Make Mine A Double

Indian Wines for an Indian Summer? [Make Mine a Double #35]

Akluj

Ten years ago my (now) wife took me to India, specifically Kerala in the far south. After finding that a few of the hotels on our itinerary were Muslim-owned – and therefore dry – it was a pleasant surprise to be given a bottle of Indian wine by the local representative of the tour operator. It wasn’t fine wine, but it was drinkable. A decade on, Indian wine is being taken more seriously, so I jumped at the chance to try these wines which are being imported into Ireland by Liberty Wines.

M/S is a joint venture between Fratelli owners Kapil and Gaurav Sekhri and Italian Piero Masi and Englishman Steven Spurrier. They were obviously unable to use their initials joined by an ampersand as retailer Marks & Spencer already have that moniker, and simply reversing the order could have led to all sorts of misunderstandings…

Among Piero Masi’s former roles, the acclaimed producer Isole e Olena stands out. Steven Spurrier is probably best known as a writer and former merchant, but also has his own Bride Valley vineyard in Dorset and founded the Wine Society of India

Akluj in Maharashtra
Approx location of Akluj within Maharashtra (credit: Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa))

I wonder what a wine map of India will look like in another decade or two…

M/S Akluj Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.5%, RRP €19.99 at Blackrock Cellar, The Corkscrew, Michaels of Mount Merrion, Baggot Street Wines and wineonline.ie)

M-S_WHITE NV FS

The challenges of making a wine in a sub tropical climate are countered through planting at altitude and blocking malolactic fermentation – of course it could be argued that adding 20% Sauvignon Blanc also helps.

It’s unusual to find these two grapes blended together, either in their home country of France or in the new world countries where they have also prospered – but perhaps the key here is the Italian influences on the wine, as Chardonnay / Sauvignon Blanc blends can be found in northern Italy – viticultural colonists from Napoleonic times.

As well as avoiding MLF the winemakers also eschew oak barrels, though there’s an overt tanginess which I suspect comes from some lees work. In fact, if this is tasted straight from a domestic fridge the tanginess ramps up to tartness – pour it into a big glass and swirl away, or even decant the bottle if you can, and the wine really opens up. There’s a refreshing fizziness on the tongue from the acidity, with lemon and quince flavours to the fore.

M/S Akluj Sangiovese / Cabernet Franc / Shiraz 2017 (12.5%, RRP €19.99 at Blackrock Cellar, The Corkscrew, Michaels of Mount Merrion, Baggot Street Wines and wineonline.ie)

M-S_RED NV FS.jpg

If Italian influences on the white had to be deduced then they are writ large on the M/S red – the champion black grape of Tuscany is still very much linked to that region.

The Sangiovesi is present from the attack to the finish, with notes of leather, tobacco and smoke. It’s soon joined by juicy blackberry and plum from the Shiraz, followed by blackcurrant and a touch of green pepper from the Cab Franc. Then the Sangiovesi has the finish to itself. There’s plenty of acidity and tannin – no fruit bomb here – so medium rare rib eye steak straight off the barbie would be just perfect!

Given the paucity of Indian wines available in this part of the world I don’t have any others to compare this pair to, but they seem quite Italian in sensibility to me – which is no bad thing! Both are worth a try, with the red shading the white in my view.

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Book Review

Amber Revolution by Simon J Woolf [Book Review]

Amber Revolution

In my not-so-humble opinion, the best wine books are those where the authorSJW-pub-shot-Apr2017-pc-sm-300x295 demonstrates three important qualities: a passion for the subject at hand, a deep understanding of the topic and an inviting writing style.  Even from the opening few pages of Amber Revolution, it is obvious that Simon J Woolf has all three of these in abundance.

 

The (main) title of this book might leave even the most wine-literate scratching their heads (“what the heck is ‘amber’?”) but the subtitle makes it clear that this book is about orange wine – a small but important category which has been lauded by many sommeliers and some critics but is still being discovered and appraised by numerous others.  A slightly less cryptic “Orange Revolution” would have been somewhat divisive in these parts…

The main narrative of the book is a damn good read.  Woolf moves technical notes and references to footnotes so that the text flows well, neither overly technical nor dumbed-down.  Side panels for additional information are used judiciously, and Ryan Opaz’s atmospheric photography illustrates what the words cannot.  75 pages of short producer profiles (by country) also serve as a useful reference.

A quick word about the quality of this book – it’s a proper hardback with quality paper and a bound bookmark, very legible text and high resolution images.  Woolf’s Morning Claret Productions have done a fantastic job.

As a taster, here are three of the things I learnt from this book:

  1. Although people look to Georgia and its millennia-old tradition of making orange wine in Qvevri, Soviet rule and subsequent geopolitical difficulties meant that the use of these amphorae had almost died out.  Inward investment is now seeing their use increasing significantly, with enough produced to cater for export demand from experimental winemakers overseas.
  2. One of the pioneers of skin contact wine in Collio – the formidable Joško Gravner – was actually a leading proponent of modern technical winemaking in north east Italy and was very influential amongst his peers – before seeing the (amber) light and choosing a different directions.
  3. Although new to many palates (mine included), orange wine has a long and distinguished history in north east Italy and adjacent regions – it was employed as a deliberate technique after much trial and error, rather than (as I naively assumed) due to blind adherence to tradition.

There are so many more interesting snippets that I would like to share, but I will leave them for you to discover.

Book available from Morning Claret Productions.

 

Note: I was proud to be one of the many (388!) people who pledged financial support for this book on the Kickstarter platform, but my opinions remain my own.

Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

Magic from Marsannay [Make Mine a Double #34]

Sylvain Pataille trained as an Oenologist in Bordeaux but applies his knowledge and skills in his beloved Marsannay, both on his own rented vineyards and as a consultant to a dozen or so other producers.  His vines are in conversion to Biodynamic and yields are low, so his wines are a rare sight!  Here are two of his whites that I tried and loved:

Sylvain Pataille Bourgogne Aligoté 2015 (12.5%, RRP ~ €30 at Baggot Street Wines)

Pataille Aligote

The second coming of Aligoté continues unabated.  So long relegated to the lowly fate of a house carafe (and usually unnamed at that) or even more demeaningly with crème de cassis as a Kir, when treated with respect Aligoté can produce quality, interesting wines.  Sylvain Pataille makes this one that is clean as a whistle but has a wonderful herby and smoky nose. The palate is fantastically mineral and fresh with a lot of character.  Drink as an aperitif, with shellfish and smoked salmon, or just as a vin de plaisir.

 

Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP ~ €52 but mainly available in upscale restaurants)

Pataille Marsannay Blanc

Although this wine is hardly “cheap”, Marsannay is one of the Burgundy appellations where value is to be found, an increasingly rare phenomenon. Everything’s relative, of course, but this wine is seriously impressive at the price.  Pataille takes a hands off approach; the vineyards are organic, he follows Biodynamic methods and sulphur is only added (very lightly) at bottling.

This cuvée is a blend from five separate  Marsannay parcels which are lightly pressed and fermented, then mature in oak for 18 months.  Only a third of the oak is new, and even then it’s not overt on the palate; it does add to the body and texture of the wine. There’s a very pleasant spiced pear aspect and a bracing, zippy lemon finish.  Proper white Burgundy!

 

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Single Bottle Review

Chalk Hill McLaren Vale Fiano 2017 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #17]

Chalk Hill Fiano

Fiano is predominantly grown in southern Italy – Campania and Sicily – and so has risen in prominence with the quality revolution in Italian white wine.  Grapes don’t generally get tried in the New World until they have already been a success in the Old World – and even then it can be a struggle to get noticed alongside the big guns of Cabernet, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  However, it’s now Fiano’s turn to start making a mark down under.

Chalk Hill is a family owned producer in South Australia’s McLaren Vale, now in the capable hands of the sixth generation of the Harvey family.  I tend to think of the Vale as being one of the homes of Italian varieties in Australia – whether that’s just my perception or backed up with more than a grain of truth, I don’t know.

Lithe, with a whole range of citrus fruits on show, with a slight touch of both the vegetal – think mangetout – and the tropical – mangos FTW!  With a very reasonable ABV of 12.0% this is a great summer wine, especially with lime and ginger prawns on the barbie…

I’m already a fan of Mandrarossa’s Sicilian Fiano, but Chalk Hill have moved the game on several leagues with this wine.  I’m going to have to seek out the very top Italian Fianos to see how they match up!

Available by the glass at Ely Wine Bar, Ely Place, Dublin

Champagne, Single Bottle Review

Gustave Lorenz L’Ami des Crustacés [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #16]

The shape of Alsace wine bottles (the “Rhine flute”) is distinctive and can be off-putting to some consumers who (unfairly) associate it with the flabby Liebfraumilch of the ’70s and ’80s, and for some the Gothic script used on the labels is a little intimidating; I like it, but I understand why others wouldn’t.  Here’s an example also from Gustave Lorenz:

Gustave_Lorentz_Riesling_Burg_Bottle

So Gustave Lorenz have taken a slightly different approach for one of their wines – far less emphasis on geographic origin and grape variety, far more emphasis on food matching, and hoping to attract slightly younger drinkers.  Thus we have L’Ami des Crustaces which is probably best translated as “Great with Shellfish” as the literal “Friend of Crustaceans” doesn’t quite fit.

Where you stand on shellfish will be a major indicator of whether you like the label of this wine. Those that like seafood platters piled up with all manner of claws and tentacles and surgical tools to dismember will definitely love it, whereas those with shellfish allergies will probably be put off it.

I’m somewhere in between; I like the food but I prefer it shelled, de-boned and on a plate ready for me!

If you look at the label you can see “Pinot Blanc Classique”, so the variety isn’t being hidden (it’s more of an aside), but neither the producer name nor region are mentioned on the front.

Gustave Lorenz L’Ami des Crustacés Pinot Blanc Classique 2016 (12.5%, RRP ~ €16.50 via Febvre)

Ami des Crustaces

And so on to the most important part (for me), the wine itself.  And it’s marvelous!  It has plenty of texture, in good part due to the majority Auxerrois in the blend (see my post on Alsace blends for further info), and plenty of zippy acidity, so as well as briny seafood such as oysters the wine would actually work well with more flavoured seafood dishes and even poultry.

This wine is new to the Irish market but once available commercially I think I will treat myself to a case for picnics, barbecues and days ending in “y”!

 

Tasting Events

A few treats from SuperValu (part 2)

After part 1 (the reds), here are the whites that I really enjoyed at SuperValu’s recent Secret Garden Part event:

 

Duo des Mers Sauvignon Blanc Viognier 2017 (12.0%, RRP €11.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Duo Des Mers

This is a lovely fresh blend of Sauvignon Blanc from Gascony (Atlantic) and Viognier from the Languedoc (Mediterranean), hence two different seas.  As such, the best label of origin it can have is “Vin de France” which is usually seen on cheap bulk wine (a rule of thumb is that the more specific / small the area is, the better the wines are.)  However, this really is an exception – the Sauvignon (70%) provides fresh green fruit with zip and the Viognier (30%) gives rich peach and pineapple – a great combination which is more than the sum of its parts (and after all, isn’t that what blends are supposed to be?)

 

Combeval Grande Cuvée SCG 2017 (12.0%, RRP €11.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Combeval-BG-Auth-blanc

Nothing to do with the Sydney Cricket Ground, this is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (60%), Colombard (20%) and Gros Manseng (20%), all from Gascony.  It’s another successful blend from LGI, this time with local grapes Colombard (a very under-rated grape) and Gros Manseng.  The grapes are cold macerated for 24 hours which helps to extract aromas and flavours from the skins without any harshness, and then the juice is taken off and kept on big lees (bits!) at just above freezing for a further 20 days.  And the result of this high-tech winemaking?  Just farking gorgeous!

 

Nugan Estate Dreamer’s Chardonnay 2013 (14.0%, RRP €13.99 at SuperValu)

Dreamers Chardonnay

Regular readers should need no introduction to this wine, just to say that it still tastes great and is a total bargain!  There’s plenty of toasty oak and rich fruit, but a crisp, clean finish.  Lovely drinking!

 

Trisquel Series Origen Semillión 2017 (12.5%, RRP €16.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Trisquel Semillon

This wine was a big surprise, not necessarily the quality (which I expected to be high), but the style; the juice has two months contact with the skins which makes it somewhat an orange wine – and I never expected to see one of those in a supermarket!  Depending on where it’s grown and when it’s picked, Semillon can be light and fresh or a bit more tropical – and of course that’s just the dry wines, it’s a very important grape for sweet wine production in many countries.

One of the reasons Semillon is so treasured for sweet wines is the thinness of its skins, thus making it relatively easy to attract botrytis if the conditions are right.  This also means than when made in an orange style, it’s lighter and more accessible than many other grapes.

I think this is one of the most interesting wines available in an Irish supermarket – fresh apple and pear with a slight tartness like a Granny Smith’s apple chopped into grapefruit juice.  It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me!

 

Albert Glas Pfalz Riesling Trocken 2017 (12.0%, RRP €15.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Albert Glas Riesling

This is a “Trocken” (dry-but-fruity) Riesling from the Pfalz in Germany – one of the best regions for Riesling in the country.  Now made by third generation winemaker Dominik Glas, there is in fact a wide range of different Rieslings and other grapes made by the winery – this is their “standard” level.  But there’s nothing basic about it – lovely green apple and lime fruit shine brightly while a kiss of sugar and a streak of acidity compete for your attention on the finish.  A lovely wine.

 

Albert Glas Black Label Pfalz Riesling Trocken 2017 (12.0%, RRP €19.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Riesling BL 2017

Apart from the obvious (the colour of the label), the main differences of this wine are the sourcing of fruit from better vineyards and the use of oak.  Don’t run away, though, the wine isn’t “oaky” – only 20% is fermented in oak (the rest in stainless steel) and the barrels are old so they don’t impart a flavour to the wine – just more body, depth and openness.  Dominik Glas is proud of the fact that the oak trees come from a Pfalz forest, so the trees and the vines are in the same soil.  The net effect of all of this is to produce a more complex and satisfying wine which needs to be tried.

 

Kim Crawford Spitfire Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.0%, RRP €19.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

KIM Crawford Spitfire Sauvignon Blanc

The standard Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc is one of the better to come out of Marlborough, but the smaller production (“Small Parcels”) Spitfire Sauvignon is well worth the extra few quid for the upgrade, particularly in a year like 2017 which didn’t hit the heights of 2015 and 2016.  It’s very citrusy like the little brother, but also shows sweet tropical fruit on the mid palate.  Absolute text book Marlborough Savvy.

 

 

 

 

Tasting Events

A few treats from SuperValu (part 1)

The wine market in Irish supermarkets is a tough one to get right, balancing what consumers think they want, what they actually want, and trying to stock better and/or more different wines in a low margin, competitive environment.

One key trend – which is not unique to the Irish market – is the preference among many consumers for richer red wines.  At the lower end of the market, many of these wines contain significant amounts of residual sugar, but consumers think they only like dry wines – and what they don’t know can’t hurt them, I suppose.  It’s not for me to tell people their tastes are wrong, it’s just that I don’t share them.

Here are some of the delicious reds that I tasted recently at SuperValu’s Secret Garden Party:

 

Trisquel Family Collection Magnum 2013 (14.0%, RRP €49.99, currently €20, at SuperValu)

Aresti Family Collection

This is top of the bill for a very good reason – the special offer!  Unlike many wines with such significant reductions (Hardy’s Crest, I’m looking at you), this is actually worth the full price and isn’t a label that just exists to be discounted.  The wine is built on Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (20%) and Petit Verdot (8%), with a little Rhône included for interest in Syrah (12%) and Petite Sirah (10%).  The nose is just amazing, luscious black fruit, chocolate, coffee and exotic spice.  On the palate it is a little restrained, so it could play a good role with food as well as on its own.  I’m dropping a few hints to the family about a bottle for myself!

 

Albert Glas Pfalz Pinot Noir Black Label 2014 (13.5%, RRP €19.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Riesling BL 2017

Like the equivalent Riesling (see part 2) the Black Label Pinot Noir from Albert Glas is made with  premium fruit and fermented in local oak barrels.  Thankfully, the oak isn’t overdone so there is only a little noticeable on the palate.  Instead, the oak adds textures and depth to the plush red fruit.  For my money this is nicer than most Burgundy at the same price.

 

Dona Ermelinda Reserve Palmela Red 2015 (14.5%, RRP €85 for 6 at SuperValu, will be on offer at €50 for 6 from 20th August)

dona ermelinda palmela

The Palmela region is close to Lisbon and best known for its reds.  Here local grape Castelão is the mainstay with 70% of the blend, and the international Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon make up the balance with 20% and 10% respectively.  This is a proper Portuguese red, with rich and powerful black fruit framed by tobacco notes and soft tannins.  An excellent wine for a barbecue!

 

Nugan Estate Langhorne Creek Single Vineyard Zinfandel 2015 (15.0%, RRP €16.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Single Vineyard Zinfandel - bottle shot 1

California’s Zinfandel is of course also known as Primitivo in Puglia and (the harder to say) Tribidrag and (the even harder to say) Crljenak Kaštelanski in Croatia.  All of these are warm climate areas, so why not also in South Australia?  It’s a big and bold wine, lots of fun and nicely straddling the red and black fruit border.  There’s a touch of sweetness on the finish but the tannin stops it becoming too jammy.

Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Monsoon in the Sahara [Make Mine a Double #33]

The Muscat family of grapes is one of the oldest known extant grape families, and has made a home all the way round the Mediterranean and beyond.  Muscat wines come in a variety of styles, from bone dry through to very sweet, from light in alcohol to fortified, from subtle to all-guns-blazingly aromatic. n In the end, whatever their style, most are recognisable as the grapey grape, Muscat!

Here are two very different expression from Top Selection’s portfolio, one very dry (the “Sahara”) and the other quite opposite (the “monsoon”!)

Terra Tangra Thracian Mountain Wine Tamianka 2016 (12.5%, RRP £14.77 from Top Selection)

Tamianka

Tamianka is regarded as a Muscat-like indigenous variety in its home of Bulgaria, but a little digging through Wine Grapes (Robinson, Vouillamoz, Harding) reveals that Tamyanka (and various alternative spellings) is a synonym for Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, and so it truly is Muscat!

This is a rather aromatic wine, with lots of grape and floral notes on the nose.  The palate shows citrus – particularly grapefruit – and a distinct chalkiness.  It’s pithy, with only a little weight, but a lot of texture.  This is more of a food wine than a sipping wine.

Top Selection recommend pairing it “with white meats with a bit of spice heat – for example, spicy marinated chicken served on a bed of black Thai rice and bok choi.”

 

Cereto Santo Stefano Moscato d’Asti 2015 (5.5%, RRP £13.92 (375ml) from Top Selection)

ceretto moscato dasti

There are three main ways to make sweet Muscat:

  1. Pick the grapes late, i.e. a late harvest style, so the grapes have more sugar when picked;
  2. Fortify the wine before fermentation has finished, thereby killing the yeast and leaving plenty of sugar unfermented (like the Vin Doux Naturel style);
  3. Stop fermentation early by chilling, without the addition of grape spirit, so the resulting wine is sweet and fairly low in alcohol.

Moscato d’Asti goes for the third route, with some bubbles for good measure!  “Moscato” is now a popular style in Australia and the US due to its eminent drinkability, but Italy still produces the best examples.  This example from Ceretto is sweet but not sickly, lithe, alert, aromatic, heady and refined….just bloody gorgeous!!

The folks at Top Selection recommend partnering Ceretto Moscato d’Asti with Ceretto’s own Panettone – or alternatively a fresh fruit-based dessert.

 

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Information

Alsace in Numbers

 

After a successful first #AlsaceWineWeek in Ireland  I thought I’d pick out a few key numbers to give readers a background to the region.

 

2 Departments

2

The Alsace region is divided administratively into 2 Départements

  1. Haut Rhin (Upper Rhine)
  2. Bas Rhin (Lower Rhine)

 

4 Noble Grapes

Channel-4-logo

  1. Riesling
  2. Pinot Gris
  3. Gewurztraminer
  4. Muscat (usually Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains)

As a general rule, Grand Cru wines can only be made from one of these noble grapes.

 

4% of vineyard area is Grand Cru

4-Percent

This compares to approximately 2% of Burgundy being Grand Cru (with a further 12% being Bourgogne Premier Cru).

 

7 Featured Grapes

7

In addition to the 4 noble grapes above, there are also

  1. Pinot Blanc
  2. Pinot Noir
  3. Sylvaner

These three plus the four noble grapes above are the most commonly seen on wine labels.

 

13 Total Grapes

13

Apart from the featured grapes there are six others which can legitimately be used in Alsace wine, though not ALL Alsace wine.  Rarely on the front label, they are sometimes relegated to the back label or producers’ technical sheets:

  1. Chardonnay (used in Crémant d’Alsace)
  2. Auxerrois (a relative of the Pinot family, used in Alsace blends)
  3. Chasselas (from Switzerland)
  4. Klevener de Heiligenstein (aka Traminer, Savagnin Rose) which is only made in a small, pre-defined area)
  5. Muscat Rose à Petits Grains
  6. Muscat Ottonel

 

18% of total still white French AOC production

18

This is probably the most surprising number of them all – just over a sixth of French AOC white wine comes from Alsace!  Though, when you take into account that there is no IGP in Alsace and white wines are such a high proportion of production (see below) then it starts to make sense.

 

51 Grand Cru vineyards

Number_51

Many of Alsace’s Grand Cru vineyards have existed for several centuries, before the Appellation Alsace Grand Cru was first instigated in 1975.  25 lieux-dits were added in 1983 and a further 25 in 1992, with a final addition (to date) in 2007.

See the full list on Wikipedia.

 

67 Communes on the Route des Vins d’Alsace

67

From Marlenheim in the north to Thann in the south, the Route des Vins passes though 67 communes (see the full list on Wikipedia) and is a strong candidate for most picturesque wine route in the world.

 

90% white

90%

90% of all Alsace wine production is white, with a tiny bit of rosé and the rest red.  In years gone by, much of the red was so light that it was usually served chilled and could have been mistaken for a rosé, but good producers are now making some serious reds.

 

100% bottled in the region

100percent

 

119 wine growing communes

119

No hippies here (well, apart from a few Biodynamic producers), a total of 119 different villages produce wine out of the 904 in the region.  The floodplains of the Rhine and the higher reaches of the Vosges are not suitable for viticulture, but the foothills are just perfect.

 

 

 

 

Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

GrapeCircus Round 3

Finally, a Franciacorta that I love!  As a winelover there are wines that I know I will love before I even taste them, and some that I don’t think I will like, but I try to keep an open mind.  Back in early 2014 I gave myself the task of trying more of a few different wines:

  • Muscadet
  • Cava
  • Prestige Cuvée Champagne
  • Franciacorta

Since then I’ve tried some lovely Muscadet, some excellent Cava and some Champagne that’s absolutely to die for.  I’ve had plenty of Franciacorta that I like, but up until now not one that I love.  Why is this?  I think the fundamental issue is that some Franciacorta producers are trying to make their own version of Champagne, picking the grapes early to preserve acidity and then adding a dosage after disgorgement for balance, but without the cool growing conditions that permit flavours to develop so well.

Arcari + Danesi Franciacorta “Dosaggio Zero” 2013 (12.5%, RRP ~ €55 – €60)

franciacorta dosaggio zero arcari danesi

The alternative is to make the best sparkling wine based on the local conditions.  Arcari + Danesi pick their Chardonnay grapes when they are quite ripe and full of flavour; the resulting richness and moderate acidity negate the need for dosage.

Not only is this sparkler made without additional sugar after disgorgement (hence “Dosaggio Zero“), neither is any used for the second fermentation in bottle.  The apparent contradiction there is because – under the “SoloUva Method” grape juice is used instead of sugar from beet or cane.

After 31 months on the lees there are some lovely autolytic notes, together with tangy tropical fruit.  The finish is dry but not austere.  What a fabulous wine!