Tasting Events

Unfinished Sympathy

After a little reflection, one of the most important characteristics of a great winemaker (in my humble opinion) is sympathy for the vineyards they pick from and the grapes that they harvest.  Underlying this are intelligence, knowledge, and more than a little humility.

Many winemakers develop this sympathetic nature over the course of decades with a small number of plots of land and as few as two or even just one grape variety, as is the case in Burgundy.  Indeed, sometimes it’s an ancestral connection with knowledge that has been passed down in the family for generations.

In stark contrast to the timescale of the Burgundians, I give you Pieter Hauptfleisch Walser of BLANKbottle.  Pieter has 58 different varieties growing all over the Western Cape, though you won’t see them mentioned on the bottle.  A few months ago, thanks to WineMason I had the opportunity to try eight of this wines which were new to the Irish market (and only available in very small quantities).  Each has an intriguing backstory and a interesting label to go with it.

with apologies for the quality of my snaps…

Rabbitsfoot 2018 (14.5%, RRP ~ €30)

BLANKbottle Rabbits Foot 2018

We start with a Sauvignon Blanc, but not that you would probably recognise at first – it’s not like a Loire or Kiwi Sauvignon, and to be honest it’s not even like other South African Savvies, although perhaps some could be though of as baby versions of this.  It has more body, texture and alcohol than most Sauvignons, still grassy but with spicy notes.  Tasted blind my first guess would have been Grüner Veltliner!

Full details here

BOBERG 2018 (13.5%, RRP ~ €33)

BLANKbottle BOBERG 2018

Boberg means “on top of the mountain” and the mountain is pictured on the label – but not on its own.  It is depicted as being overlooked by seven generations of Pieter’s family who lived on the farm next to it.  These Chenin Blanc vines are old and low yielding, and have recently been certified organic.  For 2018 they were picked early and fermented in old French oak barrels with natural yeast.  The wine is fresh but with real depth; a whole basket of Granny Smith apples with a few Golden Delicious and lemons.

Full details here

Kortpad Kaaptoe 2018 (13.0%, RRP ~ €33)

BLANKbottle Kortpad Kaaptoe 2018

Pieter found these vines while on his travels and took a backroad shortcut to get to his next appointment – the name means “shortcut to Cape Town”.  The grape variety used is even more obscure (especially in South Africa): Fernão Pires!  If you’re a fan of Portuguese wine then it might not be so obscure as it is grown throughout Portugal, sometimes under the moniker Maria Gomes.  It’s a highly aromatic grape, somewhere in the realm of Gewurztraminer and Viognier, though fairly gentle (Alsace aficianados: think of Klevener de Heiligenstein).  I liked this wine though it didn’t shine quite as brightly for me as the two whites above.

Full details here

B.O.E.T. 2017 (14.0%, RRP ~ €36)

BLANKbottle B.O.E.T. 2017

It’s fairly well known among wine geeks that South Africa’s signature variety Pinotage was created as a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (the Rhône’s Cinsault, then known as Hermitage in South Africa).  This wine is something of a family reunion as it features all three grapes, though Pinotage is dominant with small amounts of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir.  On the nose I would never have guessed this to be a Pinotage blend – my best guess would perhaps have been a Languedoc red.  The palate is lighter, with medium body, lithe red fruit and good acidity.  This is the perfect example of BLANKbottle’s labelling philosophy – those who would be put off by the varieties might well love this wine if tasted without knowing.  I certainly loved it!

Full details here

My Koffer 2018 (13.5%, RRP ~ €37)

BLANKbottle My Köffer 2018

This is single vineyard Cinsaut (without the “l” as usually spelt in South Africa) – a variety known for high yields and large berries which is often used to make rosé or inexpensive bulk red wine.  It’s not a grape I taste as a single varietal very often, but if it’s as good as this then I definitely should.  The nose is all cherries, following through onto the palate where they are joined by exotic spices.  The finish is pleasantly dry.

Full details here

My eie Stofpad 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €38)

BLANKbottle My eie Stofpad 2017

This wine is principally Cabernet Franc but also has a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, all from different vineyards, so it’s technically a Bordeaux blend.  It tastes nothing like a Bordeaux, with thick mouthfeel and ripe blackcurrant fruit.  There’s a savoury edge as well plus fine grained tannins.  An excellent wine.

Oppie Koppie 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €39)

BLANKbottle Oppie Koppie 2017

This lovely Syrah reminded me of St Joseph or Hawke’s Bay on steroids – but not as ripe and juicy as most Aussie Syrah/Shiraz.  Perhaps we (I) just just stop with the comparisons and say it’s a great example of South African Syrah.  Whole bunch fermentation is used in varying degrees depending on the vintage (and in particular how ripe the stems are) – for this 2017 80% was whole bunch.  2017 was the first vintage that a little Syrah from Swartland and Cinsaut from Breedekloof were added to the main Syrah from Voor-Paardeberg, all for additional complexity.  The result is a fantastic red wine that is rich yet fresh, full of black and red fruit and spice, but no jamminess.

Full details here

B.I.G. 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €41)

BLANKbottle B.I.G. 2017

This is a single varietal blend; if that sounds strange it’s because it’s made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in eight different vineyards across South Africa.  Well, normally eight, from sea level up to mountain tops, except for the 2017 vintage which saw the fruit from two of the vineyards lost to smoke taint from fires – depicted on the label.  This is definitely a Cabernet Sauvignon but it’s not too far in character from the Cabernet Franc above, just a little richer and with more pronounced blackberry and blackcurrant fruit.  As you’d expect there are fine grained tannins to keep everything in check. A truly delicious wine.

Full details here

Make Mine A Double, Opinion, Tasting Events

Kiwi Chardonnays [Make Mine a Double #50]

Despite receiving flak from some, Sauvignon Blanc is still the key variety in New Zealand, accounting for 75.8% of the 2019 harvest.  There are three other varieties that lead the chasing pack; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris:

Picture1

As you can see, vintage variations account for a lot of the movement over the ten year period, but there is a definite upward trend in both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, with Chardonnay being fairly stable/stagnant (choose your own descriptor) in quantity.

Whereas Sauvignon Blanc is concentrated in Marlborough, which has the most distinctive style, the varieties above prosper in several NZ regions.  The most adaptable – in my opinion – is Chardonnay, which makes excellent wines in:

  • Auckland – e.g. Kumeu River
  • Gisborne – e.g. Wrights
  • Hawke’s Bay – e.g. Trinity Hill
  • Wairarapa – e.g. Ata Rangi
  • Nelson – e.g. Neudorf
  • Marlborough – e.g. Cloudy Bay
  • Canterbury – e.g. Bell Hill
  • Central Otago – e.g. Felton Road

Below are a couple of Chardonnays that impressed me at the recent “New Zealand in a Glass” tasting in Dublin.  They are both from the Villa Marie group, though different producers and quite different price points.

Vidal Legacy Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2018 (13.5%, RRP €35 – €43 at winesoftheworld.ie)

vidal legacy chardonnay

Unlike many New Zealand wineries which were founded by immigrants from the Balkans, Vidal was founded by a Spaniard – Anthony Joseph Vidal – in 1905.  He planted vines in Hastings (Hawke’s Bay, not Sussex) and the winery is still based there today (I actually visited it with my wife in 2009).

The Vidal range has four levels (in order of increasing quality):

  • Estate
  • Reserve
  • Soler
  • Legacy

The two reds in the Legacy range are a Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot blend and a single varietal Syrah, both from the Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawke’s Bay.  The sole Legacy white is this Chardonnay, but it stands alone proudly.  Unlike the wine below, quantities were relatively small (33 barriques which would produce less than 10,000 bottles) and from a single region.  Fermentation used wild yeast and took place in a mixture of new (45%) and old French barriques.  Maturation was for 10 months in those barriques (I assume with lees stirring) then a further 2 months in tank to blend the barrels together.

If I said I didn’t want to taste this wine, that might sound like I’m slating it…but I didn’t want to taste it as that would tear me away from its magnificent nose (Lady Gaga, you’ve got nothing on this wine!)  It’s obviously very young indeed, but it has amazing struck-match reductive aromas with rich fruit notes and toasty, tangy oak.  The palate is slightly less impactful as there’s an underlying freshness rather than butteriness, but it’s still fabulous.  For the price, this wine over-delivers.  Interestingly, on Vidal’s own website they offer this 2018 but also a mature release 2011.

Villa Maria Private Bin East Coast Chardonnay 2018 (13.0%, RRP €14.99 at SuperValu & Centra stores)

Villa Maria East Coast Chardonnay

If you look at a map of New Zealand’s wine regions then you find the majority of them on the East Coast; the East Coast designation is therefore a useful label for inter-regional blends which doesn’t necessarily mean much in itself.  Without spending hours on the origin of the term, my instinct is that it was brought in to satisfy EU regulations (similar to South Eastern Australia) though happy to be proven wrong.

For this wine the fruit came mainly from the warm climes of Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay, with a small dash from Marlborough for extra freshness.  The winemaking decisions were taken on a parcel by parcel basis; for some, indigenous yeast was used while others had cultured yeast; malolactic fermentation was encouraged – followed by bâtonnage – for some parcels while being blocked for others.  For all, fermentation took place “in contact with premium French oak”; given the modest price one might assume that the oak was in the form of chips or staves as there is no mention of actual oak barrels.

After all that, how did the wine turn out?  Very well indeed actually!  This entry level Chardonnay really surprised me as to how appealing it was.  The nose is balanced between pip fruit, stone fruit and oak tones, with a touch of flint and reduction.  There’s a real creamy texture from the lees work and tangy oak on top of the fruit.  It’s ready to drink now but another year or two wouldn’t hurt at all.

 

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

Make Mine A Double, Opinion, Tasting Events

Earth Angel – Domaine des Anges [Make Mine a Double #49]

An Englishman, and Irishman and a Frenchman climb up a mountain…and make some great wine!  Domaine des Anges was established on the slopes of Mont Ventoux by English couple Malcolm and Janet Swan in 1973.  At that point grapes were mainly being processed by the local cooperative, so it was a bold venture, but help and advice was surprisingly forthcoming from the famous but less-than-approachable Jacques Rayas of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The Swans had variable levels of success, and after 20 or so years they sold the estate to Irishman Gay McGuinness.  He increased investment and hired professional winemakers – fellow Irishman Ciaran Rooney and after a decade Florent Chave.  Quality has continually increased and Domaine des Anges has received a plethora of praise from critics and consumers.

I recently had the opportunity to taste through the Domaine des Anges range thanks to a kind invitation from Boutique Wines, their Irish representative.  The wines were presented by historian and oenophile Giles MacDonogh – a close friend of the proprietors – and whose notes I have cribbed for background information.  While I liked all the wines I tried, two in particular stood out for me: the white and red AOC Ventoux “Archange” wines:

Domaine des Anges Archange Ventoux Blanc 2016 (14.5%, RRP €21 at La Touche, Greystones; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; Blackrock Cellar; Grape and Grain, Stillorgan; The Winehouse, Trim; Browns Vineyard, Portlaoise; Bakers Corner, Kill of the Grange; Mortons, Ranelagh)

Domaine des Anges archange Ventoux blanc

Whereas the regular Domaine des Anges Ventoux Blanc is a third each of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Bourboulenc, the Archange is 100% Roussanne – a grape that rarely gets the limelight all to itself.  In fact the winemaking is as much the star of the show here, with techniques very reminiscent of Burgundy.  The wine is aged in small oak barrels, giving notes of toast, toffee and vanilla.  Malolactic fermentation is blocked to preserve freshness, and regular lees stirring gives a wonderful creamy aspect.  The varietal character does come through the middle of all of this as an intriguing peachy tanginess…it’s like Burgundy but with a bit more going on.  The only downside to this wine is that it’s perhaps too good to drink every day – perhaps just save it for the weekend?

Domaine des Anges Archange Ventoux Rouge 2015 (14.5%, RRP €21 at La Touche, Greystones; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; Blackrock Cellar; Grape and Grain, Stillorgan; The Winehouse, Trim; Browns Vineyard, Portlaoise; Bakers Corner, Kill of the Grange; Mortons, Ranelagh)

Domaine des Anges archange Ventoux rouge

Although the Rhône Méridional is known for its Grenache-based blends, in the cooler heights of Mont Ventoux Syrah can play a much bigger role.  In this blend it accounts for a full 90% with the balance being Grenache.  As the 14.5% alcohol indicates this is a powerful wine, but it does not have the sweetness of a Barossa Shiraz, for example. There’s a distinct richness, but with smoky notes, black pepper, black fruits and leather, with an altogether savoury finish.  My “go-to” Rhône appellation is Saint-Joseph with its savoury Syrahs, but this Ventoux presents a great alternative – and at a great price.

Conclusion

These two wines are an outstanding pair and really over-deliver for the price tag.  They won’t fade in a hurry, either, so it would be well-worth putting a few (dozen) down to see how they evolve over time.

 

 

And for you film buffs out there, here’s a clip from the film which inspired part of the title of this post:

Opinion

O’Briens Fine Wine Sale 2019

The Irish off-licence chain O’Briens has various promotions on throughout the year, but probably the most eagerly awaited is the annual Fine Wine Sale.  This year it runs from Monday 9th to Sunday 15th December.  Below are the wines I’d be snapping up this year.  Note that I haven’t necessarily tried the vintage stated of each wine, but I have tasted them often enough over the years to comfortably recommend them.

Gaia Santorini Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2016 (13.0%, €24.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)

Gaia-Assyrtiko-Wild-Ferment

I have previously written about the 2013 and 2016 vintages of this wine as well as its younger brother Monograph, and tasted it many times in between; it remains one of my favourite “mid-priced” white wines available in Ireland.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough  Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (13.0%, €35.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)

Cloudy-Bay-Sauvignon-Blanc

An iconic wine at a very reasonable price!  I recently tried the 2017 (which was maturing nicely) and the 2019 which, for such a young wine, was surprisingly settled and ready to go

Julien Brocard Chablis La Boissoneuse 2018 (12.5%, €29.95 down to €25.95 at O’Briens)

Brocard-La-Boissoneuse-Organic

The 2017 vintage was #1 in my Top 10 Whites of 2019 so any reduction in price of this fantastic organic, biodynamic Chablis makes it worth snapping up!

Chanson Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2017 (12.5%, €34.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)

Chanson-Chablis-1er-Cru-Montmains

Chanson has been part of the Bollinger group for two decades and produces consistently good wines.  This Montmains is an excellent Premier Cru and while delicious now, deserves another five years or so before being opened.

Man O’War Waiheke Island Valhalla Chardonnay 2017 (14.5%, €32.95 down to €28.95 at O’Briens)

Man-O_War-Valhalla-Chardonnay

I wrote about the 2010 vintage (in 2014) the 2011 (in 2016) and the 2016 (earlier this year) and loved them all.  This is a fairly full on Chardonnay which will please those who like bold wines – and that includes me.

L’Ostal Cazes Minervois La Livinière Grand Vin 2015 (14.5%, €23.95 down to €20.95 at O’Briens)

L_Ostal-Cazes-Grand-Vin

The JM Cazes family who have long owned Lynch Bages in Bordeaux have spread their interests to the Rhône and Languedoc, amongst other places.  In my not-so-humble-opinion this Minervois La Livinère is the best value wine in their portfolio.

Château Franc-Maillet Pomerol 2015 (13.5%, €48.00 down to €42.00 at O’Briens)

Ch_teau-Franc-Maillet

The 2014 of this wine was very good, so the even better vintage of 2015 is definitely worth a shout.  This wine is worthy of a place on my Christmas dinner table, so it’s definitely worthy of yours, too!

Sierra Cantabria Rioja Gran Reserva 2008 (14.0%, €32.95 down to €23.95 at O’Briens)

Sierra-Cantabria-Gran-Reserva

If you like Tempranillo-based wines but tend to favour Ribero del Duero, this a Rioja house which can match the black fruited savoury wines from there.  I have previously tried the 2010 Crianza which was great, but a Gran Reserva from 2008 should be even more of a stunner!

d’Arenberg  McLaren Vale Dead Arm Shiraz 2015 (14.6%, €54.95 down to €44.95 at O’Briens)

d_Arenberg-Dead-Arm-Shiraz

While Penfolds Grange prices have rocketed off into the stratosphere, here’s an iconic Aussie wine that is (relatively) more affordable – and approachable at a younger age, too, though if you manage to keep your hands away it will last for a decade or two.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (13.8%, €80 down to €68 at O’Briens)

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 3

The (virtual) ink has only just dried on my review of the 2012 vintage of this wine but it’s already included in the fine wine sale.  If you want to treat yourself for Christmas (2019 or 2029) then this is a great bet!

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Dog Point Chardonnay [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #27]

Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blanc is known throughout the wine drinking world and is the key export variety for New Zealand.  Although Pinot Noir is regarded as the next in line, for me Chardonnay is Aotearoa’s best grape, making excellent examples in nearly every Kiwi wine region.  Acidity is generally quite prominent, even after MLF, as this is mainly a cool climate country.  Here’s a bottle I tried recently with a bit of age on it:

Dog Point Vineyard Marlborough Chardonnay 2012 (13.5%, RRP €36.50 (2016/7 vintages) at Blackrock Cellars, Baggot St Wines, Donnybrook Fair, The Corkscrew, jnwine.com)

Dog Point Chardonnay

I recently did an article on Cloudy Bay and mentioned that the head winemaker for many years was Kevin Judd.  As the company grew they took on more staff in the vineyard, in the winery and back office functions such as marketing.  Two of the winemaking team – Ivan Sutherland and James Healy – eventually decided to branch out and set up by themselves.

With the support of their wives Margaret and Wendy (respectively) they launched their 2002 vintage in early 2004.  They gradually expanded their range and make several different wines, including the excellent and age-worthy Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc (I tried the 2010 in 2014).

Interestingly, when Kevin Judd himself founded Greywacke later the same decade, he got agreement from his old colleagues at Dog Point to use their winery facilities.

At seven and a half years from vintage, this bottle is much older than most you will see around on the shelves in wine merchants; many have the 2016 or even 2017 vintages of the Chardonnay available (I bought this bottle from my old haunt Sweeney’s of Glasnevin which closed this summer.)  It has a very yeasty, toasty nose – possibly because of lees work while maturing.  The funk continues onto the palate where it is joined by soft citrus, pineapple and hints of stone fruit.  Trademark NZ acidity is still present to prevent the wine from being at all flabby.

This 2012 is probably at its peak and ready to decline gently, so I would not keep it for much longer if I had another bottle, but it’s drinking beautifully now.  If you buy a younger vintage, try keeping it a while (if you can keep it well) to see how it evolves.

 

Opinion, Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Spearmint Rhino [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #26]

Cabernet from Napa and Sonoma is a key part of California wine’s reputation – big, bold, ripe, and not for the faint hearted.  Some wines have almost become parodies of the style, with too much oak, too much extraction and too much alcohol.  Thankfully, they aren’t all like that, and balance is becoming more fashionable again.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (14.2%, RRP €80 at O’Briens)

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 3

 

The Alexander Valley AVA is part of Sonoma County and was purportedly named after the first man to introduce vines to the area in 1843, Cyrus Alexander.  After prohibition it remained a bulk wine area until the late ’60s when innovative, quality winemaking returned to the area.  For all my talk of balance above, the wines here are still powerful and voluptuous.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the leading black varieties and Chardonnay for white.

Silver Oak was set up in 1972 by business partners Raymond Twomey Duncan and Justin Meyer.  They originally set out to make just top notch Cabernet Sauvignon, matured in American Oak and able to repay decades of cellaring.  Napa Valley Cabernet and this Alexander Valley Cabernet are the twin kings of the winery, with other varieties released under the related Twomey label.

The 2012 vintage of this wine consists of 98% Cabernet Sauvignon with just a 2% splash of Merlot.  Seven years after vintage it is settling down nicely and ready to drink, but should develop for a further 15 years if kept well.  The nose has powerful blackcurrant and red fruit aromas with vanilla from two years in oak.  Cassis is also present on the muscular palate, along with a distinct spearmint streak and cocoa powder.  Fine grained tannins seal the deal.

This is a very well made, enjoyable wine.  It may look expensive without context, but for this quality in the Médoc even more money would be exchanged.  Due to its heft this should be saved for a treat (who drinks €80 bottles on a weekday, anyway?) to be shared with fellow wine lovers.  And what a treat!

Disclaimer: there is no link between this wine and the Spearmint Rhino clubs

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Leyda, you got me on my knees! [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #25]

Chile’s Sauvignon Blancs are probably its vanguard in Ireland and the UK – the first experience that many wine drinkers will have of wines from Chile.  They are widely available in supermarkets, independent merchants and everywhere in between; they offer plenty of bang for the buck and are nearly always inexpensive.  But – and it’s a big but for me* – they don’t often offer elegance or anything out of the ordinary.

However – and that’s an equally big however – of the many wine regions in Chile, one is currently head and shoulders above the others for quality Sauvignon Blanc (and Pinot Noir) – the Leyda Valley.  The shift from Casablanca has really paid off.  Here’s an example I tried recently that hit the spot.

Disclosure: sample was kindly provided for review, but opinions remain my own

Undurraga Sibaris Gran Reserva Leyda Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (13.5%, RRP €13.99 at Reids Off-Licence, Enniscorthy; Fine Wines Group; Martins Off-Licence, Fairview)

Undurraga Sibaris Leyda Sauvignon Blanc

Undurraga is one of the bigger wine companies in Chile but has been in family ownership since it was founded in 1855.  They have 2,500 acres of vineyards in the Maipo and Colchagua valleys (the latter encompasses Leyda).  The winemaker for the Sibaris range is María del Pilar Díaz whose experience includes doing vintages in Marlborough, so she is the perfect person to make Sauvignon Blanc.

On opening, the nose is a mix of tropical and citrus fruits, with a herbal twang.  These notes follow through onto the palate and are fleshed out with some fennel and mineral character.  This is a fresh wine but with some texture.  It would be great as an aperitif or with seafood, but is elegant enough to be enjoyed on its own.  A superior Chilean Sauvignon but still inexpensive.

 

*Yes, I like big buts

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #24]

Now part of New Zealand wine folklore, Cloudy Bay Vineyards was set up at the beginning of the Marlborough gold-rush (grape-rush?) in 1984 by David Hohnen.  Hohnen was no stranger to innovation as he had set up the pioneering Cape Mentelle in Margaret River in 1970.  As he was based in Western Australia, he recruited fellow Australian Kevin Judd to actually make the wines.

Cloudy Bay was one of the main producers which put Marlborough Sauvignon on the world map of wine, and such was demand that it often outstripped supply – it was frequently only available from merchants on allocation.  Over the years as other vineyards were established, Cloudy Bay was able to increase its supply of grapes but also had more competitors in the market.  Perhaps due to the expertise of luxury goods company LVMH who acquired it in 2003, Cloudy Bay has still managed to command a price premium over all its direct competitors.

Although hardly cheap at €35 and upwards in Ireland, the “straight” Sauvignon Blanc is one of the least expensive wines of the Cloudy Bay range.  The other include non-vintage and vintage sparkling Pelorus (which we had served for the toast at our wedding), Pinot Noirs from Marlborough and Central Otago, the excellent Chardonnay and a barrel-fermented wild yeast Sauvignon called Te Koko.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (13.1%, €35 – €42, stockists below)

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (1)

The 2019 vintage was released in Ireland at the beginning of November, so this is a very young wine, but awkward and angular it is not.  It has an unmistakably Marlborough Sauvignon nose with intense citrus and tropical fruits.  They are joined on the palate by juicy grapefruit and gooseberry.  There is plenty of acidity, but it presents as mouthwatering freshness and zip rather than being strong enough to make you wince. There’s a certain roundness and texture which is absent from many other Savvies. Hating on Sauvignon is quite common nowadays, but I think this wine is good enough to win plenty of converts.

Conclusion

Thirty years on, Cloudy Bay is still at the top of the pile – though its price reflects the renown of its brand as much as the quality of the wine.

Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Gibney’s, Malahide;  Londis, Malahide; Sweeneys D3, Fairview; Martin’s, Fairview; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 2; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Higgins, Clonskeagh; Redmond’s Ranelagh; Mitchell’s, Glasthule & CHQ; Blackrock Cellars; Donnybrook Fair; On the Grapevine, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Bradley’s, North Main St, Cork; 1601 Kinsale; Wine Centre, Kilkenny; McCambridge’s, Galway; World Wide Wines, Waterford.

Disclosure: sample provided for review, opinions remain my own.

Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Domaine Lafage whites [Make Mine a Double #48]

The Languedoc-Roussillon wine is often shortened to simply “The Languedoc”, but that does a disservice to Roussillon, the French part of Catalonia which stretches down to the border with Spain.  It does have its stars in the fortified sweet wines of Maury, Rivesaltes and Banyuls, but here we turn our attention to its table wines.

Domaine Lafage are based in Perpignan and produce a large number of different cuvées – white, rosé, red and Vins Doux Naturels.  I’ve enjoyed some of their bottles before, including their Nicolas (made from old vine Grenache Noir) and Côté Est (a blend of Grenache Blanc, Chardonnay and Rolle), but here are two that I tried recently that really impressed me:

Lafage “Centenaire” Côtes du Roussillon AOP 2018 (13.0%, RRP €19.95 at Baggot Street Wines, McHugh’s, Sweeny’s D3, DrinkStore, Redmonds of Ranalagh, Martins of Fairview, The Vintry Rathgar and Blackrock Cellar)

Domaine Lafage Centenaire Blanc

The name of this wine comes from the age of the vines – some of them are a hundred years old with the rest not far behind.  80% is made up by Grenaches Gris and Blanc (the split is not given) and the remaining 20% is Roussanne.  Such old vines have very low yields (30 hl/ha) but give intense concentration of flavour.  30% of the blend is aged in new French oak for 4 months, with bâtonnage.

Being mainly Grenache the Centenaire has a broad palate, rich but dry and herby.  This might sound something of a contradiction, but the spicy pear and quince fruit comes in the attack and mid palate with the finish being crisp and dry.  In terms of style it is not dissimilar to a southern Rhône white, but crisper on the finish than most.

Lafage Cadireta Côtes Catalanes IGP 2018 (13.0%, RRP €19.95 at Baggot Street Wines, McHugh’s, Sweeny’s D3, DrinkStore, Redmonds of Ranalagh, Martins of Fairview, The Vintry Rathgar and Blackrock Cellar)

Domaine Lafage Cadireta Blanc

The Cadireta name is of a specific climat which has deep, rocky soils.  Vines are a mixture of trellised and bush vines, planted in an east-west orientation to preserve acidity as much as possible.  The grapes are harvested in the (relative) cool of night, a practice common in Australia.  30% of the wine is fermented and matured in new Burgundian oak barrels, similar to the Centenaire, with 70% cool fermented in stainless steel.  Only 8% of the final blend goes through malolactic fermentation, adding a touch of roundness.

Now for the unusual feature of this wine: the grapes harvested are 100% Chardonnay but they are matured on Viognier lees – something which is quite innovative and adds a real depth of flavour.  Melon and red apple from the Chardonnay and vanilla from the oak are joined by apricot, peach and floral notes from the Viognier.  It’s a lusciously peachy wine yet remarkably fresh and crisp.  This much flavour and interest yet perfectly in balance make for a wine worthy of much praise.

Conclusion

These are both very good wines and excellent value for money.  For drinking on their own my marked preference is for the Cadireta – and I’m not alone as it has just won the White Wine of the Year at the Irish Wine Show!  With food, I think that the Centenaire would be a little more versatile…so perhaps a bottle glass of each!

 

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Tasting Events

DNS Holiday Wines 2019

When restarting the DNS Wine Club tasting calendar after the summer break it has become a tradition to start with wines that members have enjoyed on their holidays.  It’s always a nice and relaxed event and gives a far more idiosyncratic range than is the norm at DNS.

September 2019 had us meet and taste wines from Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, France, Australia and….Yorkshire!  Here they are in the order of tasting (and with apologies for the quality of the photos from my phone):

Yorkshire Heart Sparkling Rosé NV (11.0%)

Yorkshire Heart Sparkling Rosé NV

The best English wines tend to come from the south of the country: south coast counties like Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Cornwall.  Whereas southern English producers used to focus on varieties that could prosper despite a damp and cold climate, global warming and experience has led to a boom in sparkling wine production, usually with the three main Champagne grapes.  Further north in Yorkshire, however, the climate is now mild enough for the special cross and hybrid varieties to survive (though prosper might be a little overstating the case just now.)

Yorkshire Heart are based close to York, so the name is apt.  They also have a brewery and a cider orchard so most bases are covered.  The vineyard has 17 varieties across ten acres, so it is still fairly small scale and experimental.  The grapes used for the sparkling rosé are not disclosed apart from the use of Pinot Noir to create the pink hue.  It’s made using the traditional method with the wine resting on its lees for 12 months – not as long as Champagne but longer than some NV Cava.

The wine has a fruity nose and a nice mousse when poured, but unfortunately it was not persistent.  The palate is full of summer fruits; raspberry, strawberry, cranberry and a touch of blackberry competed for attention.  As this is an English wine there’s ample acidity, though the finish resolves with fruit sweetness.

Read more about Yorkshire Heart here.

Principe Strozzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2017 (13.0%)

Principe Strozzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2017

Following the Italian wine naming convention of [grape] from [place], this is a 100% Vernaccia from San Gimignano in Tuscany (aka Chiantishire).  On the nose the wine evokes wet stones – can you get more mineral than that?  On the palate, it’s as though fresh lemons have been squeezed onto said stones – a real citrus zing on top of the minerality.  It has a touch more body than I had at first expected.  This is a well-made wine which, while not setting the world alight, makes for some very pleasant drinking.

Tesco Finest Tingleup Great Southern Riesling 2018 (12.0%)

Tesco Finest Tingleup Great Southern Riesling 2018

Of all the wines brought to this tasting, this Australian Riesling was from the furthest away.  However, DNS member Michelle was blagging this one as she had not been to Australia, and had instead spent her holidays in the local Tesco.  The wine is made for Tesco by Howard Park who are based in Western Australia and specialise in wines from Margaret River and Great Southern.  On the nose it has aromas of lime and…well…Riesling!  The palate is full of refreshing, zingy citrus and there’s just a kiss of sweetness on the finish.  A great way to get into Riesling.

Read more on Howard Park Wines here.

Mar de Frades Rías Baixas Albariño Atlántico 2018 (12.5%)

Mar de Frades Albarino Atlantico Rias Baixas 2018

So let’s count up the nautical references: the producer is Mar de Frades (which translates as something like “Sea of Friars”), the wine is Albariño Atlántico which indicates that it’s from the part of Rías Baixas close to the ocean, and the label depicts huge crashing waves and a chuffing seagull!  Message understood, loud and clear!  Thankfully the wine is very nice, despite being the producer’s “entry level” effort.  It spends six months on the lees which adds a nice bit of texture to the pear and peach fruit.  A saline finish seasons it perfectly.  In a sea (sorry, it’s catching) of samey Albariño, this is a winner.

Read more on Mar de Frades here.

Tenute delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2017 (14.0%)

Tenuta Delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2017.jpg

Tenuta delle Terre Nere takes its name from the black basalt and pumice stones which cover much of the estate on the northern side of Mount Etna.  Its surface area totals 55 hectares and is far from homogeneous – the 24 parcels range from 600 to 1,000 metres above sea level and (apart from a few new plantings) between 50 and 100 years old.

This Rosso is mainly Nerello Mascalese (95%) with a dash of Nerello Cappuccio (5%).  The soil is volcanic soil, obviously (I bleedin’ hope it’s obvious!!).  Stylistically the wine is somewhat Pinot Noir like, but with a touch more body and spice.  It has delicious smoky black and red fruit plus a certain chewy earthiness. 

Read more on Tenuta delle Terre Nere here.

Domaine du Bois de St Jean “Les Ventssssss” Côtes du Rhône 2016 (14.0%)

Domaine du Bois Les Ventssssss CdR 2016

The Domaine is located near Avignon and has a range of different red, white and rosé Côtes du Rhône wines plus Crus Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Vacqueras.  One notable wine is “Pur Cent”a cuvée first released 9 years ago made from 16 different varieties, all planted when the estate was founded in 1910, i.e. one hundred year old vines.

The odd name of this wine – which you can see in the heading above, but not so well on the label – is because the six Ss at the end of Ventssssss represent the six different names for the main wind which affects the Rhône: The Mistral.   The vines are planted on sand and pebble soils, north-facing slopes (presumably not too steep an incline) at around 400m.  The vines vary between 60 and 80 years old and consist of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Counoise and Cinsault.  For the 2016 only the first four varieties were used, but the precise blend is a family secret.

The wine is extremely smooth and elegant, attributable (in my humble opinion) to the sandy soils and north facing aspect respectively.  The velvet texture immediately reminded me of the Mas Saint-Louis Châteauneuf-du-Pape which is also predominantly Grenache grown on sandy soils – and that’s a real compliment.  Quite simply this is the best AOC Côtes du Rhône I’ve ever tasted.

Read more on the Domaine du Bois de Saint Jean here.

Quinta dos Aciprestes Douro Tinto 2016 (14.5%)

Quinta dos Aciprestes Douro Tinto 2016

One of my wine rules of thumb is that, when a place is famous for wine derived drinks other than regular table wines, if they were to produce table wines they would be quite poor.  When was the last time you had a regular table wine from the Sherry, Champagne or Cognac regions?  The Douro is a prominent exception to that rule of thumb with some excellent, characterful and drinkable wines, especially reds.

Quinta dos Aciprestes” means “Estate of the Cypress Trees“; the three depicted on the front label are most likely a representation of the three Quintas which were joined together to make the estate.  The grapes are a typical Port blend, including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinto Cão and Tinta Barocca.  Maturation is for 12 months in French oak (I suspect mainly older barrels).  This is a rich wine, typical of the Douro, but still round and soft – softer than the 14.5% alcohol would imply.

Château Nico Lazaridi Drama 2016 (15.0%)

Ch Nico Lazaridi Drama 2016

Let’s get the bad pun out of the way first: the phrase “no drama” is usually taken to be a good thing – but not in this case!  Drama is a municipality in the East Macedonia and Thrace region of north east Greece and home to Italophile wine producer Nico Lazaridis.  French grapes predominate with some Sangiovese and autochthonous varieties.

The eponymous Château Nico Lazaridi wine is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Sangiovese – what might be termed a Super Tuscan blend – that has spent 12 months in French oak.  It has an enticing, fragrant but gentle nose.  The palate is rich, explosive but smooth – cherries, chocolate and luscious black fruits all wrapped in velvet.  At 15% there’s also a suggestion of Napa Valley style power and sweetness.  This is a fabulous wine!

Read more on Château Laziridi here.

The Votes From Our North Side Jury

All of these holiday wines were good and worth trying, but two did stand out as the best and second best of the tasting:

  1. Château Nico Lazaridi received 8 votes (out of 18 total)
  2. Domaine du Bois de St Jean “Les Ventssssss” received 4 votes (out of 18 total)