Some parts of Central Otago look like another world – wild doesn’t even start to cover it. Now vying with Martinborough as the best place for Pinot Noir in New Zealand, there’s an amazing variety of landscapes – some more resembling moonscapes in the former gold-mining areas.
It’s rugged, but beautifully rugged, even on an overcast day.
But it’s not just about Pinot – other varieties do well in the cooler climate down here as well. Chardonnay is an obvious one (Felton Road for example) and so is Riesling. I think it’s fair to say that New Zealand is still finding its feet with Riesling, but there are some increasingly complex, balanced and just plain delicious wines being made.
Peregrine Central Otago Riesling 2010
With excellent acidity, this tastes nigh on dry – the 5 g/l of Residual Sugar adds body and balance without being obviously sweet…
This post is the first of several which encourage newcomers to wine or creatures of habit to try something a bit different from their usual drop.
It was prompted by a few requests from friends plus some of the twitter debates over the past few months or so, including whether wine expertise is bunkum or not. More precisely, one phrase often declared by novice wine drinkers is “I know what I like”, with the follow on (usually unspoken) being “I know what wine is best for me and I won’t try anything else”. Now, I’m not going to tell those people they are wrong (as such!) – I just want to give those that are hesitant to try something other than their favourite type a path which they could explore.
So firstly, why do people like Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc??
It’s crisp, fruity, fresh, widely available, consistent in quality and reasonably…
Before the arrival of this wine into Dublin I have to confess that I was only distantly aware of Wente Vineyards and their home of Livermore Valley in California’s Central Coast. The two are inextricably linked, but first here’s a map for us to get our bearings:
Livermore Valley in California
As you can see, Livermore Valley is at the top of the Central Coast region, across the Bay from San Francisco. Cooling sea breezes and fogs from San Francisco Bay give the valley more significant diurnal temperature variation, helpful for producing quality wine.
Although not that well known today – in Europe at least – grapes were first planted in Livermore in the 1840s, before the Bordeaux Classification of 1855 and well before phylloxera devastated European vineyards.
There was a flurry of winery openings in the 1880s, with Cresta Blanca Winery in 1882 followed by Concannon Vineyard and Wente Vineyards in 1883. Colcannon and Wente are still in operation today, with Wente being the biggest. In fact, it was Wente who ended up buying the land that Cresta Blanca had used and replanted it after decades of being barren.
Livermore Valley’s influence on Californian wine extended beyond its immediate borders:
Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grown there originated from vine cuttings taken from Château d’Yquem
Livermore was the first area in California that labelled wines by their variety
As one of the oldest places planted to Chardonnay, it is the genetic source of 80% of Californian Chardonnay
Wente Vineyards are proud of their status as “the country’s longest, continuously operated family-owned winery”. They have now reached five generations of family winegrowers:
Carl H. Wente founded the vineyard with the purchase of 47 acres in 1883
Ernest Wente imported Chardonnay cuttings from Montpellier in 1912 and established the Wente Clone. His brother Herman Wente helped to found the California Wine Institute in 1936
Karl L. Wente joined the business in 1949 and greatly expanded US and international distribution. He also expanded the family’s holdings into Arroyo Secco (Monterey)
Eric, Philip and Carolyn Wente took over management of the business in 1977
Christine, Karl, Jordan, Niki and Aly Wente hold various positions in the business
Not content to simply fall back on with their long history, Wente are also embracing the future with the first ever virtual wine tasting accessed through Alexa or Google.
In addition to producing wine the estate also features a restaurant, 18 hole golf course and concert venue. But it’s the wine that matters most to us! The Wente wine portfolio consists of several ranges. In approximate order of most to least expensive they are:
The Nth Degree
Wente Winemakers Studio
It’s not unusual for Estate wines to be the top range in a producer’s portfolio, so this indicates a high quality level. To evaluate this theory we now turn to a specific wine from the Estate Grown range.
Disclosure: This bottle was kindly provided as a sample
Wente Morning Fog Livermore Valley Chardonnay 2018
The Wente Vineyards “Morning Fog” Livermore Valley Chardonnay is made by fifth generation Karl Wente. Its name evokes the fogs that roll across San Francisco Bay and into the east-west trained vines of Livermore Valley. Various Wente Chardonnay clones are used, including “Old Wente” which have been propagated without going though heat treatment at UC Davis. Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately.
After the grapes are pressed the must is split into two parts: 50% is fermented in old American oak and 50% is fermented in stainless steel tanks. The barrel fermented portion remains in those containers for five months and undergoes monthly lees stirring. The Inox portion is split further; half remains on its lees and receives bâtonnage while half is racked into clean tanks. All vessels are then blended together before bottling.
When poured the wine is lemon, not as deep as some other (more oaky) Chardonnays. It’s highly aromatic on the nose – helped by 2% Gewürztraminer – full of toasty, leesy notes and fresh citrus. The palate is fresh and clean, but with lovely texture. Unlike some Cali Chardonnays, the texture doesn’t get in the way of the wine or stand out awkwardly, but rather comes along for the journey. There’s a fine mineral streak through the wine and a fresh finish.
Overall this is a very well put together wine, rising above many confected and manufactured rivals at this price point.
Stockists: Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Jus de Vine; Lotts and Co; Martins Off Licence; McHughs Kilbarrack and Malahide; Mitchell and Son Glasthule and CHQ; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; Power & Co Fine Wines; Sweeney’s D3; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The GrapeVine, Glasnevin; The Wine Pair; Thomas’s Foxrock
No Shake n’ Vac required here, the freshness is already there – it never left! Here are three of my favourite Italian reds that I tried at the GrapeCircus portfolio tasting earlier this year.
Fattoria San Lorenzo Rosso Piceno “Burello” 2013
Yes there’s a pretty bunny on the front label but this is far from a “critter wine”. Rather than simply to look good on a shelf, the picture represents Natalino Crognaletti’s love of the animals which reside on his family’s estate and are part of the wholistic view they take. Based in the Marche, San Lorenzo produces whites made from Verdicchio and a range of red blends using Montepulciano and Sangiovese. All are organic and biodynamic.
The Burello is made from Rosso Piceno DOC fruit in the proportion 60% Montepulciano and 40% Sangiovese. Fermentation is with indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks but maturation is for 18 months in stainless steel for the Sangiovese and oak for the Montepulciano. The size and age of the oak vessels is not given but this is not an oak dominated wine so we’re not talking 100% new barriques here.
It may be just my perception but I tend to think of Sangiovese being a more noticeable or expressive variety than Montepulciano, so it shines through in this blend, though tamed by the Montepulciano. The nose has dark fruit and tobacco; black berries and black cherries dominate the palate with hints of herbs and tobacco again. There’s lovely texture here and high-ish acidity which keep the whole thing fresh.
Cantina Sampietrana Primitivo del Salento “I Saraceni” 2018
Cantina Sampietrana has been making wine in Puglia since 1952. They very much follow their maxim “Loyal to tradition, but always moving with the times”, with the local varieties Negroamaro, Primitivo and Malvasia to the fore, trained in the “alberello pugliese” method (which they translate as “Apulian small tree”). They also have smaller plots of Susumaniello, Aglianico, Montepulciano, Lambrusco, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Fiano and Verdeca.
This Primitivo is a fruit-driven wine, full of plums, prunes and blackberry. The palate is mouth-filling and warming, a real winter wine. In fact there’s so much big juicy fruit that it tastes more like 14% than 13% abv, though it doesn’t finish hot. This is a great value, crowd pleasing wine that deserves a try.
Another from Cantina Sampietrana, this Negroamaro is the big brother of the Primitivo above. Despite these varieties’ propensity to produce lots of sugar and hence alcohol, the location of the vineyards close to the coast helps to keep things cool and balanced. We’re a long way from Cali Zins with 16% and upward of (potential) alcohol.
True to its name, this Negroamaro is black and bitter! It has smooth, voluptuous black fruit with spicy and a savoury, herby edge. This would be a very versatile food pairing wine – anything from charcuterie, winter stews, steaks or Moroccan lamb.
After the Champagnes of Laherte Frères in Part 1, we now turn to a trio of unusual whites. They aren’t that obscure, but they aren’t going to appear in your local supermarket. They are all made by small, family owned producers who prefer to do work in the vineyard rather than the winery. Note: I tasted these wines back in February this year so some outlets may well have moved onto the 2019 vintages of the respective wines.
M & A Arndorfer Gemischter Satz Weiss 2018
Martin and Anna Arndorfer are part of the new generation in Austria, acknowledging their respective families’ deep ties to their region of Kamptal but breaking free and setting down their own roots. Their approach might be described as “hands-off”, but that would belittle the work they do in the vineyard, fully respectful of nature’s gifts.
This is the first time I have reviewed the M & A Arndorfer Gemischter Satz (field blend), though I have previously reviewed their single varietal 2015 Grüner Veltliner and their 2016 Vorgeschmack white. As the latter is no longer available and consisted of the same blend (80% Grüner Veltliner & 20% Riesling) as this wine I believe it is simply a matter of renaming.
Those familiar with the component varieties – hopefully a decent majority of you – should be able to imagine its style; decent body with lots of spice and pip fruit, but a racy finish. Apples and pears meet lemon and lime? What’s not to like?
When faced with this label most wine drinkers would be forgiven for thinking “what even is that?” (Confession: I thought exactly that!) So: “Burja” is the name of the estate, “Zelen” is the name of the grape and “Petit Burja” is the name of the bottling. Burja is run by Primož Lavrenčič who named it after the Mistral-like wind which can blow through the vines. Zelen is a local grape variety named after the Slovenian word for ‘green’ which is the colour that it apparently takes on when fermenting. The estate is run on both organic and biodynamic lines.
So how does this unusual grape taste? It doesn’t taste exactly like anything else, but in a word, great! It’s highly aromatic, with floral and citrus notes to the fore. These continue onto the palate which is juicy and tangy, but also mineral and linear. This wine could be the jolt that your palate needs!
I have reviewed the red wine from this stable before; Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Rouge was the Frankly Wines #2 Value Red of 2017. The Domaine has been run by Italian Laura Semeria for 13 years; she has woven the new (converting viticulture to organic and then biodynamic) with the old (maintaining local varieties including the rare Romorantin). The vines cover a surface area of 20 hectares and vary in age up to 80 years old.
Just as the Arndorfer wine above, this is an 80/20 blend, but this time 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Chardonnay (yes, Chardonnay is grown in the Loire!) This blend is rarely seen in France, nor even Australia or New Zealand, but does occur in northern Italy. Although unusual, the blend is seamless, showing floral, herby and citrus notes. It’s a light yet thrilling, real wine.
Champagne Laherte Frères is based in the village of Chavot, a ten minute drive south-ish of Epernay. The estate was established in 1889 by Jean-Baptiste Laherte and was expanded incrementally over the generations. The estate is named after sixth generation brothers Christian and Thierry, though I couldn’t confirm if they were the first to make the big leap from growing grapes to making their own Champagne. Thierry’s son Aurélien has been a part of the firm for the last fifteen years.
Laherte’s 11.38 hectares of vineyards are covered in detail on their website. The majority are in villages of the Coteaux Sud d’Epernay, split 4.22 ha planted to Chardonnay, 3.88 to Pinot Meunier and others 1.18 ha. A further 1.48 of Pinot Meunier is in the Vallée de la Marne and 0.62 of Chardonnay on the Côte des Blancs. They have identified 75 different plots which are vinified separately; 80% of the wines are fermented and matured in wood barrels or casks.
Since 2011 Laherte has also bought in grapes from growers who farm around 4 hectares in the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs; of course these growers share the same philosophy.
This is our way of celebrating the terroir: by respecting differences, promoting uniqueness, and letting the soil express itself.
In his excellent book on Grower Champagne “Bursting Bubbles”, Robert Walters makes some excellent point about the style and quality of Grower Champagnes in general. Firstly, many who make Champagne under the Récoltant-Manipulant (RM) label are simply much smaller versions of the big Houses; it is those who focus on their terroir and allowing their wines to express it that can make great Grower Champagnes. Secondly, small producers who take such care but also buy a small amount of grapes from close contacts – and therefore have the Négociant-Manipulant (NM) label – can also make excellent terroir Champagnes.
Aurelien Laherte was noted as a promising grower in Bursting Bubbles, but of course as the firm now buys in grapes they are classed as NM. Walters specifically mentions Jacquesson & Fils as an example of terroir focused small houses, but I believe that Laherte Frères would also qualify for that accolade.
Laherte make a large number of different wines, grouped into three different types. The wines in blueare reviewed below.
Ultradition: Brut, Brut Rosé, Brut Blanc de Blancs
Special & Original Cuvées:Ultradition Extra Brut, Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature, Rosé de Meunier Extra Brut
Terroir Fundamentals Cuvées: Les Beaudiers (Rosé de Saignée Meunier), Les Longues Voyes (Blanc de Noirs 1er Cru), Les 7 (all 7 Champagne grapes in a “solera” system), Les Vignes d’Autrefois (Old Vine Meunier), Les Grandes Crayères (Vintage Blanc de Blancs)
Champagne Laherte Frères “Ultradition” Extra Brut NV
This is a blend of the three main varieties: 60% Pinot Meunier (60%), Chardonnay (30%) and Pinot Noir (10%). 40% of the total is from reserve wines which are kept in barrel and add complexity. Malolactic fermentation is blocked for a portion of the base wines to give a mix of roundness and freshness. Those base wines also spend six months on their lees while maturing.
Ultradition Extra Brut has an amazing nose of lifted floral, citrus and pear aromas; so lifted, in fact, that you feel like you’ve got the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building. In the mouth it pulls off the trick of being both creamy and fresh, briochey and citrusy, with a lively mousse and a satisfying, fresh finish.
Champagne Lahertes Frères Rosé de Meunier Extra Brut NV
This is a “Rosé d’Assemblage”, incorporating both saignée and pressée techniques. Made solely from old vine Pinot Meunier, it consists of 30% macerated wine, 10% red wine and 60 % white wine. 40% of the later is from reserve wines aged in barrels. Vinification is the same as for the Ultradition Extra Brut, though dosage is even lower at 2.5 g/L.
The nose is full of juicy red fruits that leap out of the glass. On the palate they are further defined as strawberry, cherry and raspberry. The dosage is low, even for an Extra Brut, but the quality of the fruit and the fact they are picked when fully ripe means that more is not required. The fruits are so fresh and vivid that, if tasted blindfolded, you’d be peeking to see if any berries were floating in your glass.
Champagne Lahertes Frères Blancs de Blancs “Les Grandes Crayères” 2014
This is a single vineyard, single variety, single vintage wine made from one of Laherte’s best sites. As you might be able to guess from the name “Les Grandes Crayères” the vines are grown on chalky soils. Not in the Côte des Blancs, however, but rather in their home village of Chavot where the chalk in some plots is only 20 cm down. Unlike the other cuvées above, MLF is totally blocked for this wine to preserve acidity as the wine ages over the years.
The Champagne geeks among you might wonder what the single variety is; for the vast majority of Blanc de Blancs Champagnes this would automatically be Chardonnay, but when a producer makes a wine with all seven permitted varieties (five white, two black) then it could be any one of five. But it’s Chardonnay!
And what a Chardonnay! The nose has layers of flowers, lime and toast plus a little candied peel. In the mouth it is creamy yet fresh and refined, with mineral notes and a certain tanginess. This is an amazing wine that could be nothing else than a Blanc de Blancs Champagne.
Here are four more of the wines that Kevin O’Callaghan has selected for the SuperValu Classic Christmas promotion. If you missed Part 1 you can find it here.
Barão de Vilar Douro Tinto Reserva 2018
There’s the well worn saying that “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is”, so it was with not inconsiderable wariness that I approached this wine as it is on offer at almost half price. There are some labels which are so regularly on promotion in supermarkets that the “real” price – if there is such a thing – is far from clear.
Some brands are even created with the specific purpose of being listed at a high price then discounted by 50% on a regular basis. For me this is a cynical and misleading practice. Happily, the wine reviewed below is emphatically not one of those wines, and it’s even listed with a well established Dublin wine merchant for €19.95!
Anyway, back to the wine itself. The key grapes are Douro stalwarts Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão. After alcoholic and malolactic fermentation the wine spends 14 months in French oak. This is a dark and concentrated wine with bold black fruits, decent acidity and grainy tannins, but compared to some Douro wines I’ve tried it pulls everything together really well; all the components work together as part of an integrated whole, making for an elegant wine. Yes, it’s still very young so could happily lay down for a year or ten, but it’s tasty enough that you might not be able to wait. If you can’t wait, decant if possible and serve with red meat or other rich dishes.
RRP: €14.83 or case deal of 6 for €50.00 from 5th Nov to 30th Dec while stocks last
Stockists: SuperValu Ireland stores
Pagos de Labarca AEX Rioja 2016
Pagos de Labarca is one of the labels of Bodegas Covila, a well-regarded Rioja co-operative. The AEX is one of Covila’s signature wines, made in small quantities from old (35 years+) bush vine Tempranillo. Alcoholic fermentation is carried out in stainless steel tanks, after which the wine is transferred into new American and French oak barrels with varying levels of toast. There, the wine goes through malolactic fermentation and matures for a total of 17 months before being blended back together and bottled.
The nose is very expressive; rich red berries (from the Tempranillo) and vanilla (from the American oak) combine with fine herbs and hints of chocolate and coffee. Succulent, rich red fruits abound on the palate – red cherry, strawberry and raspberry – overlaid with vanilla bean custard. Darker fruits then emerge, still fighting for your attention with the vanilla.
This is not a Rioja which could be mistaken for a Ribero del Duero or Toro – it’s too refined and bright. Although it’s not too tight and dense, it would definitely benefit from decanting or a large glass to allow its complex aromas to fully develop. A real treat of a wine!
RRP: €22.62 down to €20.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec while stocks last
The De Mour group is a Bordeaux-based wine company with five Châteaux and a negociant line where grapes and / or wines are bought in from other producers. One of their properties whose wines I have tried and enjoyed several times is Château Tayet, located in Macau just south of Margaux. Château Lacombe-Cadiot is situated in the Ludon, the next commune south of Macau and close to the Garonne.
Although we’re in the Médoc, Merlot is still the most important grape (sorry Jim!) in this Bordeaux Supérieur with 80% of the blend and Cabernet Sauvignon the balance. In the glass the wine has a deep core with the rim turning from purple to ruby. Initially the nose gives a huge hit of exotic spice then black fruit and a hint of vanilla. On the palate plums abound, both red and purple, along with brambles and the vanilla again.
The technical sheet for this wine states that fermentation and maturation are in stain less steel tanks, but I could swear that some portion of it has spent time in oak. It has great concentration and a dusting of light tannins on the finish. This is a smooth and rewarding wine that is well worth its normal price tag, but represents excellent value on offer.
RRP: €15.73 down to €13.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec while stocks last
Hopping back up two communes from the Lacombe-Cadiot gets us to Margaux itself, one of the top four appellations of the Médoc. Margaux wines are nearly always majority Cabernet Sauvignon though a lower proportion than the other three appellations. I don’t have the precise blend of Lady de Mour but I would guess something like 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. It is lighter in both style and alcohol compared to the Lacombe-Cadiot, mainly due to the difference in blend.
The Lady has a mid to dark core in the glass but a very purple rim, indicating relative youth. It’s quite muted on the nose – you have to search for the dark fruit aromas rather than them leaping out of the glass. Black fruits delight on the attack, but are then overtaken by graphite, violets and a touch of green bell pepper. This is a really elegant Margaux, not as juicy as the little brother but a great introduction to proper left bank Claret.
RRP: €34.42 down to €25.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec while stocks last
Vintage Port is the pinnacle of the Port quality tree, only made in the best years and very rarely in two successive years. It’s a wine made for the long haul, able to last for several decades and often entering its peak drinking window after one or two. The drawback is, however, that it is often unapproachable in its youth. A very small proportion of wine drinkers buy bottles to drink a decade hence, leaving Port producers with something of a dilemma.
A few months ago I attended a zoom masterclass with Luís Sottomayor, winemaker at Offley Port and Casa Ferreirinha (I have already written about the latter’s Vinha Grande Branco and Tinto here). Luís gave an overview of the 2018 harvest and the background to the 2018 Vintage Port: Spring 2018 was wet and the Summer not particularly hot. The harvest started earlier than usual in mid September, but was done very slowly as maturity was quite uneven. Overall 2018 was similar to the 2016 vintage apart from a slightly hotter summer in ’16.
The principal varieties used are Touriga Francesa, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão. To make this Port more approachable the proportion of Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) was increased; it has a high level of tannins but they are soft.
The grapes were foot-trodden in traditional lagars for maximum flavour and colour extraction without bitter phenolics. Normal corks are used as, in Luís’s considered opinion, they are the best closure for ageing. The wines have great body, acidity and structure making 2018 a classic Port vintage, though the crop was small. Luís characterises it as a fairly simple wine, easy to understand, drinkable when young but capable of ageing for decades.
Offley Vintage Port 2018
It might be approachable but this Vintage Port is opaque in the glass, as it should be. The nose has intense, rich black fruits, lifted aromas including spice and balsamic notes. The palate shows both red and black fruits, balsamic notes, chocolate, all kept fresh by good acidity. It’s a very generous but not overwhelming wine; it flows straight down without having to chew. Perhaps this is Goldilocks’ Port? Not too sweet, not too tannic or dry, not a blockbuster, but not too light. In a word, accessible!
Luís recommends drinking with cheese or – as the locals do – with Feijoada, a Portuguese black bean and meat stew.
Stockists: Terroirs, Donnybrook; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; wineonline.ie
I’m a big fan of the smaller wine importers and distributors in Ireland and the independent wine shops where many of their wines are sold. Neither of these roles is easy or that well paid, but require a passion for wine. The other part of wine retail is the supermarkets and multiples who have higher quantities but lower priced offerings. The challenges here – especially in supermarkets – are very different. Wines have to be very commercial – which I use in a factual and not derogatory sense – as wines have to mainstream and meet customers’ expectations rather than being quirky or unusual. They often have to have attractive packaging and offer very good value for money – there’s no hand-selling like in an indie – and they have to sell.
The Irish supermarket that strikes the best balance for me is SuperValu and its head of wine Kevin O’Callaghan. I write about their wines frequently for two main reasons:
I taste a lot of their wines (which are usually samples, and are disclosed as such)
Their wines nearly always offer great value for money, especially when on promotion
And, just as for all retails and importers who send me samples, if I don’t like a wine I just don’t mention it.
In addition to the noted price reductions SuperValu also offer €10 off any six bottles from Thursday 26th November to Wednesday 9th December. Below I review some of the “Classic Christmas Wines” that Kevin has selected for their Xmas promotion.
Disclosure: all bottles were kindly sent as samples, but opinions remain my own
André Goichot Chablis 2018
I reviewed this vintage back in September of this year and liked it; if you like Chablis or clean, dry but fruity whites, then this citrus and green appled wine is definitely worth a try. Great for seafood or as an aperitif.
RRP: €19.66 down to €15.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec
I also reviewed this wine in September, but I think it’s showing even better with a few more months. The mid-palate has some particularly tasty tropical notes, along with gooseberry and just a little grassiness. At the regular price of just under €20 this Sancerre is very good, but at €15 it is a real bargain. Just don’t drink it too cold!
RRP: €19.66 down to €15.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec while stocks last
Another wine from the Goichot stable, but this time a Cru Beaujolais. Fleurie is one of the lighter Crus, and it shows in this wine which is quite pale in the glass – I could read print through a tasting sample. The nose has both fresh and tinned strawberries, with a touch of black cherry reminding me of Ski yoghurts in an ’80s flashback. The strawberries are also prominent on the palate, but with a hint of spice in the background. There’s a nice texture and fresh acidity to this wine which make it very quaffable. This isn’t the best Fleurie I’ve ever tried but at €12 on offer it’s a great mid-week quaffer to have on the wine rack, or with cold cuts over Xmas.
RRP: €14.66 down to €12.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec
Vacqueyras, for those who don’t know it, is a southern Rhône Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre (GSM) blend which offers a bold fruity red wine in the vein of Châteauneuf du Pape but at a lower price. Grenache gives easy drinking red fruits, Syrah gives pepper, spice and more savoury notes while Mourvèdre gives grip, perfume and meaty aspects. The precise ratio between the three components depends on what style the winemaker is looking to achieve.
The nose on this wine is all about the fruit; blueberry, wild strawberry and tinned strawberry. These notes continue through onto the palate where black fruits and herbs also appear. The finish is quite dry which made me think there there’s a good proportion of Syrah and Mourvèdre in the blend; subsequent investigation revealed there to be 20% and 10% respectively which fits my observations.
This is a reasonable effort. I don’t think I’d buy it at full price but the significant reduction puts it into the “worth a try” category.
RRP: €20.65 down to €14.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec while stocks last
The Ripasso style is a half way house between normal Valpolicella and Amarone, made by pumping Valpolicella wine into a tank which was used for fermenting Amarone, after that wine has been pumped out leaving the gross lees (mainly grape skins) behind which still have some fermentable sugars left. The end wine has a little more alcohol and (usually) a little more residual sugar than the plain Valpolicella.
This example from Vivaldi is made from three classic local grapes: Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella. For real wine geeks (such as myself) it is interesting that the initial fermentation was at 25°C – 28°C whereas the subsequent fermentation was carried out at just 15°C. Maturation was in wood before bottling.
That last sentence is important; for me the (unspecified) wood had an important influence on the wine, adding creamy vanilla and toasty notes to the bright cherry fruits from the grapes. Residual sugar is 8.5 g/L which is mainly perceived as extra body and roundness rather than sugariness. It’s the velvety texture which will appeal to most about this wine, though the downside is not quite as much freshness as I’d like myself. It’s definitely worth a try at the normal price of €15.65 but it’s an absolute steal at 6 for €40!
RRP: €15.65 or case deal of 6 for €40.00 from 17th to 20th Dec while stocks last
On this 69th installment of Make Mine a Double (the favourite installment of Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan of course1) we look at two big and bold reds from Boutique Wines, a small wine importer based in Dublin. One is from South West France made (primarily) with a grape that has found fame in Argentina: Malbec. Outside of south western France, Malbec is used in the Loire and as a minor blending grape in Bordeaux (though its ability to thrive in warmer weather is likely to see its importance there rise again.)
Another Bordeaux blending grape that has found success in Argentina, though on a much smaller scale, is Petit Verdot. The Bordelais use it as a seasoning grape, adding a dash of colour and tannin when 5% or so is added into a blend. The second wine below is 100% Petit Verdot but from a different warm, Spanish speaking country – Spain itself!
Disclosure: the Cahors was a sample but opinions remain my own (the Petit Verdot was an unrelated gift2)
Château Nozières Ambroise de l’Her Cahors Malbec 2016
Château Nozières owns 55 hectares in total spread close to its home in Vire-sur-Lot. They are on a continuous journey to understand the nuances of each site. For this “Ambroise de l’Her” the fruit is selected from older parcels of Malbec (90%) and Merlot (10%) grown on clay / limestone terraces of the Lot River. Yields are kept at 40 hl/ha and canopy management is by hand. Harvesting is by a combination of machine and hand followed by fermentation in temperature controlled vats over three weeks. MLF takes place in the same vats followed by maturation in used (between one and five years) oak barrels for 12 to 14 months.
Whether it’s climate change or the rise of Argentine Malbec that has a bigger influence on Cahors is unclear, but their effects are reflected in this ripe, fruit driven bottle from Château Nozières. Although ripe and full-bodied, it’s not at all jammy as tannins keep exuberance in check. The balance is enough for it to be quaffed on its own, enjoying the sweet black fruits, but it also works superbly with hearty winter food.
RRP: €16.95 (down from €21.00)
Stockists:Boutique Wines, Barnhill stores Killaney/Dalkey; Mortons, Ranalagh; Listons, Camden street; The Wine House Trim; Emilie’s, Glenbeigh Co. Kerry; Pat Fitzgerald’s (Centra), Dingle Co. Kerry; Grape and Bean, Portlaois; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil Street; Blackrock Cellars; Gleeson’s, Booterstown Ave
Bodegas Señorio de Iniesta “Colección 34” La Tierra de Castilla Petit Verdot 2018
Bodega Iniesta is a relatively new venture – very new in Spanish terms! – as the winery was only built in 2010. Located an hour an a half’s drive west of Valencia, the Bodega has in excess of 300 hectares of vines, including both Spanish and international varieties. They make a wide range of styles and quality levels – and even offer olive oil. Petit Verdot is an unusual variety to plant, but I’m glad they did because it really works!
In the glass it pours a dark red with a purple rim. On the nose it shows an array of ripe black fruit: blackberries, blueberries and blackcurrant, but with delightful violet aromas floating over the top. These notes all continue onto the velvety palate with vanilla also appearing. Pleasant, slightly drying tannins integrate well into the long finish. Although it’s not sweet like a dessert, for me this wine evokes blackberry crumble with vanilla custard – just delicious!
Stockists:Boutique Wines, Barnhill stores Killaney/Dalkey; Mortons, Ranalagh; Listons, Camden street; The Wine House Trim; Emilie’s, Glenbeigh Co. Kerry; Pat Fitzgerald’s (Centra), Dingle Co. Kerry; Grape and Bean, Portlaois; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil Street; Blackrock Cellars; Gleeson’s, Booterstown Ave
These are both well-made wines – at any price point. When the prices are taken into account then they offer remarkable value for money. I’d be very happy with either wine but the Petit Verdot is outrageously good for €15 in Ireland, so that would be my pick of the two.
1 Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan are – of course – known better as just Bill and Ted