Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Shaw + Smith “M3” Chardonnay [Wine Review]

This is the second amazing Aussie wine from the Liberty Ireland wine tasting earlier this year

Shaw + Smith “M3” Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2022

Shaw + Smith M3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2022 bottle shot

Messrs Shaw and Smith are cousins as well as being partners, having joined forced in 1989. Their wines are mainly from the cool climate Adelaide Hills regions, with a newer outpost in the even cooler Tasmania. The varieties they grow are suited to their sites, with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling the whites and Pinot Noir and Shiraz the reds. For me it’s their Chardonnays which top the bill – this “M3” and the flagship Lenswood Vineyard. “M3” is in quotation marks not just because it’s a name, but the original vineyard from where fruit was sourced has been sold on in favour of sites with different clones and locations. In fact, much of the grapes in M3 now come from the high altitude Lenswood vineyard which S+S bought in 2012, plus their Piccadilly and Lobethal sites.

After hand picking, the grapes are cooled then pressed in whole bunches. The juice is then transferred to French barriques (1/3 new, 2/3 pre-used) to undergo alcoholic and malolactic fermentations. Maturation is over nine months, with some bâtonnage, before blending in steel tanks then bottling.

The 2022 M3 has a fabulously funky nose, yeasty and reductive. Flowers and fresh citrus too. Even smelling it is a treat. The palate has great texture, with creamy notes from MLF and oak. There are stone fruits added to the citrus that comes through from the nose.

For such a young wine this is already showing so well. The price in Ireland has risen somewhat over the last few years (what hasn’t?), but it remains a classy wine and represents good value.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RS: 0.3 g/L
  • RRP: €44.99
  • Stockists: The Corkscrew, Blackrock Cellar, Fallon & Byrne, Mitchell & Son, wineonline.ie, 64 Wine
  • Other Shaw + Smith wines available in Ireland: Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills Shiraz, “Balhannah Vineyard” Adelaide Hills Shiraz, “Lenswood Vineyard” Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, “Lenswood Vineyard” Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir
Single Bottle Review

Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc [Wine Review]

Oyster Bay is ubiquitous on the shelves of supermarkets and convenience stores in Ireland and the UK, and this accessibility makes it one of the best known Kiwi wines available in these parts. Of course popularity doesn’t automaticlly infer quality, which give us the obvious question: is Oyster Bay a good wine?

Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2023

Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc bottle shot

The name Oyster Bay makes one think of the pioneering Marlborough Sauvignon producer Cloudy Bay, but of course those wines are at the other end of the price spectrum for that type of wine.

As well as the region’s signature SB, in Marlborough Oyster Bay also make a Chardonnay and both red and rosé Pinot Noirs. The label also produces wines from Hawke’s Bay on the east coast of the North Island – Pinot Grigio and Merlot still wines plus white (100% Chardonnay) and rosé (Chardonnay / Pinot Noir blend) sparkling.

As expected, the wine is very pale in the glass, almost water white. The nose is surprisingly tropical, something I would expect from Sauvignons at a higher price point or those from Wairarapa across the Cook Strait. There are pineapple and mango aromas, offset by fresh grapefruit, and just a touch of herbs.

The palate is varietally typical with gooseberry and grapefruit, and a nice bit of texture. This isn’t a one dimensional wine, it has competing sweet and sour notes, though more sour and sweet if described by the relative intensity of those properties.

I have to confess that I have not bought a bottle of Oyster Bay for many years, so receiving this bottle gave me a chance to revisit the brand. Odd bottles I had in the past weren’t to my taste, but this was definitely better. So to answer the question posed above – is Oyster Bay a good wine? – I would say it’s OK but not great. It’s not going to win over many people who don’t like Marlborough Sauvignon, and I think there are significantly better bottles out there for a few Euros more. But if you aren’t near an independent wine shop, and you have a hankering for some Savvy, then this might just fit the bill.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RS: 4 g/L
  • RRP: €13 – €17
  • Source: gift
  • Stockists: widely available at supermarkets, convenience stores and some multiples

 

Tasting Events

The Pommery Champagne Terrace at the Dylan Hotel

Pommery Champagne Terrace at the Dylan Hotel

I was recently invited to the 2024 launch of the Pommery Champagne Terrace at the Dylan Hotel in Dublin. As a bubbly fanatic I didn’t have to be asked twice! Although I was a guest of Dalcassian, Pommery’s representatives in Dublin, I wasn’t asked to write this article, which contains my opinions only.

The Dylan Hotel is tucked away in Ballsbridge, the only boutique 5 star hotel in Dublin. I have happy memories of a work dinner / wine tasting there some years ago where I was set loose on the wine list.

The Pommery Champagne Terrace

The Terrace is located at the front of the Dylan Hotel, a few feet above road level and protected by a hedge. There are lots of parasols to protect against the morning sun plus dark blue Pommery branded cushions and blankets to stave off a Dublin evening chill.

Of course there is a theme to the drinks list on the terrace, and it’s Pommery Champagne. For the more adventurous there are also three Pommery-based cocktails, including a Bellini (that’s right, changing up from the original recipe with Prosecco!) The real action though is in the different Pommery Cuvées, from the “standard” (I wouldn’t dare call it entry level) Brut Royal all the way up to the iconic Cuvée Louise.

Dylan Menu drinks

The food menu is casual but high quality, with a seafood bias that’s perfect for chilled Champagne. Of course the cheese is lost on me, but I really enjoyed the charcuterie that I tried.

Dylan Menu bites

Champagne Pommery

Monsieur Alexandre-Louis Pommery and his wife Madame Jeanne Alexandrine Pommery had an unexpected addition to their family when she was 38 and he was already retired. Needing a regular income again to raise their child, he decided to go back into business, but this time buying into the booming Champagne trade on top of his textile business. He became a senior partner in Pommery & Greno, with Narcisse Greno continuing as a junior partner.

Sadly Alexandre died only two years later, so Veuve Pommery took over the running of Champagne Pommery herself. She was a formidable businesswoman and very innovative, making a much-derided decision to reduce the houses dosage and produce the first commercially available Brut style in 1874. This proved to be hugely popular in the English market which had less of a sweet tooth than the American and Russian markets. This success gave Pommery enough of a financial cushion to invest in a huge cellar complex, digging into the chalk seams dozens of metres underground.

Fast forward to the present day, and Champagne Pommery remains a Grande Marque and is part of the Vranken-Pommery Monopole group, the second largest in Champagne. Partnering with Hattingley Valley, Pommery also produces English Sparkling Wine under the label Louis Pommery

Today the Champagne Pommery range has 4 lines:

  • Royal: Brut Royal, Brut Rosé Royal, Royal Blue Sky, Grand Cru Royal
  • Cuvée Apanage: Brut, Rosé, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs
  • Cuvée Louise: Brut Millésime, Rosé Millésime, Brut Nature Millésime
  • Les Clos Pompadour: A 100% Grand Cru super premium cuvée with Chardonnay from Avize & Cramant and Pinot Noir from Aÿ, aged on the lees en magnum for 15 years

Champagne Pommery Brut Royale NV

Champagne Pommery Brut Royal NV bottle shot

So onto the wine itself, the star of the show. The blend is approximately equal thirds of the three main Champange grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, with the precise percentages changing slightly depending on the bottling. The grapes are sourced from a large number of villages around the Champagne region – many of them Grand and Premier Cru – to give the cellarmaster a broad choice of elements with which to make his assemblage.

Ageing in Pommery’s famous cellars takes 36 months, over double the regulatory minimum of 15 months, and enough to gain noticeable leesy character. On the nose it’s the Chardonnay that grabs the attention with fresh lemon and lime notes, but then on the palate there are also appley notes (from the Meunier) and red fruits (from the Pinot Noir). This is a very well put together wine which deserves more recognition for its quality – and has a great story behind it, too.

 

Single Bottle Review

Belondrade Quinta Apolonia [Wine Review]

When I started going to regular tastings in Dublin in 2008, one of the areas where I climbed a steep learning curve was Spanish white wines. As I had been focused on French and “new world” whites up to that point, Verdejo, Albariño, Godello and others were totally new to me. I learnt quickly! But it’s only in the last five years that I’ve come to realise that there are no real limits on how good these wines can be. Along with Rafael Palacios, Belondrade’s wines keep on pushing the boundaries for Spanish whites.

Verdejo and Rueda

Although Verdejo and Rueda are inextricably linked, Verdejo is actually thought to have originated in North Africa, and was brought to northern Spain by Christians under Muslim rule around a millennium ago. The wines were made for centuries in an oxidative style, not unlike Sherry, until the variety almost died out. Ángel Rodríguez Vidal of Bodega Martinsancho saved Verdejo from extinction and used it to make a fresher style of table wine, helping to establish the Rueda DO. His success was amplified by Rioja’s Marqués de Riscal who, seeking a source of fruity whites to sell alongside their own reds, poured significant investment into the area.

The fortified wines are still made in Rueda, as is a sparkling wine, but the still fresh style is by some margin the most popular. Verdejo is also grown in Castilla-La Mancha and Estremadura.

Sauvignon Blanc is also grown in Rueda, either as a blending component with Verdejo or as a principal variety. My person experience with these wines has been less favourable than Vedejo dominant wines.

Monsieur / Señor Didier Belondrade: A Frenchman in Spain

Didier Belondrade
Credit: Sobremesa

The third act of the Rueda story belongs to Didier Belondrade. he has recognised the potential in Rueda’s Verdejo and moved there to begin his own project in 1994. The first wine he produced was under the label Belondrade y Lurton, and showed a distinctly Bugundian approach, with oak and less used for both fermentation and maturation. The estate covers 40 hectares divided into 23 plots, each picked and vinified separately. Viticulture us certified organic but this isn’t mentioned on the label.

Quality has been improved year on year, with a big step coming after the construction of a new winery at La Seca in 2000. The range was extended with two wines named after his two daughters: a 100% rosé Tempranillo named Quinta Clarisa and a 100% Verdejo named Quinta Apolonia (the wine detailed below).  Producing the latter as a second wine means that only the very best grapes go into the first wine, enhancing its quality.

Balancing delicately at the very top of the Belondrade quality pyramid is Les Parcelles, a super-premium wine made from grapes harvested from two plots over two days in 2018. After 18 months in the barrel, 1994 bottles were filled and laid down for a further three years before release. The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the number of bottles corresponds to the year the winery was founded. As wellas the quality being super-premium, the price is super-premium at €410 on their website.

Belondrade Quinta Apolonia Vino de la Tierra Castilla Y León 2020

Belondrade Quinta Apolonia

As mentioned above, one of the reasons for the creation of this wine was to find a home for fruit that weren’t the very best, and thus excluded from the flagship wine. However, this doesn’t mean substandard fruit are used, just those berries which might not be the most complex or concentrated. Quinta Apolonia is designed to showcase the Verdejo variety rather than the wine-making, so it’s a fresher and more accessible style than Belondrade Y Lurton. Alcoholic fermentation is with natural yeast, but temperature controlled to preserve freshness. After ten months ageing on the lees, a blend is made from different plots and different fermenation vessels, then bottled for five months before release.  Quinta Apolonia is designed to be drunk within six to eight years of vintage. 

I tried this bottle at three and a half to four years after vintage, smack bang in the middle of the suggested drinking range. And it’s singing! the nose is elegantly perfumed with fresh pip and stone fruit. The palate is deliciously creamy and textured, with more fruit than a smoothie, and great acidity. It manages to be simultaeously a wine to pair with white fish and a wine to pair with roast chicken – very few can do both well.

In the low to mid twenties retail price point in Ireland, there’s very little to touch this wine.

Conclusion

I’ve been lucky enough to taste both this wine and the big sister Belondrade Y Lurton several times over the past five years. On each occasion, I prefered the junior wine. I found the Y Lurton too closed and not expressive enough, even with price taken out of the equation. So what gives? In essence, I think the senior wine needs time, time which I’ve been unable to give it.

However, I did just stumble across this article on Belondrade Y Lurton from my esteemed colleague John Wilson. Please do read it for yourself, but – writing in 2023 – he calls the 2018 an “Outstanding wine”. So perhaps I need to lay a few down myself.

 

 

 

 

Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Mount Pleasant “Lovedale” Hunter Valley Semillon [Wine Review]

There are always new wines to discover at the Liberty Wines portfolio tasting, but sometimes it’s nice to revisit new vintages of old favourites…just to see how they’re getting on.

Here’s the first of my many favourite Australian wines from the Liberty stable.

Mount Pleasant “Lovedale” Hunter Valley Semillon 2018

Mount Pleasant Lovedale Hunter Valley Semillon 2018 bottle shot

Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley is one of the best known Australian wine regions, albeit with its relative proximity to Sydney being a key factor in its success. Hunter Valley Semillon is arguably one of Australia’s key original wine styles. By that I mean that it’s not just a better, or different, version of a wine made elsewhere, but it is a true original. Even other Aussie wine regions which grow Semillon, such as the the Barossa and Margaret River, just can’t produce wine in the same style.

Hunter Valley Wine Region map
Credit: Australian Wine Discovered

Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant is one of the “OG” Hunter producers, founded over a century ago by the pioneering Maurice O’Shea (now there’s a fine Irish name). He spent six years in France studying and then lecturing in viticulture, before bringing this knowledge and expertise back to Australia. O’Shea is regarded as a founder of modern Australian wine making, and the top Shiraz produced by Mount Pleasant bears his name.

Before Covid I had the pleasure of tasting through some of the Mount Pleasant wines with Scott McWilliams, as McWilliams were the owners at that time. Sadly, subsequently McWilliams went into administration, and after almost 80 years under the McWilliams umbrella, Mount Pleasant was bought by NSW property and hotel business Medich Family Office. The additional resources have enabled the cellar door to be renovated, and the switch to only estate fruit from the Hunter, without the safety net of buying in grapes from neighbouring areas in case of poor vintage conditions.

Mount Pleasant have four heritage vineyards. Old Hill is the most venerable, planted with Shiraz in 1880, though wasn’t bought by Mount Pleasant until the 1920s. At that point Maurice also bought some adjoining plots and planted them with cuttings from Old Hill; these plots were named Old Paddock. In 1945 he bought Rosehill vineyard, identified as being extremely well suited to Shiraz, and Lovedale, which was mainly planted with Semillon. Today Lovedale is regarded by many as the finest Semillon vineyard in Australia.

Looking at some of Mount Pleasant’s recent accolades*, the Maurice O’Shea Shiraz has won awards at three to four years old whereas the Lovedale Semillon has been recognised at seven to eight years after vintage.

Lovedale Vineyard

Mount Pleasant Lovedale vineyard
Credit: Mount Pleasant

Lovedale is located close to Pokolbin at 60 metres above sea level. In total it covers 31.1 hectares, planted with Semillon (22.1ha), Chardonnay (7.4ha) and Verdelho (1.6ha). The vines are predominantly in an east-west orientation, with 3.35m between rows and 1.5m between vines and an average of 2,000 vines per hectare. The soil is “sandy aggregate loam topsoil, with friable red and yellow clay lower root zones”, giving the vines the potential to grow deep. Drip irrigation is used when necessary, and trellising is a combination of vertical shoot positioning and cordon ballerina. These methods give the grapes maximum access to sunlight, reducing the risk of diseases which are a significatn risk in the Hunter’s humid climate.

Mount Pleasant “Lovedale” Hunter Valley Semillon 2018

… the nose is so beguiling that it demands contemplation before even moving on to a sip.

So, onto the wine itself! At six years old this 2018 it is still a baby in Hunter Semillon terms, but it is already hugely expressive. The nose is complex, already displaying typical toasty aromas that allude to time in oak, despite the wine spending zero time in any oak vessel. In fact the nose is so beguiling that it demands contemplation before even moving on to a sip. But once tasting there are no regrets, only joy. Tangy pear and toasty notes endure, but against a backdrop of citrus and soft stone fruits. This is by no means a cheap wine, but in a world where white Burgundies can go for several hundreds euros, it begins to look like (relatively) good value for money.

What a wine!

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RS: 0.3 g/L
  • RRP: €74.99
  • Stockists: 2017 vintage is available at Ely Wine Store, Maynooth
  • Other Mount Pleasant wines available in Ireland: “Estate Grown” Hunter Valley Semillon, “Elizabeth” Cellar Aged Hunter Valley Semillon, “Maurice O’Shea” Hunter Valley Shiraz, “Rosehill” Hunter Valley Shiraz, “Old Paddock & Old Hill” Hunter Valley Shiraz

* Note the lower case “a”!

Uncategorized

Lidl Wines for Easter [Wine Review]

This Easter, Lidl Ireland is releasing some special seasonal wines from Argentina and Germany; three whites, a rosé, a sparkling rosé and a red. I recently tried six with the assistance of two old friends:

Suelo Argentino Sauvignon Blanc 2022

Suelo Argentino Sauvignon Blanc 2022 bottle shot

The twin reference points of Marlborough and Sancerre are far away from Argentina, and this example of the grape doesn’t ape either style. SB from Chile is more well known here, and although there’s a bloomin’ big mountain range between the two countries, there are considerable similarities in the wines.

On the nose this is intensely fruity, with almost confected fruits like fruit polos (do they still exist?). Those notes also appear on the palate, with juicy melon also apparent. High acidity keeps everything fresh and makes this a great wine for sipping in the sun, if we get any this Easter.

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RRP: €9.99
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland stores

Markus Molitor Mosel Sauvignon Blanc 2022

Markus Molitor Mosel Sauvignon Blanc 2022 bottle shot

Sauvignon from Germany, Austria and further east is rarely seen here in Ireland, but I have found a recognisable style amongst those that have made it to these ahores: dry, herbal and savoury. This effort from high end producer Markus Molitor certainly fits that bill, though the nose and the first sip have a Riesling-like quality to them. While that’s no bad thing in my book, could it be due to the Mosel’s famous slate soils?

I’m not sure if this wine would be loved by the casual Sauvignon drinker, but it’s very interesting and certainly a different take on the grape. For me it would be best with a light salad, though I’m sure cheese fans would also recommend a goat’s cheese tart.

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RRP: €13.99
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland stores

Markus Molitor Mosel Riesling Feinherb 2022

Markus Molitor Mosel Riesling Feinherb 2022 bottle shot

So now we have the real deal, Mosel Riesling, but Riesling with a decent whack of residual sugar, signaled by the “Feinherb” designatation in the name. Of course, the measured RS in grams per litre only tells part of the story: acidity is the other part. So important is acidity in apparent sweetness, that some German labelling regulations – such as “Halbtrocken” – have different RS maxima for low, medium and high acidity wines. Feinherb escapes such prescriptions, but is usually used for wines a little sweeter than Halbtrocken.

Judicious sweetness like this comes across much more as fruitiness than as sugary sweetness: balance is the key. The nose is awesomely aromatic, as a good Riesling should be, with floral and lime notes. This is a tasty wine; just ensure that it’s kept well chilled.

  • ABV: 10.5%
  • RRP: €12.99
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland stores

Suelo Argentino Malbec Rosé 2022

Suelo Argentinian Malbec Rosé 2022 bottle shot

It might seem a waste to make rosé with Malbec, but as the red wines are on the lighter side (see below) it isn’t a huge leap to making a pink wine. This rosé has a little more colour than Provence-style rosés which are en vogue these days, but that’s fine with me. It’s a cheerful, fun wine with dark red fruits and a dry finish. It’s fairly straight forward, but for a tenner in Ireland it’s good value for money.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €9.99
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland stores

Suelo Argentino Malbec 2022

Suelo Argentinian Malbec 2022 bottle shot

Malbec is of course Argentia’s signature black grape, but this is a slightly different style from the Malbecs that we have come to expect. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a single type of Argentinian Malbec, but if tasted blind I would have guessed that this came from the Loire Valley rather than South America.

The nose shows bright red fruits – raspberry, redcurrant and cherry – which continue through onto the palate. Thsi wine is only medium in body at most, but the prominent acidity makes it fresh and easy drinking. A dusting of tannins on the finish rounds it off well. Perfect for parties and barbecues.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €9.99
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland stores

Deutsche Sekt Brut Rosé NV

Deutsche Sekt Brut Rosé NV bottle shot

As befitting its German origins, this is a premium German (“Deutsche”) sparkling wine (“Sekt”) made in the traditional method from German-grown grapes. It’s fully sparkling and has a cork with a cage, covered in foil, just like Champagne and Crémant from France. The front label states that it has spent 15 months on the lees, the minimum requirement for Champagne (and I’m sure that’s no coincidence.)

With no further information, it fell to my senses to ascertain its qualities. It pops just like a bottle of posh French fizz, and shows a nice mousse in the glass. The nose is an explosion of strawberries, making me think that this is predominantly Pinot Noir-based. The strawberries continue onto the palate, joined by light, creamy lees goodness. The acidity is strong – as it should be – and stops the wine running away with itself.

This isn’t a particularly complex wine, but it’s well made and downright delicious.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €24.99
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland stores

Conclusion

These are all wines that I would happily drink myself, and will probably pick up a few when they are in store. Trying the two contrasting Sauvignons together would make for an interesting evening, and the Riesling would be cracking with a Thai red curry, but for sheer enjoyment the sparkling is the one that I would make a trip to pick up.

Opinion

SuperValu Spanish and Portuguese Wine Sale [Wine review]

It’s spring again in Ireland, though you might be forgiven for not believing me given the snow that has fallen recently. Whatever the weather is doing, spring is time for the SuperValu Spanish wine sale, or should I say more properly the SuperValu Spanish and Portuguese wine sale, as wines from both countries are included.

Here are a brace from each country that are well worth snapping up.

Adega de Monção Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2022

AM Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2022 bottle shot

Alvarinho / Albariño’s homelands are both sides of Portugal’s northern border with Spain, i.e. Vinho Verde and Galicia. The cool, maritime climate makes for fresh, refreshing whites from a host of local varieties. On the south side of the Minho, varietal Alvarinho is mainly found in the subregion of Monção e Melgaço, based around the two villages of the same name.

While I am a fan of all the different local grapes, this is a shining example of what a single varietal can do. It’s clean and fresh, but intensely fruity. There’s bright citrus here, with stone and tropical fruit notes riding along. This would work well as an aperitif, with seafood and white fish, or just catching a few rays with friends.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €10 down from €13
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores

Paço das Côrtes Fado Friendship Reserva 2021

Fado Friendship Reserva Lisboa bottle shot

Funky bottle, funky wine – but in a good way.  The blend is 40% Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), 30% Alicante Bouschet and 30% Syrah. On arrival at the winery the bunches are destemmed and sorted then vinified separately in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks.

This is a very approachable and quaffable red, lighter in fruit, body and structure than the Riojas below, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a touch of vanilla on the nose and palate, but otherwise this is all about fresh, ripe red fruits – think raspberry, cranberry, redcurrant and strawberry. Enjoy this with a charcuterie board or lightly chilled in the sun.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €13 down from €10
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores and supervalu.ie

Pagos de Labarca AEX 2020

Pagos de Labarca AEX 2020 bottle shot

This is one of Pagos de Labarca’s top wines, though noticeably doesn’t have an age / quality designation on the front – at least not in the normal Spanish way. “AEX” is short for “Alta Expresión”, Labarca’s “High Expression” wine made from vines of 35 years and older. There’s no Grenache here, it’s almost entirely Tempranillo with just a 3% seasoning of Graciano. Alcoholic fermentation is carried out in stainless steel tanks, but then the must is transferred to a mix of American and French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation, lees ageing and then finally maturation for 18 months.

This is a modern Rioja, with intense red and black fruits, both vanilla and smoky spice. There’s even some quality chocolate spinkled in there. Above all it is concentrated yet super smooth

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €20 down from €25
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores and supervalu.ie

Conde Valdemar Rioja Gran Reserva 2015

Conde Valdemar Rioja Gran Reserva 2015 bottle shot

This wine isn’t normally available at SuperValu but can be found at some off licence chains and independents – at a significantly higher price than this offer. Compared to the Pagos de Labarca this is definitely a more traditional style of Rioja, both in terms of blend (86% Tempranillo, 8% Garnacha, 3% Graciano, 3% Maturana) and ageing (34 months in oak barrels). Those barrels hail from France (70%) and the USA (30%).

Despite close to three years in oak, the wine is bursting with fruit – blueberries, strawberries and blackberries to name a few. The fruits are just a little muddled rather than super fresh now, but this wine is still in the flushes of youth. so much so, in fact, that I’d recommend decanting this for several hours if you can,

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €20 down from €25
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores

Conclusion

Just like Vanessa Williams, I saved the best for last. I’d be very happy drinking any (all?) of these wines, but the Conde Valdmar was the most impressive. So much so that I popped in to my local SuperValu and bought myself a few more bottles!

 

 

Tasting Events

Wine Review: Four Festive Treats from O’Briens

If there is any style of wine that we automatically think of during the colder months, it’s Port. Like dogs, Port is not just for Christmas: it can be enjoyed at any time of the year. But there is something to be said about our drinking choices being informed by the seasons, even if those seasons aren’t as marked in Ireland as in continental climes.

That being said, as any WSET graduate will tell you, “Port-style” is shorthand for a fortified wine where grape spirit has been added during fermentation to stop the sugars turning into more alcohol, thus preserving some of the natural sweetness from the grapes. This method is used in many other places, both in Europe and further afield.

Here are four sweet wines from O’Briens that are all worth a try:

Smith Woodhouse 10-year old Tawny Port

Smith Woodhouse 10 year old Tawny Port bottle shot

So we start our quartet with an actual Port, from Oporto. Next year Smith Woodhouse will be celebrating its 240th anniversary, but it remains an under-the-radar producer, despite being part of the renowned Symington Family portfolio. The lack of brand recognition is actually good news for drinkers as Smith Woodhouse wines tend to represent great value for money.

Like most Ports this is a blend of local varieties: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Tinto Cão, each of which bring something different to the blend. After fermentation has begun, premium grape spirit is added to stop fermentation. The wine is then aged for a minimum of 10 years in old oak barrels, without topping up, so the ingress of oxygen can magically transform the wine over time. That magic turns ripe fresh berry flavours into dried fruit notes, with an assortment of nuts and burnt caramel. The tannins and acidity haven’t faded away over the decade so they provide a firm structure for the fruit and nuts.

Such a nutty and funky wine, a real pleasure.

  • RRP: €34.95 for 750 ml (current down to €31.95)
  • ABV: 20.0%
  • Source: O’Briens press tasting
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie (currently out of stock online)

San Felice Vin Santo del Chainti Classico 2014

San Felice Belcaro Vin Santo 2014 bottle shot

The origins of Vin Santo are disputed, but it has long been established thoughout Italy. Chianti is home to the best examples, which tend to be more oxygen-influenced than in other regions. Unlike the great majority of Ports, Vin Santo is made with white grapes – in this case Malvasia and Trebbiano – which are air-dried for three months to concentrate sugar and flavours. The shriveled grapes are pressed ever-so-gently so that harsh compounds are not extracted from the skins, and then the juice is transferred to small oak barrels for a slow fermentation and maturation.

The finished wine is rich but balanced, with acidity offsetting the sweet dried fruits (think sultanas rather than raisins), nuts and mixed peel. I’ve tried some Vin Santos before which missed the mark, but this is simply delicious!

  • RRP: €22.95 for 375 ml (current down to €19.95)
  • ABV: 15.5%
  • Source: O’Briens press tasting
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie (currently out of stock online)

Gérard Bertrand Maury Tuilé 2010

Gérard Bertrand Maury Tuilé 2010 bottle shot

Vin Doux Naturel (VDN) could be seen as France’s answer to Port, though they tend to be a little lighter than their Portuguese cousins, whether Muscat-based whites or Grenache-based reds. The AOCs are mainly found in the Rhône, the Languedoc and its neighbour Roussillon. Along with Rivesaltes and Banyuls, Maury is one of three red Roussillon appellations. A variety of styles are made, mainly depending on the length of maturation in barrel (“Tuilé”, giving a brick- or tile-red colour) or in demi-johns exposed to the sun “Rancio” which are lighter still.

This example is a Tuilé made by southern superstar Gérard Bertrand. Although regulations demand a minimum of 75% Grenache, this is 100% late-harvested Grenache Noir. Pneumatic presses are used for their gentle touch, with grape spirit added to arrest fermentation. Maturation is in oak barrels for a year then in bottle for another year before release, so it is somewhere between Ruby and Late Bottled Vintage in Port terminology.

Although made in a similar way, this is lighter in both alcohol and structure than most ports; the latter due mainly to the relative softness of Grenache compared to the Port varieties. This does make it more approachable, and it’s the perfect partner for chocolate! The fruits here are stewed rather than dried, so it’s a fresher style – sup away!

  • RRP: €25.45 for 750 ml (current down to €22.95)
  • ABV: 16.0%
  • Source: Sample
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

Bethany “Old Quarry” Tawny NV

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny NV bottle shot

Although table wines have been made in Australia for centuries, fortified wines were the mainstay of the industry for much of its history. Given the (ab)use of terms such as Burgundy and Claret, it’s no surprise that sweet fortified reds were known as Port down under. The varieties used weren’t those of Portugal, however; the Rhône favourites of Grenache and Shiraz were favoured.

Bethany is a well-established producer in the Barossa Valley, in the heart of South Australia. In fact, the village of Bethany was the first settlement in the Barossa after Silesian immigrants moved there in 1842. The Schrapel family trace their roots in the area back to 1844 and planted the first vineyard there just eight years later. Fifth generation brothers Geoff and Robert set up Bethany Wines in 1981, with the sixth generation Tania now also in the business. The winery and cellar door lie within the former quarry which the Schrapel family operated up to the 1930 – hence the name of this wine and also their “Blue Quarry Wines” range.

Of course nowadays the “P-word” can’t be used on the label, but “Tawny” is perfectly acceptible. And indeed this is Tawny in style, with ten years of maturation in old oak barrels giving complex notes of dried fruits and nuts. It’s a rich wine, but well balanced and approachable, and for me the spicy Shiraz just add that extra dimension.

  • RRP: €24.95 for 750 ml
  • ABV: 18.5%
  • Source: Sample
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie (currently out of stock online)

 

 

 

Single Bottle Review, Wine Of The Week

Wine Review: Longview Adelaide Hills “The Piece” Shiraz 2016

A delicious Aussie Shiraz with a bit of age – what’s not to like? First a quick overview of its home region, Adelaide Hills, followed by an introduction to its producer, Lonview Vineyard, and finally some tasting notes.

Adelaide Hills

Adelaide Hills is the coolest region within South Australia, the biggest source of quality wine within Australia. Climate change has made its precious altitiude even more vital. The majority of plantings are varieties which thrive in cool climates – Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris – but also those which are happy across different climatic conditions, especially Chardonnay, and as we have here, Shiraz.

Adelaide Hills Wine Region Map
Credit: wineaustralia.com

Adelaide Hills only became a protected Geographic Indication (GI) 25 years ago, which shows that it is a relative newcomer compared to South Australia’s internationally famous regions such as Coonawarra and the Barossa Valley. Its cool climate is partially from its relative proximity to the Southern Ocean, but even more than that due to its elevation. The hills to the east of Adelaide form part of the Mount Lofty Ranges (yet another super original Australian name!) There are two official sub-regions, Lenswood and Piccadilly, the latter of which is particularly renowned for its Chardonnay.

Longview Vineyard

Notice that the name includes Vineyard, singular? I had to catch myself from adding an ‘s’, but the moniker is deliberate as the property consists of a single vineyard. As Longview was founded in 1995 it predates the GI, though the first vintage wasn’t until 2001. Admittedly it’s a large vineyard at 65 hectares, and reaches up to 410m at its highest point. Ownership is in the hands of brothers Mark and Peter Saturno; their Italian heritage is supported by the inclusion of Italian varieties Nebbiolo, Barbera and Pinot Grigio.

The current range extends to around twenty wines, of which five are currently available in Ireland:

  • LV Shiraz Cabernet
  • Vista Shiraz Barbera
  • Devil’s Elbow Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Yakka Shiraz
  • The Piece Shiraz

Among those not available here are those in the Macclesfield Range which they call “our collection of premium, small-batch wines that reflect the unique geology and climate of Macclesfield.” Interestingly one is labelled as a Syrah rather than Shiraz. Perhaps we might see some of these up here in the future?

Longview “The Piece” 2016

Longview Vineyard Adelaide Hills The Piece Shiraz 2016 Bottle and Canister

Before we even get into the wine itself, a few words on the label and packaging. Yes, in the end it’s “the juice” that counts, but if a label or a container helps to catch the eye of a wine lover browsing the shelves, I have no problem with that. Innovation should be encouraged!

The 2016 bottling of The Piece has a grafitti theme, and came in a container looking like a spray-can. I particularly liked the “Shiraz Gloss” label just above the vintage label. The theme arose as a tribute to Longview’s “The Piece Project” where Australian street artists compete to have their work featured on the label.

Now, onto the wine! Grapes for The Piece are a very small part of the estates Shiraz production; the best rows in the best blocks are harvested separately from the surrounding vines. Alcoholic fermentation is temperature controlled, after which the wine is transferred to old French oak hogsheads and puncheons. Malolactic fermentation takes place there, and the wine is left to mature for another year and a half. There’s then a final selection of the best barrels – ten in the case of the 2016 vintage, but as few as five for 2019.

The wine team aim for “cool climate spice” as one of the key attributes of this wine, and it really shows on the nose – it’s like Christmas cake without the icing; sweet, confected fruits with spice and treacle. The palate also has sweet berry fruit, though it’s rich and appealing without being sugary. The finish has fine tannins and a balancing streak of acidity. Overall this is a well-made, nicely balanced wine.

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €42 (2018/9)
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: 2018/9 at O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

 

 

 

 

 

Opinion

Wine Review: Reds from the 2023 SuperValu French Wine Sale

The 2023 edition of the SuperValu French Wine Sale is upon us. As last year, some German wines are included, specifically those from producer Albert Glas. This post will cover five of the red wines which are among the 40 included in the sale which kicks off on Friday 1st September. They hail from Bordeaux, the Rhône and the Pfalz.

Albert Glas Black Label Pinot Noir 2020

Albert Glas Black Label Pinot Noir 2020 Bottle Shot

As I mentioned in the sister post on the white wines in the 2023 SuperValu French wine sale, Dominik Glas follows the techniques of his grandfather Albert. Overall, 2020 was a good vintage in the Pfalz, with some frost in the the spring which impacted yields, but overall left a good quality crop. The grapes in different plots all ripened around the same time which made harvest time very pressured.

After 100% hand picking, the grapes are macerated and fermented in 600 litre bins, with gentle push-downs by hand and no pumping over. Maturation then takes place in both Pfalz (80%) and French (20%) oak barrels for 12 to 18 months.

This is archetypal European Pinot Noir. Is has the typical light colour, quite different to the other wines below. It is, however, full of flavour, with cherry and other red fruits, spice and a lick of oak. It’s still young, with refreshing acidity, but is an elegant light wine that’s perfect for the late summer sun.

  • ABV: 13.0 %
  • RRP: €12 down from €20
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores and supervalu.ie

Château Lacombe Cadiot Bordeaux Supérieur 2020

Château Lacombe Cadiot Bordeaux Supérieur 2020 Bottle Shot

Château Lacombe Cadiot is one of six Bordeaux properties owned by the Belgian De Schepper family under the De Mour banner. De Mour also has a negotiant business but do not sell their own wines through that system, instead establishing more direct relationships. The first property acquired was Tour Baladoz (see below) in 1950, and the latest was Lacombe Cadiot which was added in 2004.

Lacombe Cadiot’s wines are classed as Bordeaux Supérieur, a prominent red Bordeaux appellation, but they are unusual in being from the Médoc; only 4% of Supérieur vineyards are in the Médoc, with the remainder mainly being in the Entre-Deux-Mers and north of Libourne. In fact, Lacombe Cadiot and its sister property Château Tayet (another Bordeaux Supérieur from close to Macau) are known as “Baby Margaux”. De Mour aim to make fresh, drinkable wines that can still age – the best of both worlds.

This 2020 is made of 60% Merlot*, 30% Cabernet-Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot from 15 hectares of vines. That’s quite a high proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon for an AOC Bordeaux / Supérieur, partly due to the vineyards’ location and partly because 2020 was an excellent vintage in Bordeaux – the third in a row in fact – which is when Cab Sauv tends to shine. After pressing and fermentation, the wine matured for 12 months, 60% in barrels (including 25% new) with 40% in vats.

In the glass it’s a very deep red in colour, almost black. The nose is heady, with deep black and red fruits, plus some tobacco notes. The palate is soft and voluptuous. Intense fruit is framed by silky, soft tannins. It makes for a very approachable, quaffable wine, one that can be drunk on its own or with food, one that can be consumed now or kept until the end of the decade.

I’ve tried several vintages of this wine over the years, but this is the best one yet.

    • ABV: 14.0%
    • RRP: €13 down from €16.99
    • Source: sample
    • Stockists: SuperValu stores and supervalu.ie

Château Tour Baladoz Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2020

Château Tour Baladoz Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2020 Bottle Shot

In contrast to the top wines of Bordeaux’s Médoc, which are often from large estates and need years to enter their drinking window, those of the right bank – Saint-Émilion and Pomerol – are often from smaller estates but are approachable at an earlier age. Saint-Emilion also has a completely different classification system, one that is somewhat merit-based and is revised every ten years, rather than being ossified in 1855.

Château Tour Baladoz was recently promoted to Grand Cru Classé status with effect from the 2022 vintage. The evaluation process included the tasting by a professional panel of ten different vintages on five different occasions, so it would be fair to say that this 2020 vintage is of Grand Cru Classé quality, if not status.

Tour Baladoz’s nine hectares of vineyards are 105 metres above sea level, which doesn’t sound very high, but as Bordeaux is a maritime region it’s one of the higher points. 70% are on a limestone plateau with 30% on gentle slopes. There’s a thin layer of clay over the limestone, adding a touch of power to the latter’s freshness. Vine roots have even pushed beneath the limestone into the Château’s underground cellars.

The blend is a full house of traditional black Bordeaux varieties (excluding the new experimental varieties): Merlot* (75%), Cabernet Franc (10%), Cabernet Sauvignon (5%), Petit Verdot (6%), Malbec (2%) and Carmenérè (2%). After fermentation, the whe wines are aged for 15 to 20 months in French oak barrels from 10 different cooperages, including 70% new barrels.

Even on the eye it is apparent that this is an intense, young wine. The nose is fragrant and complex, with red and black fruits, vanilla, smoke, graphite and even a touch of aniseed. The palate is very primary at this stage, with powerful plum, blackberry and vanilla. There’s a dusting of dark chocolate on the finish, which also shows grippy tannins.

It’s obvious that this is going to be a spectacular wine, but it’s just not ready yet. The component parts are a little disjointed, and the alcohol is a little too obvious. For those who buy bottles to lay down for a few years this is worth buying, but for immediate drinking I would be cautious.

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €30 down from €44.99
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores and supervalu.ie

Granits Saint-Joseph 2021

Granits Saint-Joseph 2021 Bottle Shot

Saint-Joseph is a “Cru” or prestigious appellation from the Northern Rhône – Vallée du Rhône Septentrionale in the local lingo – and hence is Syrah based – 100% Syrah in fact. It’s actually my go-to AOC in the Northern Rhône as it offers a great mix of quality and affordability. Côte Rôtie and Hermitage wines can be exceptional wines, but so can their prices.

This wine is made from vines on granite soils in the north of the AOC, close to Condrieu. Harvesting was all by hand and whole bunches were fermented together. For ageing the wine was split 50/50 between stainless steel tanks and used oak barrels. 2021 was a fairly wet and cold vintage for the Rhône, giving reds that are naturally high in acidity and can age gravefully for years.

At ony just twenty four months old this is indeed a young wine, with a bright purple rim and deep colour. The nose is typical Rhône Syrah, showing blueberry and blackberry fruit, but also a sniff of menthol and eucaplyptus. That fruit is very evident on the palate, along with parma violets (violet flavoured sweets, for those not familiar). It’s quite a tannin wine which gives the drinker three options: put it away for a few years, decant it for several hours, or drink it at the table with steak. If any of those options appeal, snap it up!

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €15 down from €25
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores

Domaine St. Patrice “Vieilles Vignes” Châteauneuf du Pape 2017

Domaine St Patrice Châteauneuf du Pape 2017 Bottle Shot
Still in the Rhône, but this time the Southern Rhône, we now have a wine from the world famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Apparently a favourite of James Joyce, Domaine St. Patrice’s vines total 40 hectares across several parcels, predominantly on sandy-clay soils. The Domaine makes three different wines: a “regular” CNDP, this “Vieilles Vignes” (Old Vines) bottling and a “Monopole” from the 1.8 hectare Clos St Patrice which is solely owned by the Domaine.

In a slight tweak to the usual GSM+ CNDP blend, although the relative percentages of the different varieties are not given, it appears to be a Grenache-Mourvèdre-Syrah blend, with a seasoning of little Counoise and Cinsault. Most of the vines are between 40 and 70 years old.

2017 was a warm, dry year with low yields. The wines made were naturally intense and concentrated. The low rainfal led to slightly delayed phenolic ripeness so harvesting was late in the season. Whole bunch fermentation was used for differeing proportions of the grapes depending on variety. Ageing is in a mix of large steel tanks and foudres.

At six years old this wine is nicely hitting its straps. In the glass, the rim is already brick red, heading towards garnet. The components are nicely integrated and the flavours are blossoming. Aromas are intriguing and enticing, with a bouquet garni embedded in sweet fruits. The palate is rich, round, but velvety soft. The alcohol is high (well this is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape!) but it doesn’t stick out jarringly.

This is a very attractive wine which performs well for its normal price of €40, but at €30 it’s a bargain. If ever there was a wine worth trading up to, this is it.

  • ABV: 15.5 %
  • RRP: €30 down from €40
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: SuperValu stores

Conclusion

These wines vary significantly in style but all have their positives. The Albert Glas is light, fruity and gluggable, drinking well right now. The Saint-Joseph and Tour Baladoz both need time and / or food. For drinking now (or later), on their own (or with food), the two that stand out for me are the Lacombe Cadiot (classy but not snobby according to my friends Una and Peter) and the Saint-Patrice. Those are the two that will be going in my shopping trolley.

 


*sorry Jim