Tasting Events

Fine Time (Part 2 – France)

There are few words that bring joy to a winelover’s ears as much as “fine wine sale”.  Below are some of the French wines included in Irish chain O’Briens’ fine wine sale that I have tried and enjoyed this year.  I will leave the discussion on what constitutes “fine wine” for another day!

Note: these offers are in-store only, and for a short time.

Julien Brocard La Boissonneuse Chablis 2017 (13.0%, €28.45 down to €21.95)

CHABLIS-BOISSONNEUSE-JEAN-MARC-BROCARD

After studying engineering Julien Brocard joined the family firm in the 90s.  At first he concentrated on some special wines before eventually taking over the reins from his father.  Although he doesn’t necessarily use the term itself, he has followed the principle of Kaizen – continuous improvement in the vineyard, winery and onwards.

This is a very special wine indeed, and not just because it is from organic and biodynamically grown grapes – no easy thing in the northern climes of Chablis.  It’s simply the most accomplished and interesting Chablis I’ve ever tasted.  Yes it’s on offer in the Fine Wine Sale, but to be honest this is an absolute steal at its regular price.  There’s vibrant lemon and lime and a funkiness which I find really appealing.  The only reason for you not to buy this wine is to leave more for me!

Domaine des Sénéchaux Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2015 (14.5%, €43.95 down to €29.95)

Domaine_des_Senechaux_CNDP

This wine has two prestigious  names behind it – Châteauneuf-du-Pape of course and the JM Cazes family of Lynch Bages fame.  Complexity comes through three distinct soil types: stony clay-limestone, deep sand and mollassic sandstone.  The assemblage is the traditional GSM blend, with 64% Grenache, 19% Syrah and 15% Mourvèdre plus a dash of Vaccarèse and Cinsault (2% together).  It’s a great example of CNDP which has some serious competition at €44, but is an absolute steal at €30!

Domaine L’Ostal Cazes Grand Vin Minervois La Livinière 2015 (14.5%, €23.95 down to €18.95)

L Ostal Cazes Grand Vin

The Grand Vin of L’Ostal Cazes is probably my favourite wine of the JM Cazes family, especially when value for money comes into the equation.  It’s made in one of the top appellations of the Languedoc  – Minervois La Livinière – which has as few as 30 producers.  The blend is 90% Syrah plus 10% Grenache, all aged for 15 months in French oak barrels.  There’s no mistaking that this is predominantly Syrah based, though it’s richer and spicier than the northern Rhône’s reds.  This is the perfect wine for cold winter nights.

Gérard Bertrand Cigalus Rouge 2015 (14.5%, €38.95 down to €29.95)

cigalus rouge 4

This is a premium cuvée from Gérard Bertrand, rugbyman (a word which works equally well in French as in Irish English) turned biodynamic winemaker.  The blend for Cigalus is (I hope you’re sitting down): Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache and Caladoc.  The last grape is a cross of Grenache and Malbec that is grown here and there in the Languedoc but is not generally permitted in AOC wines.  As this is an IGP there’s no issue!  Given the long list of grapes it’s no surprise that the wine is a mouthful, but in a good way – smooth and rich, it’s a very satisfying wine full of fruits of the forest.  Definitely one to quaff with a stew or a good book!

Château Phélan Ségur Saint-Estèphe Cru Bourgeois 2015 (13.5%, €70.00 down to €50.00)

Phelan Segur

Buy this wine, but don’t drink it.  I’m serious!  Well, sort of…I mean don’t drink it now, but lay it down out of sight and out of mind for several years before opening it.  You will reap the rewards.

With obvious Irish roots, Phélan Ségur is officially a Cru Bourgeois but is often talked about as being of Cru Classé…erm…class.  2015 was a great vintage in Bordeaux so this is definitely one to snap up if you can.  The blend is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 47% Merlot giving a mix of blackcurrant and plum with a structure that will stand it in good stead for the long haul.  Second wine Frank Phélan is worth its €39.95 so for a tenner more this is a bargain.

 

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Fine Time (Part 1 – NZ & Australia)

There are few words that bring joy to a winelover’s ears as much as “fine wine sale”.  Below are some of the Kiwi and Aussie wines included in Irish chain O’Briens’ fine wine sale that I have tried and enjoyed this year.  I will leave the discussion on what constitutes “fine wine” for another day!

Note: these offers are in-store only, and for a short time.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (13.1%, €33.95 down to €26.95)

cloudy bay sauvignon blanc

The one Savvy to rule them all – Cloudy Bay brought Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to international attention and acclaim, for a while it sat alone at the top of the tree. Nowadays it has company – not least Greywacke, made by Cloudy Bay’s founding winemaker Kevin Judd, and Dog Point, also made by former CB winemakers.

But it’s in difficult vintages such as 2017 where the premium labels really earned their stripes; lots of grey rot was present in the grapes of bulk producers – a byproduct of being paid for quantity over quality – so the careful selection and sorting of upmarket producers like Cloudy Bay made a huge difference to the finished wine.  This is so much smoother and less aggressive than everyday Marlborough Sauvignon that it’s almost like a different wine!

Man O’War Dreadnought Waiheke Island Syrah 2014 (14.6%, €35.45 down to €26.95)

man-o-war-dreadnought-syrah-2014

Man O’War’s nautically named Flagship range always go down a treat chez moi – and they are indeed a treat, especially the Valhalla Chardonnay.  Here we have their Dreadnought Syrah, perhaps a little riper and fuller-bodied than the Syrahs of Hawke’s Bay, but still recognisably Kiwi.  Black fruit and blueberries are framed by oak (though now integrating well) and tannins (present but ripe).  A fantastic wine!

St Hallett Old Block Barossa Shiraz 2014 (13.7%, €60.00 down to €48.00)

St-Hallett-Old-Block-Shiraz-2014

Whereas the Dreadnought above is unmistakably Kiwi, this is unmistakably Barossa.  In fact the fruit is sourced from two sub-regions of the Barossa Zone, the Barossa Valley proper (62%) and the slightly cooler Eden Valley (38%) just to the east (note the ABV is a fairly moderate 13.7%.)  And “Old Block”?  That means OLD, with a minimum vine age for the 2014 of 80 years.  The result is a fabulous, concentrated wine with vibrant red and black berry fruit and fine tannins.

d’Arenberg Dead Arm McLaren Vale Shiraz 2015 (14.5%, €54.95 down to €43.95)

dArenberg Dead Arm Shiraz

Another iconic Aussie Shiraz, this time from McLaren Vale which is a short way south of Adelaide and a few clicks inland from the sea.  Cheeky chappie Chester Osbourne is still the head winemaker of this family firm, but despite the loud shirts and outgoing personality he really knows his stuff (the 2002 Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon was my top red of 2017.)   Intense red, purple and black fruit dominate the palate – this will be at its best in the years to come, but drinkable now, especially if decanted.

Single Bottle Review

Never had Navarra? [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #20]

The Navarra Denominación de Origen (DO) is often overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbour Rioja; after all, the latter does extend into the Autonomous Community of Navarre, leaving the southern part for the Navarra DO.  Rosé – well, Rosado more properly – was the style which Navarra became most well known for, but increasingly its reds are gaining in prominence and recognition.

Bodegas Ochoa is currently in the hands of the fifth (Javier Ochoa) and sixth generations (his daughters Adriana and Beatriz), with each generation improving both the quality and diversity of the range.  When I tried the Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva four years ago I was very impressed.  When I recently got the opportunity to try the current release of the Reserva I didn’t have to be asked twice!

Disclosure: sample was kindly provided, opinions remain my own

Ochoa Navarra Tinto Reserva 2010 (13.5%, RRP €20 at Hole in the Wall, Cabra; O’Donovan’s, Cork; Morton’s Ranelagh)

Ochoa reserva

The blend here is very typical of Navarra: Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Maturation is between 15 to 18 months in French and American barriques (225 litre oak barrels) then a further five or so years in bottle before release.

The result is a wine which is simply bursting with ripe fruit!  Even though this wine is eight years old, tasting it is like munching on fresh blackcurrants and blueberries, with a touch of vanilla.  It’s not a jammy fruit bomb, though – it’s very smooth and elegant but complex at the same time.

If you’ve never had Navarra before, this sets the bar very high indeed!

 

Book Review

Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker [Book Review]

Cork Dork front

The short note on the UK & Ireland cover of Bianca Bosker’s book “Cork Dork” already gives you most of the information you need to know before starting to read the book:

A wine-fueled journey into the art of sommeliers and the science of taste

You don’t need a deep interest in wine to appreciate this book, but it does help – especially when you catch yourself agreeing ruefully with some of the seemingly outlandish observations contained within.  Bianca Bosker has us laughing at situations which are wine-related, but are more importantly reflections of the absurdities which we all see in everyday life.

In many ways, Cork Dork strikes me as a platonic three way love affair between the author, her mentor Morgan, and wine – with wine playing VERY hard to get.  There’s also a very interesting excursion into the origins of the flavour / aroma wheel and the way it totally changed the way wines are professionally reviewed and assessed – something I have been subconsciously rebelling against in my own reviews.

Personally speaking, there are two ideas mentioned in the book which really spoke to me:

Morgan has always blazed through his passions like a forest fire, consuming everything in his path.  “My brain has a tendency to want to organize small differentiating units into systems,” he told me.  “Part of it is my desire to know a thing in its entirety, or as close to it as you can.”

[First came trading cards, then video games, then rock bands.]  And now, wine.  At last, Morgan had found a topic with an infinite number of expansion packs.

I feel something of a kindred spirit to Morgan – I was interested in cars as a kid, which was eclipsed by music; that co-existed with wine for a while, but with a family of my own something had to lose out, and it was never going to be wine.  I’m a cork Dork too!

I was curious to know how they judged if someone had been moved – really, truly moved – by a bottle, while trying to remember how I’d acted when I tasted the wines they’d opened that evening.  How could they tell that someone had not really appreciated a wine?

“Because,” said Morgan, all hopped-up on Chablis, “it doesn’t look like they’ve been harpooned in the fucking chest when they fucking drank the fucking thing.”

Yes, wine is just a drink, but it can be SUCH a drink.  For those who have never had such a moment with wine, it could also be thought of as akin to Anton Ego’s ratatouille flashback in the film of the same name:

Anton Ego Flashback.gif

 

Click below to find this book on amazon.co.uk:

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Opinion

A Trio of Classy Clarets

In the winter months – and with C*****mas looming on the horizon – many wine drinkers turn to the classics such as Bordeaux and Chablis.  Although Claret isn’t the best match for the traditional turkey, many disregard that and drink it simply because they like it – or like me, drink it with something other than turkey!

First, a quick refresher on the AOCs of the Médoc, the left bank peninsula which is home to many of Bordeaux’s world-famous Châteaux:

Medoc

As a generalisation, the AOCs of the Médoc are considered to be ranked as follows:

  • Pauillac & Margaux
  • Saint-Julien & Saint-Estèphe
  • Listrac-Médoc & Moulis-en-Médoc
  • Haut Médoc
  • Médoc

Of course, the quality of any wine is heavily dependent on the producer and vintage.

Here is a trio of Bordeaux reds that are drinking superbly right now and won’t break the bank:

Disclosure: samples were kindly provided, opinions remain my own

Château Monteil d’Arsac, Haut-Médoc Cru Bourgeois 2014 (13.0%, RRP €18.95 at Molloys)

monteil_d_arsac

The Cru Bourgeois label is for the “Best of the Rest”, i.e. those Médoc estates not included in the 1855 classification.  It was introduced in 1932 covering 444 estates, but between 2003 and 2007 it was altered, updated, split, reversed, and finally annulled – phasing in and out of the space-time continuum like transport ships caught in the nexus.  In 2010 a completely new version was published for the 2008 vintage, and it is revised annually based on the quality of the wines submitted.

If drinking this wine makes me bourgeois then that’s all right with me!  It’s quite smooth with oodles of black fruit and tangy red fruit.  There’s also a spicy element then pencil shavings and plums on the finish.  This is an excellent wine for the price, probably the best Bordeaux under €20 I’ve tasted for years!

Château Moulin-BorieListrac-Médoc 2015 (13.5%, RRP €24.95 at Molloys)

moulin_borie

Château Moulin-Borie is owned and run by Bruno-Eugène Borie who is also the proprietor of Saint-Julien’s Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, a Second Growth in the 1855 Classification.  Moulin-Borie is located in the appellation of Listrac-Médoc which is humbler than the big guns of Pauillac and co but is nevertheless capable of producing very good wines.

Despite coming from a ripe year, this is very classic left bank Bordeaux.  it shows lots of black fruit and a touch of vanilla, but also quite savoury, with cedar and black olive notes just starting to appear.  It’s mid weight, not a wine that weighs you down, and very classy.  I would definitely be interested in trying this wine after another five years of maturation – time to buy a few for the cellar I think!

Château Castelbruck Margaux 2014 (13.0%, RRP €32.00 at Molloys)

castelbruck_margaux

Margaux is seen as the most feminine of the big four AOCs and often shows an ethereal quality which eludes the others.  This 2014 is still quite young but very approachable and dangerously drinkable!  It has ripe, juicy blackberry, blackcurrant, black cherry and plum – so ripe that you almost feel like you are biting into actual fruit!  Fine cocoa powder and a touch of pencil shavings are part of a wonderful finish.

It’s sometimes said that Cabernet-based wines are a good match for chocolate and it doesn’t usually do much for me, but in this case a few squares of high cocoa-content black chocolate went down a treat with the wine!  For me, a big glass and a warm fire would be perfection.

Opinion

Song For Whoever [Make Mine a Double #39]

The Beautiful South’s debut single was released almost 30 years ago and has been a subversive classic ever since.

Oh Shirley, oh Deborah, oh Julie, oh Jane
I wrote so many songs about you
I forget your name, I forget your name
Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
I forget your name
Jennifer, Alison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
I forget your name

It recently came to mind when I was tasting some Italian wines from the Fontanafredda (Freddie) group – their Gavi (Gavin) and Raimonda (Raymond) Barbera (Barbara) d’Alba!

Raymond, Freddie, Barbara and Gavin aren’t subversive, however; they are easy drinking wines that serve as a great introduction to their regions if you aren’t already familiar with them.  Rather than “Wine For Whoever”, their song is “Wine For Everyone”!

Fontanafredda Gavi 2017 (12.0%, RRP €15 at Martins Off Licence, Hole In The Wall & Jerry’s In Skerries)

Fontanafredda Gavi

Gavi is a Piedmontese white wine of some renown, hailing from the Province of Alessandria which has the Commune of Gavi at its heart.  Made from 100% Cortese, the speciality grape of the area, it’s a very flexible and appealing wine; soft fruity flavours with some body and enough acidity to remain fresh without removing the enamel from your teeth.  Locally it is paired with seafood, but it would also be a great aperitif or a simple sipper with good company.

Fontanafredda also make a Gavi di Gavi which has increased concentration, slightly higher alcohol (12.5%) and a heftier price tag (€25).

Fontanafredda Raimondo Barbera d’Alba 2017 (13.5%, RRP €18 at Martins Off Licence, Hole In The Wall & Jerry’s In Skerries)

 

Fontanafredda Raimondo Barbera dAlba

Barbera is the unsung hero of Piedmont, making some great wines in Alba, Asti and especially Nizza, the new Barbera-only DOCG.  Far more approachable than Nebbiolo in its youth, this is what Barolo producers drink at home.  The Fontanafredda Barbera d’Alba shows red fruit and lots of dark spice on the nose.  It’s soft and supple on the palate, with redcurrant and cranberry surrounded by blackberry and hints of tapenade – fruity and savoury at the same time.

 

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

Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 4)

So far we have looked at the northern Crus (part 1), Châteauneuf-du-Pape (part 2) and other southern Crus (part 3).  Now it’s the turn of wines from the regional Côtes du Rhône appellation plus one of the stars of Ventoux, not a cru as such but one of the best of the other AOCs in the Rhône.

Domaine André Brunel “Cuvée Sommelongue” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (14.0%, RRP €18.30 at Karwig Wines)

Andre Brunel CDR cuvee sommelongue

It would be very rare for a wine drinker to have not had a bottle of Rhône, and it’s close to a certainty that they have tried an AOC Côtes du Rhône.  The reason is simple – 48% of the whole region’s production has that AOC with a further 11% being Côtes du Rhône-Villages [2016 vintage: source: http://www.rhone-wines.com/en/en-chiffre].

What would be unusual, however, would be for that drinker to have tried a CDR with five or six years of age – most are very approachable in their youth and so are enjoyed when young.  Just because a wine can be enjoyed young doesn’t mean that it should be – and this is the perfect example of a CDR that has benefitted from ageing.

This tastes quite different from the exuberantly fruity young CDRs; primary fresh fruit has mellowed and the herbal garrigue notes are more prominent.  This Cuvée Sommelongue would be perfect with a hearty stew, and adding a dash or two as you make it would be highly appropriate!

Domaine Roche-Audran “César” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (15.0%, RRP €22.95 at Baggot Street Wines)

Domaine Roche-Audran Cesar CDR

Just like buses, there seem to be no 2012 CDRs and then two come along together!  This shows that well made wines can age gracefully, despite a modest appellation.  I say gracefully, but César is a bit of a bruiser – with 15.0% abv it has as much power as Greyskull.  You don’t need to be He-Man to drink it though – this biodynamic beauty has lots of lovely red fruit and herbal notes from 100% Grenache grapes.  If it’s cold outside, pop the cork and warm yourself up!

Château Pesquié “Quintessence” Ventoux 2015 (13.5%, RRP €27.95 at Searsons)

Pesquie Quintessence

René & Odette Bastide bought Château Pesquié in the early 1970s, around the same time that the Côtes du Ventoux appellation was created (it dropped the “Côtes du” from 30th November 2008).  They replanted much of the vineyards while still selling their grapes to the local co-operative.  A decade or so later their daughter Edith and her husband Paul Chaudière joined the family firm and took up oenology seriously.  Together they built a winery and started producing Château Pesquié wines from the 1990 vintage – including Quintessence which was (and remains) a statement of quality for the region.

The slopes of Mont Ventoux provide much needed cool air to the area, thus making Syrah a key variety down here as it is in the north.  Quintessence is 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache, full of dark black fruit and savoury tapenade.  Although drinking nicely now, it has the structure and acidity to age for several decades – if you can manage not to touch it!

Château Pesquié “Artemia” Ventoux 2014 (14.5%, RRP €46.50)

Pesquie Artemia

Edith and Paul Chaudière’s sons Alex and Fred became the next generation to join the family wine business, bringing additional enthusiasm and know-how.  Artemia became the new flagship wine, the combination of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah from two individual low-yielding old vine single vineyards.  Maturation is 18 months in oak, split half and half between new and used barrels.

Given the blend, Artemia is more fruit forward and less obviously structured than Quintessence – more elegant and more approachable, though still with an intense concentration of fruit.  The oak is well integrated and adds a little gravitas.  This is a very different expression of Ventoux from its sibling, and preference between the two is very much down to personal preference.  My own….I’ll take both please!

 

 

Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 3)

After the serious Syrahs of the northern Rhône in part 1 and the famous wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in part 2, we now turn to some of the other prestigious Crus of the southern Rhône.

Domaine Brusset “La Bastide” Rasteau 2015 (13.5%, RRP €23.95 at Mitchell & Son)

Domaine Brusset La Bastide Rasteau

While Rasteau has been an AOC for Grenache-based Vin Doux Naturel since the 1943 vintage, its dry reds were only promoted up from Côtes du Rhône Villages-Rasteau from the 2009 vintage onwards.

For all my opening talk of autumn, this is a wine that would be perfect(ly) at home on a cold winter’s day.  It’s a thick, chewy blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre with a fair dose of new oak, full of ripe black fruits and toasty spices.  This style of wine would be too full-on and heavy in summer, but it’s a perfect comfort-wine for autumn into winter.

Alain Jaume “Grande Garrigue” Vacqueras 2014 (14.5%, RRP €24.00 at Mitchell & Son)

Alain Jaume Grand Garrigue Vacqueras

Garrigues” is a wonderful word which means a number of interlinked things: firstly, it’s a type of limestone-based landscape, typical of parts of the Mediterranean coast; secondly, it refers to the low-growing plants and bushes often found on such a terrain; thirdly, it is used as a wine descriptor for notes that conjure up the herbs such as rosemary, lavender and thyme which are found on garrigue.

This bottle is a typical Rhône GSM blend, with 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre.  Supple and viscous in the mouth, it dances over the tongue and belies its 14.5% abv.  Black fruits are accompanied by fragrant herbal and liquorice notes.  A really delicious wine.

Montirius La Tour Gigondas 2015 (13.5%, RRP €27.50 at Baggot Street Wines)

Montirius Gigondas La Tour

Gigondas is generally regarded as the second most prestigious southern Cru – after Châteauneuf-du-Pape but ahead of Vacqueras.  Of course, it’s the wine not the appellation that counts, and biodynamic outfit Montirius have really struck gold with their “young vines” cuvée (if 35 years can be said to be young!)  The wine is named “La Tour” after one of the parcels the grapes are sourced from and it has a zero oak regime, being fermented and aged in concrete tanks before bottling.  Those who are a fan of oak won’t miss it though, as it’s a soft and cossetting wine.  Fresh strawberries and raspberries really stand out, with a shake of exotic spice.  At this price it’s amazing value for money!

Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux “Cuvée Doucinello” Vacqueras 2014 (14.5%, RRP €32.00 at Searson’s)

Domaine le Sang des Cailloux

This is Serge Férgioule’s main red cuvée (the other being the old vine “Cuvée Lopy”) which confusingly and charmingly rotates in name between his three daughters – so other vintages could also be Cuvée Floureto or Cuvée Azalaïs.  Whatever the name happens to be, the blend is 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah  and the remaining 10% a mix of Carignan, Mourvèdre and Cinsault.  The vines are between 35 and 40 years old and are farmed biodynamically.  Serge (and his son) have a hands-off approach in the winery, preferring to do the hard work in the vineyard and then let the fruit speak for itself.  The 2014 is soft, powerful and fresh – beautifully balanced and very drinkable.

Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 2)

Part 1 covered some fantastic northern Rhône reds to try this autumn.  Now we move onto the most famous appellation of the Rhône – and possibly the whole of France – Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Although aspects of quality are built in to the AOC rules, it doesn’t mean the wines are always great – some negotiants have released wines which aren’t balanced and do the CNDP name little good – they are usually found in discount supermarkets.  Thankfully there are quality conscious producers who make outstanding wines that show why Châteauneuf is held in such high regard.

Mas Saint-Louis Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 (14.0%, RRP €36.00 at Searsons)

chateauneuf-du-pape mas saint louis

Tasted among its peers this wine stands out for its lightness and elegance rather than its power – in fact its appellation would be a surprise to many as it is perhaps more like a Pommard than a typical blockbuster CNDP.  The blend here is 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah and the remaining 15% a mix of Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Picpoul Noir.

Red and black fruits abound, but it is the beguiling manner of their delivery which is so compelling.  With a touch of spice and a long finish, this is the Châteauneuf that you will want to keep as a secret!

Domaine Roche-Audran Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 (14.0%, RRP €49.00 at 64 Wine)

Roche Audran Chateauneuf du pape

Domaine Roche-Audran was set up as recently as 1998, but began biodynamic practices soon after in 2006.  They have three distinct terroirs, and it’s the third of a hectare in Châteauneuf-du-Pape which concerns us here, described as “molassic sand covered with round pebbles originating from the river Rhône”.  Sand loses heat quickly so the vines get something of a rest at night, helping to preserve acidity and delicacy.

Quite unusually for CNDP the Roche-Audran vineyard is 100% Grenache – it’s only due to the sandy soil that it doesn’t become over-ripe and over-alcoholic.  The vines are 60 years of age and cropped at 28 hl/ha.

The result is a gentle, enticing, inviting and seductive wine.  It slips down the throat and demands another glass be consumed.  Although the alcohol is not that high for the area it’s an intoxicating wine.

Domaine André Brunel “Les Cailloux” Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2013 (14.0%, RRP €45.55 at Karwig Wines)

Andre Brunel CNDP Les Cailloux

“Cailloux” are river-rounded stones, not quite as big as the famous “galets” pudding stones of the area, but serving a similar function of maintaining easy drainage and thus keeping the vines on their toes.

The Brunel family have been making wine in the area since the 17th century, but things were put on a more serious footing in 1954 when Lucien Brunel set up the Les Cailloux label.  His son André took over in 1971 and expanded the family’s holdings into other Rhône areas, but also introducing several innovations – he among was the first in CNDP to do away with chemicals in the vineyard and also created the super-premium “Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire”.  André’s son Fabrice joined in 2012 to keep the family tradition going.

Les Cailloux Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre; my tasting notes for this wine are compact and bijou – bloody amazing!  It’s smooth and fluid, a real pleasure to drink and it doesn’t bash you over the head!

Domaine de Mourchon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 (15.0%, RRP €39.00)

Mourchon CNDP

Situated just outside the beautiful village of Séguret, Domaine de Mourchon has vines around the winery and in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Their flagship wine is 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre and 10% Syrah – a slight re-ordering of the typical GSM blend.  The vines range from 60 to 80 years old and are planted on sandy soils and in “le Crau” lieu-dit.  Maturation is for 12 months split between demi-muid 600L barrels (70%) and concrete tanks (30%).

This is an amazingly perfumed wine – one that you hesitate to taste as it would interrupt your appreciation of the aromas – but once you have tasted you delight in its lithe red fruit and exotic spices.  The stated alcohol is fairly punchy at 15%, but it never stands out as the wine wears it very well.  Such a fine wine!

Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 1)

With apologies to Keats, autumn is the time when many light wines are forsaken and more substantial wines are poured in their stead, especially fruity and more generous reds.  Rhône Valley reds fit the bill perfectly!

This first part looks at some of the best northern Rhône reds, while part two will consider a selection from the southern Rhône.

Domaine Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2016 (13.0%, RRP €35.00 at SIYPS)

Domaine Graillot Crozes Hermitage

Crozes-Hermitage often lives in the shadow of Hermitage proper, both literally and quality wise.  There are often good value wines to be had but they can be disappointing compared to their big brother on the hill.  Domaine Graillot is an exception – an exceptional wine no matter how humble its origins.

This is a rich, dense, chewy wine full of black fruits, spice and tapenade savoury character.  It’s closer to a serious Saint-Joseph than any other Crozes I’ve tried!

Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin Côte Rôtie Champin Le Seigneur 2012 (13.0%, RRP €49.99 at JN Wine)

Gerin Cote Rotie

Côte Rôtie is the most northern of the northern Rhône’s eight crus and possibly the most famous.  It is also the origin of adding a dash of Viognier into Syrah to soften it and add floral aromas to the wine – a practice that has been followed in the new world, particularly South Africa.  Traditionally, the two grapes were planted together, then harvested and vinified together – extracting more from the Viognier skins than if they had been fermented as white wine and then blended in.

Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin was set up as recently as 1983 but the family has lived in Ampuis for six generations.  The first vines planted were in Côte Rôtie but the Domaine has since expanded beyond that appellation’s boundaries.  Champin Le Seigneur is the more affordable of Gerin’s Côte Rôtie wines, though obviously everything is relative!  With 5% Viognier added to the Syrah it has an ethereal quality – that indefinable lightness and sophistication that makes wine so special.

Cave de Tain “Grand Classique” Hermitage 2007 (13.0%, RRP €55.00 at O’Briens)

Cave de Tain Hermitage

From the only co-operative in Hermitage, this 2007 is absolutely à point, a perfect example of northern Rhône Syrah.  Relatively light, it still has some fine tannins and plenty of acidity – a fine structure.  There’s still plenty of fruit, too – both red and black – but also savoury notes which enhance its appeal.  Get yourself a thick piece of rib-eye steak and a super evening awaits.

Domaine Marc Sorrel “Le Gréal” Hermitage 1997 (13.0%, RRP €98.65 at Karwig Wines)

Marc Sorrel Hermitage

Those who have read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code book or seen the subsequent film may remember that “Le Gréal” is “The [Holy] Grail” which is possibly Marc Sorrel’s way of telling us that this wine is rather good – though more prosaically it is also a portmanteau of  Les Greffieux and Le Méal, two of the best plots from which grapes are sourced for this premium bottling.  Sorrel is a traditionalist, with mainly whole bunch fermentation in old oak, and his wines need some age before they are at their best.

The 1997 here has had plenty of time, but is still lively and has some years ahead of it.  10% Marsanne was added in the 1997 vintage (15% being the maximum per AOC regulations) which adds elegance.  There’s still power, but tempered by time, resulting in one of the smoothest wines known to man.