far more likely to pop a cork sat in the lounge rather than the dining room.
However THIS is a Viognier that drinks very well on its own, and at a very reasonable price. It has ripe stone fruit and an oily, rich viscosity that make it a real pleasure.
White Châteaneuf-du-Pape can be made of any or all of the six white grapes in the list of eighteen permitted grapes for the AOC. It’s pretty rare though, making up only around 5% of total CNDP production – and even rarer is it cheap!
Made from 100% Roussanne grown in the wind-swept northern slopes of Châteauneuf, the grapes are hand picked and gently pressed. Fermentation and maturation is carried out in oak barriques, 50% new and 50% one year old, for ten months.
Surprisingly, oak doesn’t dominate the palate – Roussanne gives a rich and fat body plus plenty of fruit which can stand up to the oaking. As a youngster the main fruit flavour is pear – but not the pear drop flavour which is common on many modern cool-fermented whites. Instead, imagine that you’ve been lost in a desert for a few days with nothing to eat or drink and then you find a few fresh, juicy pears – it’s that intense!
The vineyard’s windy aspect helps maintain acidity and this comes through in the freshness – it’s rich but not at all flabby. White Châteauneuf needs a good while before it starts to develop tertiary flavours – we tasted a 2006 at the Big Rhône Quiz which was only just approaching middle age!
Eric Texier Opâle 2012 (La Rousse Wines, €21.90)
And now for something completely different! This is the first time I had come across anything like this from the Rhône – it’s a sweet Viognier, not made by fortification as with Vins Doux Naturels, but rather by reducing the temperature to stop fermentation once the must has reached 7% alcohol. The grapes were picked early to maintain acidity so the resulting sweetness has a balance – it’s not at all cloying.
While this wine does reveal some varietal characteristics, stylistically it reminded me of a Mosel Riesling – and thankfully that’s what Monsieur Texier is aiming for. Being fairly low in alcohol also means you can have a small glass and still drive afterwards!
It’s not all straw baskets and fava beans! Chianti is a delimited area between Siena and Florence in Tuscany. The name has been in use for over 700 years and on wines for at least 600 years, but has changed a lot over that time.
The Chianti wine producing area was one of the first to be officially demarcated anywhere in the world by the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s 1716 decree. At that time various different grapes were used, including Canaiolo, Mammolo, Malvasia and Sangiovese.
In 1872 the Florentine statesman Baron Bettino Ricasoli (who later became Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy) decided upon and promoted a blend for Chianti based on 70% Sangovese, 15% Canaiolo, 10% Malvasia and 5% other local red varieties. As it happens it was a Ricasoli wine that gave me my first taste of quality Chianti!
In 1932 the Italian government significantly expanded the area allowed to use the term Chianti on their labels, and created seven subdivisions within it: Classico (pretty much the original Chianti heartland), Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano and Rùfina.
In 1967 the DOC regulations were introduced for Chianti, accompanied by a further expansion of the boundaries and mandating the use of the Ricasoli “recipe” – so all producers were forced to use 10% white Malvasia. The expansion in vineyard area was done without great attention being paid to clones (Sangiovese mutates easily like Pinot), rootstocks or soil types, and quality fell markedly.
First Amongst Equals
The noble Florentine Antinori family (Marchese means Marquis in Italian) trace their entry into the wine trade back to 1385, though in all likelihood they cultivated grapes on their estates before then. The current firm was founded in 1895 by the brothers Lodovico and Piero Antinori, and expanded within Tuscany and into Umbria by Piero’s son Niccolò.
It was Niccolò’s son Piero who really lit a fire under the company after taking the reins in 1967. He increased the land under vine by fifteen times and constantly strove to innovate with the assistance of his oenologist Giacomo Tachis. Now joined by his three daughters, the company has around 1,800 ha in central Italy and a further 400 ha overseas, particularly Napa.
Antinori is the biggest but also the most important producer in Chianti, and perhaps all of Italy. They are founding members of the Primum Familiae Vini – the First Families of Wine – an association of family owned and run wineries which are in the top echelon of their respective region.
Chianti Saved by the Super-Tuscans?
Constricted by the reliance on Sangiovese, ban on foreign grapes and insistence on the inclusion of white grapes in the blend, Piero Antinori and others began experimenting outside the DOC laws. Tignanello was released in 1971 under the humble Vina de Tavola label. It was a Sangiovese / Cabernet Sauvignon blend aged in small barrels (quite different from the huge botti which were the norm) and caused the world to look at Tuscany again.
Antinori also made Solaia, and helped to launch Sassicaia. Together these wines improved the image of Tuscan wine and encouraged Chianti producers to up their game.
It also encouraged the wine authorities to rethink their stance on grape varieties (in particular).
Antinori Chianti Classico Tasting with Allegra Antinori
And so to a recent tasting in Dublin in the delightful company of Allegra Antinori.
Allegra took us through four of Antinori’s Chianti Classicos, from everyday quality to seriously premium:
Stockists: O’Brien’s Off-Licences; Next Door Off-Licences; Redmond’s of Ranelagh, Dublin; Carpenters of Castleknock, Dublin; Savages of Swords, Dublin; Bradley’s of North Main Street, Cork; O’Driscolls, Cork; Mortons of Galway; Le Caveau, Kilkenny; Terroirs, Donnybrook; Mitchell & Sons
This is a fruity, accessible style of Chianti Classico designed to be drunk withing a year or so of purchase. The grapes are grown on the Pèppoli estate between Sienna and Florence; 90% Sangiovese is complemented by Merlot and Syrah. A light touch of oak adds a bit of chocolate and vanilla to give a little complexity and approachability, but this is unmistakably Sangiovese – plenty of ripe red cherry fruit with acidity and marked, but silky soft tannins. The finish is dry but long, and far from austere.
A great introduction to Chianti Classico!
Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 (due in Ireland Q2 2015)
This bottling was specifically designed for the US market (Italian wine does very well in the States) but has become so popular that it is being released in Europe as well. After opening their new Chianti Classico cellars Antinori wanted to pay tribute to their classic Villa Rosso Chianti Classico Riserva.
Again Sangiovese dominates the blend at 90%, but this time it’s an all-Bordelais Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot top up. As you’d expect with a Riserva, it’s a definite step up in intensity, both on the nose and on the palate. There’s more fruit, with raspberries being supported by darker berries, but also more tannin to give a savoury balance.
One of the jewels in the Antinori portfolio is the 160 ha Tignanello estate, known for the Super-Tuscans Solaia (Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Franc) and Tignanello (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) itself. These two icons are selected from vines covering 60 ha, but half of the estate is dedicated to the production of the “Marchese”.
In the glass the wine is deep ruby with a youthful purple rim. Red and black fruit jump out of the glass before you’ve even managed to take a sip. The first thing which strikes you in the mouth is how smooth and rich the Marchese is – just so voluptuous to drink.
The flavours encompass red and black cherries, raspberries and blackberries, liquorice, smoke and vanilla. There are grippy tannins which frame the fruit but give it context rather than detract.
Definitely a serious wine, but a fine one at that.
Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 (RSP €42-€44)
(once the 2008 vintage is sold through, the next vintage – 2011 – will fall under the new Gran Selezione classification)
Antinori bought the Badia a Passignano estate (a few kilometres from the Tignanello monastery) in 1987 and set out to create the ultimate expression of Tuscan Sangiovese. Clones were specially selected to give velvet and acidity and planted with a vine density of 5000-7000 plants per hectare. Maturation is in French barriques and “double-barrels” of 500 litres for 14 to 15 months in the cellars under the Abbey
At the tasting, it was easy to see who had picked up their glass of Badia for a sniff – the astounded and awestruck looks on their faces. It has an amazing nose of red and black fruit, but these are joined on the palate by rich dark chocolate. It has an international sensibility but is unmistakably Chianti Classico.
This wine is special, and in my opinion, despite having the highest price tag, it’s the best value of the four we tasted.
Following on from my review of the sparkling and white wines in part one, here are the red and sweet wines which impressed me at the O’Briens Wines Autumn Press Tasting:
Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012 (€10.99)
Navarra (or Navarre in English) is a wine region in the north of Spain close to the more famous Rioja. It used to be well-known for its rosados but now produces plenty of quality reds and whites, from both indigenous and international grape varieties. In fact, the old Garnacha vineyards previously used for simple rosés are now being put to a more noble use in reds such as this one. The other grapes in the blend are the local Tempranillo and the international Merlot.
It’s unmistakably Spanish, with bold red and black fruit cossetted in a basket of vanilla. This is smooth and very easy to drink on it’s own, but would stand up to beef or lamb with aplomb. Great value for money.
Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011 (€15.99)
The Spanish speakers among you may have spotted from the label that this was matured in oak for 12 months, and thereby qualifies for the Crianzadesignation. The oak used was mainly French (80%) with the balance American.
Jumilla is a region on the rise, as modern viticultural and vinification techniques are applied to some old bush vine vineyards. Monastrell (the Rhône’s Mourvèdre) dominates the blend here with beefiness and spice, augmented by Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and a little Merlot. The fruit is black rather than red – and it almost explodes out of the bottle.
Longview The Piece Shiraz 2009 (€42.00)
Longview are based in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia, just into the hills above….err…Adelaide! Known as a cool(er) climate region, it can produce sublime Chardonnays and is now getting a serious reputation for Shiraz: Shaw + Smith excel at both. “The Piece” is their top wine with all grapes handpicked, sorted and fermented in four separate one tonne open fermenters. It was aged for 24 months in new and old 300 litre French oak hogsheads.
At five years of age the wine has now settled down and is beginning to unfurl its petals. It has sweet black fruit with soft integrated oak. Medium acidity and silky tannins provide the structure for balance and additional ageing if you can resist drinking it now.
Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007 (€75.00, €67.00 in Nov/Dec)
How much? you might ask. Yes, it’s an expensive bottle, but it’s a high end wine, and if you feel like splashing out for Christmas this would be perfect. 2007 was a good year for Bordeaux’s southerly Sauternes subregion so it should last for at least a decade from now.
On opening the wine has a divine, honey and apricot nose that you just want to inhale all day. This follows through onto the palate, and while it’s definitely a dessert wine, there’s enough acidity to provide balance and stop it being cloying.
If you are a fan of foie gras then a glass of this would be a sublime match.
Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989 (€27.99)
For me this was the standout wine of the tasting. For those not familiar with the term, a Vin Doux Naturel is a fortified sweet wine where grape spirit is added early in the fermentation process to kill off the yeast, stopping fermentation and leaving some of the natural sugars from the grapes. The Muscat grape is a staple for this job, especially around the Mediterranean, but Grenache offers an alternative style in several appellations.
The Rivesaltes appellation takes its name from the town of the same name in the Roussillon area, which means “High Banks” in Catalan.
The Muscat versions are often sweet, simple and grapey, nice but nothing to write home about. This 25 year old Rivesaltes demands you buy a big book of stamps!
Time has caused the colour to fade from the wine – Grenache doesn’t tend to hold on to its colour that well anyway – but in return there are layers upon layers of complexity. You could lose yourself for an hour just smelling the aromas, before diving into the heavenly Christmas pudding palate. Spice up your wine selection here!
Bethany Old Quarry Tawny (€23.99)
The obvious word missing from the name of this wine is “Port”, and that’s because it’s from Australia not Porto. Most people are very familiar with Australian table wine but aren’t aware that fortified wines were the majority of the industry’s output until the 1970s. Port and Sherry imitations dominated the domestic market but were never able to compete with the real deal overseas. Nowadays the proportion of production devoted to fortifieds is small with virtually nil exported.
Happily this is one of the bottles in that small rounding error, made from the traditional Barossa fortifieds grapes of Grenache and Shiraz. Barrel ageing has given it some wonderfully intense raisin and nutty “rancio” characters.
O’Briens Wine is the largest family-owned off licence group in Ireland with 32 stores, 20 of which are in greater Dublin. They have 55 exclusive wineries in their portfolio and a wide selection in terms of country, grape and price level. One of the distinguishing factors about O’Briens is the wine knowledge of their staff – it’s always nice to meet a wine enthusiast behind the counter.
Here are the sparklers and still whites which stood out for me at their Autumn Press Tasting last month:
Beaumont des Crayères Grand Réserve Champagne NV (€36.99, €29.99 in Nov/Dec)
This is proper Champagne, with slightly aggressive bubbles which could serve it well as an aperitif. At first it is rich on the tongue from its Pinots Meunier (60%) and Noir (15%) followed by fresh lemon from Chardonnay (25%).
Made by a cooperative, this doesn’t reach the heights of something like Bollinger, but it’s much more quaffable than big brand duds such as Moët – and at a lower price.
Man O’War Tulia 2009 (€37.00, €33.00 in Nov/Dec)
Made by the Champagne method, this would never be mistaken for Champagne. There’s too much primary fruit for that, but it’s a stylistic rather than qualitative difference in my eyes. Any vintage Champagne has to spend at least 36 months on the lees after the second fermentation, but this only spent 9 months so don’t expect a bakery here.
Malolactic fermentation is blocked for freshness and balance – an essential decision. Interestingly the second fermentation is all handled by Marlborough’s sparkling experts No 1 Family Estate. The fruit is tropical but stylish, I suspect partially due to the particular Chardonnay clones which were used. This is no shrinking violet!
Pinot Blanc is one of the most under-rated grapes around, usually overlooked in favour of its flashier siblings Noir and Gris. It tends to be light and fruity with enough going on to keep things interesting but not so much that it dominates any food it is paired with. Chicken or pork in a creamy sauce would be a great match.
As you might guess from the Germanic producer name but French grape name, this is from Alsace. It’s soft and supple with ripe apple, pear and peach flavours. It’s not bone dry, but the tiny bit of residual sugar adds body and roundness rather than sweetness.
Bellows Rock Chenin Blanc 2014 (€15.99, €9.99 in Nov/Dec)
Chenin Blanc is another under-rated grape, hailing from the Loire Valley in France, but also at home in South Africa. It is usually recognisable in its many different variations – bone dry, off-dry, medium right up to lusciously sweet, or even sparkling. My personal preference is the sweet stuff, especially Coteaux d’Aubance, Coteaux du Layon or Quarts de Chaume. I rarely like the drier end of the spectrum.
One of my favourite sayings – about life in general, but can equally be applied to wine – is:
It’s never too late to lose a prejudice
This South African Chenin is dry – but I like it! It has the honey and acidity of all Chenins with a rich, oily mouthfeel and a crisp dry finish. It’s an absolute bargain on offer at €10!
Château de Fontaine Audon AOC Sancerre 2013 (€21.99, €18.99 in Nov/Dec)
Before Marlborough had seen a single Sauvignon vine, Sancerre was considered the world standard for the variety – and for some it still is, especially on the subtle mineral and green side compared to the antipodean fruit explosion that is Marlborough. However, the fame of the appellation means that producers who favour quantity over quality can push yields up and intensity down, diluting the wine and the reputation of the area.
So not all Sancerres are the same, and it is important to pick one worthy of the label. Pick this one! Cut grass on the nose leads to gooseberry and grapefruit in the mouth. It’s tangy but not sharp; the acidity feels slightly fizzy on your tongue. This is the real deal.
Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013 (€22.99)
Sho’ nuff funky! Assyrtiko is indigenous to the Greek island of Santorini in the South Aegean. 80 year old ungrafted low-yielding vines and natural yeast combine to produce something different, something wild. Approach with caution, but you won’t find anything like this on the shelves of your local supermarket.
Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2011 (€29.49, €26.99 in Nov/Dec)
I sneaked this in even though I didn’t actually taste the 2011 vintage, but I recently enjoyed the previous year so have no hesitation in recommending this.
Seguin Manuel AOC Chassagne-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes 2011 (€45.00)
For white Burgundy there are few more renowned villages than Chassagne in the Côte d’Or. Like its adjoining neighbour Puligny, the name of their shared vineyard Le Montrachet was added into the commune name in the late 19th century. As this bottle is not from a designated Premier Cru vineyard it is known as a village wine.
2010 was a warm vintage throughout most of France and this shows through in the ripe fruit. It’s Chardonnay of course – Pinot Blanc is permitted but rarely included – with a good dose of oak that is now nicely integrated. Smoothness is the theme, and a finish that goes on and on. It’s by no means cheap, but such a great tasting wine and long finish make it a worthwhile treat.