The 2022 SuperValu Italian wine sale is almost over, so it’s time to pick up the last few bargains. I’ve already covered the Guest wines from Tuscany that are included in the sale; now it’s time to look at the Guest wines from Piedmont and Verona:
Ricossa Barolo 2017
Barolo has a great number of devotees, some of whom declare it the finest wine in the world. It’s not always the most approachable wine, however, with major tannins and acidity that can approach searing, and hence often needs significant ageing before it can be drunk. Ricossa Barolo is not made in that style and this 2017 can be drunk now, though it still shows considerable character. The Ricossa winery is located in Nizza Monferato but the fruit is sourced from across the Barolo region.
The nose shows red and black berry fruits, liquorice, tobacco and caramel. The palate is rich and very expressive, with notes of black and red liquorice, cherries and raspberries, plus those darker notes. It has tannin and acidity as a proper Barolo should, but they don’t dominate the wine. This is a great way to get a taste* for one of Italy’s most esteemed wines
RRP: €16.70 down from €24.99
Stockists: SuperValu stores
Altygo Piedmont Rosso 2019
Although Barolo is the pinacle wine of Piedmont, locals often drink more modest wines made from other indigenous varieties such as Dolcetto and Barbera. This Piemonte red blend is based on the former, which, despite its name, is not sweet in nature. Freisa and Merlot are also included to add complexity. Fermentation and ageing are in stainless steel tanks to maintain freshness, with daily pumping over to extract colour and flavour. Interestingly this is the first vintage to be released of this wine, but the makers aim to maintain the style from year to year so that consumers know what they are getting rather than the wine being an expression of the vintage.
In the glass this has a typical medium intensity, bright ruby with purple flecks. The nose shows red fruits, both ripe and fresh, with dried herbs and spices in the mix. In the mouth it is fruit driven – black and red cherry, raspberry and alpine strawberry – with a dry, savoury edge. Firm tannins and good acidity beg for red meat or a cheese and charcuterie platter. A great introduction to some lesser known Italian varieties.
RRP: €12.00 down from €17.99
Stockists: SuperValu stores
Acquesi Asti NV
The region of Asti developed a reputation for its sweet sparkling wines, but so much muck was labelled as Asti Spumante that they decided to drop the Spumante qualifier. Although the wine is sweet and sparkling, good examples are so much more than that: they are fantastically aromatic. Being made from 100% Moscato Bianco – known in French as Muscat blanc à Petits Grains – the focus on aromas is not a surprise.
This bottle has only been produced since 2018 but has been a real hit with critics and consumers for several reasons. The beautiful bottle print evokes the style of Liberty and has an image of “La Bollente”, an iconic spa in Acqui Terme from which the wine takes its name. The wine is made using the Charmat method, known locally as Martinotti Method, which is ideal for preserving aromas from the grapes.
Muscat sometimes gets a bad rep for being on the simple side, yet this sparker is anything but. Aromas of honey, stone fruits and citrus are intertwined and compete for your attention. On the palate there is freshness and sweetness simultaneously. This is a wine which is approachable yet satisfying, delicious on its own or perfect with dessert courses.
RRP: €12.00 down from €17.99
Stockists: SuperValu stores
Monte Del Fra Corvina Veronese 2019
Corvina is one of the principal grapes of the Verona area, featuring in Valpolicella, Bardonlino and other wines, though often blended with others such as Rondinella and Molinara. This IGT is 100% Corvina Veronese with no drying of grapes in the winemaking process, and from higher altitude sites. Fermentation and maturation take place in stainless steel cuves to put the fruit first.
On the nose this shows lots of black fruit with hints of spice. The palate opens out with raspberry and blueberry on top of black cherries, but also cocoa, liquorice and black olives. There’s more tannin here than you might expect given the softness of other wines from the region, but this is where the higher altitude comes into play. The producers reckon that its acidity makes it a good match for fish as well as red meat, but I’d be thinking of an Irish stew or cold cuts.
RRP: €12.00 down from €17.99
Stockists: SuperValu stores
Costa Mediana Amarone 2018
So here we have Corvina Veronese again, but this time partnered with Rondinella and from partially air-dried grapes. Drying the grapes gives a higher sugar-to-juice ratio in the press and hence more alcohol (15.0% or so) and some residual sugar. Amarone is the original appassimento wine with many imitators, but it still commands a premium.
This example is full bodied, as it should be, but with acidity to balance the sugar. There are fresh cherries from the grapes but also cocoa powder and tobacco from 12 months of oak ageing. Despite being big and bold there’s a balance here which makes it a success on its own or at the table. It’s good value at €25 but an absolute steal at €16.70.
The 2022 edition of the SuperValu Italian Wine Sale is already in full swing and runs to the 8th of June. As well as reductions on dozens of existing lines, SuperValu Wine Manager Kevin O’Callaghan has secured some excellent “guest wines”. These are wines brought into Ireland by independent wine importers that are only available in SuperValu during the sale.
According to Kevin, “the guest wines we will showcase give our shoppers a chance to expand on their repertoire of wine, showing them the breadth of choice available with the Italian offering and the unique wines produced there. These guest wines really do represent an excitement to try new wines and we really encourage shoppers to use this event to explore new tastes and varieties within the range.”
Here are five guest wines from Cassidy Wines and Febvre & Co that hail from Tuscany:
Cortezza Vermentino Toscana 2020
Vermentino is a real success story for quality Italian white wine. In Tuscany it is mainly planted on the coast, where it benefits from relected light and cooling sea breezes. It’s a late-ripening variety with plenty of aromatic goodness; more than a replacement for Pinot Grigio, it even barges into Riesling territory with its fresh citrus and acidic spine. There are also some subtle herbs on the palate, a reminder of its Mediterranean origins. This is fairly priced at €15 but a total steal at €10 on offer.
RRP: €10 down from €14.99 from 19th May until 8th June
Stockists: SuperValu stores
Cortezza Vino Nobile de Montepulciano 2017
Wine geeks will probably be aware that Sangiovese, the main black grape of Tuscany, has dozens of different “clones”, slightly different versions of the grape. They arise naturally and the ones that survive are those best suited to the various soils, microclimates and altitudes of the vineyards where they grow. Montepulciano is just a few kilometres from Montalcino, the home of Brunello, but is far less famous. It has similar soil and climate but a less celebrated name and hence a much lower price.
Contezza’s fine example of Vino Nobile spends at least 24 months ageing in large oak casks. Primary aromas are strawberry and cherry, balanced with balsamic notes from the oak. This is wine that really responds to ageing, with tobacco, leather, dairy and forest floor notes joining the nose. For me this is a food wine, perfect to accompany red meat, with fine tannins and a long finish.
RRP: €15 down from €22.49 from 19th May until 8th June
Stockists: SuperValu stores
Forte Ambrone Vino Rosso
This red blend has its roots in Tuscany but its branches stretch to Puglia where Primitivo and Nero d’Avola are sourced to add punch and bright fruit flavours to the the Tuscan Sangiovese. Despite the classic-looking label this is a new wine, designed to appear to modern wine drinkers more than traditional fans of Italian wine. It’s a smooth, rich red with the spikiness of Sangiovese softened out by the southern varieties. It’s an approachable, quaffable wine which won’t appeal to purists but could well convert new world wine drinkers to the charms of Italy.
RRP: €10 down from €14.99 from 19th May until 8th June
The Banfi estate was set up very recently – by Italian standards – in 1978. They pride themselves on a socially fair and environmentally friendly approach to producing wine. The estate is large, covering 3,000 contiguous hectares, though only a third of the total is planted with vines. 170 of that is dedicated to Brunello di Montalcino, their flagship wine and one of the most prestigious in Italy. The regulations that come with the reputation also come with a price in terms of cashflow; wines are usually released more than four years after the harvest, and with no en primeur-type system in place that equates to a lot of cash tied up (or “bottled up”!)
The answer is Rosso di Montalicino, a younger brother which is still made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso, aka Brunello, but only has to spend a minimum of six months in oak and twelve in the cellars in total before release. The grapes selected for the Rosso tend to be from younger vines with slightly less concentration, but the same philosophy.
The Banfi Rosso di Montalcino 2019 is a serious wine, with the high tannins and acidity that Montalcino wine is known for. It cries out for food, making the wine better and giving it proper context. It’s a young wine that really needs another decade to shine, but right now a decanter and a thick steak would really elevate it.
RRP: €18 down from €26.99 from 19th May until 8th June
Stockists: SuperValu stores
Banfi Toscana Belnero 2017
This is another serious wine form Banfi, though as it contains “international grapes” – namely Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – in addition to Sangiovse, it is classed as a “Super Tuscan” and not a Brunello. The proportions of each variety aren’t given but the order they are given in suggests that Cabernet has the highest percentage.
It’s not too far removed in style from the Rosso above, though it does have an additional two years under its belt which help round its edges. Belnero is a big wine with lots of power and structure – though less noticeable acidity than its brother – but bright red and black fruits. Though still very young, it is drinking well already, but would obviously gain in complexity and stature over the rest of this decade.
RRP: €20 down from €29.99 from 19th May until 8th June
It’s September so it must be the SuperValu French Wine Sale in Ireland. This year the Sale runs from Thursday 2nd to Wednesday 22nd September and applies to over 80 wines, including those from producers such as André Goichot and Guy Saget that I have reviewed previously. In addition to reductions on existing listings there will be a number of “guest wines” sourced via Irish importer / distributor Febvre that are available solely during the sale period.
This article will focus on the four red Bordeaux wines included in the Sale. All four are from the De Mour group, so first a little background on De Mour, then the wines themselves followed by my pick(s) of the bunch.
The above logo actually tells us a lot about the De Mour group. Firstly, it is wholly owned by the De Schepper family who founded it in Ghent (Belgium) back in 1938. Secondly, there are essentially two sides to the De Mour business, a negociant side and their own châteaux.
Emile De Schepper and Ghislaine de Moor started a business producing local gins and liqueurs, but after a decade they began to take a serious interest in quality French wines. Historically, the right bank of Bordeaux has had close ties to Belgium and The Netherlands (with the left bank being linked to Britain), so it made sense for their first investment to be Château Tour Baladoz in Saint Emilion.
Over the years the family expanded their own holdings and contracts with Bordelais growers whose grapes they would vinify and bottle under their own labels. The aim is to produce high quality wines that are also approachable and attainable (i.e. affordable).
The negociant business boasts over 65 different wines from across the Bordeaux area, though nearly all dry reds.
Château Moulin Lafitte Bordeaux 2016
This is a standalone Château but does not belong to the De Mour group; rather it belongs to friends of theirs who call on the heft of the De Mour Group for sales and distribution. The Château is located in the Entre Deux Mers region – between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers – though cannot (as yet, watch this space) use that appellation as it currently applies only to white wines.
The vineyards are south facing and the vines are predominantly Merlot as you’d expect; the blend for this wine is 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. Despite the very good vintage (2016) and preponderance of Merlot, this wine has a modest (by modern standards) alcohol of 13.0%. To me this indicates that the goal was balance rather than super-ripe fruit.
In the glass the wine has a bright ruby core with a rim that is turning to garnet. The nose has a combination of fruit and tertiary aromas – there’s earth and leather but also fresh and poached plums and a twist of spice. Lifted aromas give a little funk without a full-on stink. The palate is round and smooth with those plums to the fore, plus tinned strawberries and the earthiness in the background. Acidity and tannins are present and correct but well integrated.
This is a classic-style claret with quite a bit of development already under its belt. This would pair well with game such as wild boar, lamb or a sharp cheddar.
RRP: €12.70 down from €18.99 from Thurs 2nd Sept to Wed 22nd Sept 2021
Château Lacombe Cadiot is unusual among “mere” Bordeaux Supérieurs in that it is located on the Médoc peninsula (though it does actually share that status with stablemate Château Tayet). Its home commune of Ludon Médoc is home to more famous estates such as Château La Lagune and Château d’Agassac. The Château’s vineyards are planted in the proportion 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot – the precise blend in the final wine will fluctuate a little from year to year.
The Château was bought by De Mour in 1982 and has been an important part of their portfolio ever since. This is a modern style of Bordeaux, not lean and green, but rather more of a generous and ripe nature. In the glass the wine is dark ruby with a purple rim – no surprises there. But the nose – what a nose! I immediately looked around for an Ambassador as there were such intense aromas of Ferrero Rocher! Blackcurrant and pencil shavings completed the olfactory picture.
The palate shows voluptuous black fruits and violets, smooth yet with tannins arriving in a rush at the end. I did find some hints of unripe green notes in there – perhaps another year or two would integrate them nicely. In the meantime I would serve this wine with a medium rare entrecôt!
RRP: €10.70 down from €15.99 from Thurs 2nd Sept to Wed 22nd Sept 2021
Château Tour Baladoz is surrounded by Grand Cru Classé vineyards, so they have finally bitten the bullet and submitted their dosier for potential inclusion from 2022 onwards. The Château was bought by De Mour back in 1950 so is their longest-held property. The vines cover ten hectares on slopes that range from 110 down to 45 metres above sea level – a significant gradient. The current encépagement is 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot, though additional plantings of Petit Verdot, Carmenère and Malbec were made in 2019 (I imagine as a response to climate change).
This 2018 is still a baby – that much is obvious from simply pouring it into a glass where there are still purple tints on the rim. The nose is wonderfully perfumed, though somewhat restrained. The palate is classy, with toasty oak and vanilla notes overlaying plush plum and cassis fruit. The texture is soft, yet powerful, and velvety. This is a real treat of a wine that is enjoyable now and for the next decade or so.
RRP: €30.00 down from €44.99 from Thurs 2nd Sept to Wed 22nd Sept 2021
Finally we come to De Mour’s namesake wine, albeit a wine made from bought-in rather than owned grapes. Among the four poshest AOCs of the Médoc, Margaux is renowned for the elegance of its wines, partially due to a lower proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon compared to Saint Estèphe, Saint Julien and Pauillac.
However, compared to some Margaux the Lady de Mour has a high proportion of Cab Sauv: 63%, with 31% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot.* Precisely when to pick is a very important decision – too early and green, vegetal notes creep in – too late and acidity is too low and the wine becomes jammy.
In the glass the wine is dark, though not quite opaque, with a bright purple rim. On the nose it is fabulously aromatic, full of dark fruit and graphite notes; plum cassis and spice. These notes continue through onto the palate, joined by violets. The texture is supreme – I don’t know if it’s silk or velvet, but it’s just so pleasing. Although the alcohol is on the low side for a Margaux – 12’5% – this wine does not feel thin or lacking at all, just very well balanced.
RRP: €24.75 down from €36.99 from Thurs 2nd Sept to Wed 22nd Sept 2021
I think it’s fair to group this quartet into two pairs, two “weekday wines” and two “weekend wines”. For me the Moulin Lafitte is the more interesting of the junior pair right now, so that would be my choice for drinking this year; the Lacombe Cadiot would be worth buying several of for laying down and breaking out for Xmas 2024.
I did really enjoy the Tour Baladoz, but the aromatics of the Lady de Mour carried the day for me, and that’s the one I will be buying for myself!
* My guess when I tried the same vintage of this wine in November last year was 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc – not too far off I reckon
Liberator Wines is the brainchild of Englishman Richard Kelley under his alter ego Rick. After I was kindly sent a couple of bottles to try by Irish distributor Boutique Wines I was interested in finding out more about the operation.
Much of the detail below is sourced from an interview he did with my friend Lee Isaacs aka WineMan147 – you can watch the whole thing on his website Freestyle Wines.
Richard Kelley MW
If you were to choose a hypothetical background for a Master of Wine, you probably wouldn’t dream that he or she came from a family of teetotallers. However, for Richard Kelley MW that was precisely the case – his parents didn’t drink at all. Leaving school at 16 might not be expected either, but the following nine years he spent as a chef makes perfect sense; food is often a gateway to wine.
Fast forward to the end of Kelley’s MW studies and his thesis was on the importance of temperature control in red wine making in the Old World versus the New World, with South Africa used as the New World example. Two weeks after finishing his MW course he moved to South Africa to live and work, initially for a six month contract which ended up lasting seven years. He even met his expat Welsh wife in the Republic. He built up a fantastic network of contacts down there and of course receives respect from his MW qualification.
The premise of Liberator Wines is that some talented winemakers have a special wine in their cellar but don’t know what to do with it. The wine could be in barrel, tank, or bottle, labelled or not labelled. Kelley terms them “vinous orphans looking for a home”, and rather than being blended away or sold as bulk wine they are allowed to shine. The producer gets a better price and the consumer gets a good wine at a good price.
Each wine – or “episode” – gets a different label which reflects the story behind it. After all, as Kelley notes, consumers respond to storytelling, not pH levels. In this regard I think there are strong parallels with Pieter H Walser’s BlankBottle wines (though of course they are all vinified and matured in house).
The wines are sourced from some of the best winemakers in the country – Eden Sadie and André van Rensburg are given as examples – though their identity is sometimes kept off the label. Quantities also differ for each episode, ranging from a single barrel (30 cases) up to 1,600 cases. The sources, styles, varieties and price points can all vary, but the wines will always be under the Liberator label and be from South Africa.
It took five years to get to Episode No. 5, but the pace has since picked up considerably. Kelley now has winemakers contacting him (“we have something you might be interested in”) rather than him having to hunt for everything.
Below are my notes on two Episodes I tried earlier this year:
Liberator Wines Episode 29 Chenin No. 5 2019
As the fifth Chenin Blanc release, the name Chenin No. 5 came easily, of course riffing on the name of Coco Chanel’s iconic perfume. The source of this wine is a closely guarded secret (“a very good address”), and given how good it is that’s no surprise. This is classic South African Chenin, true to its variety and location. The nose shows a combination of fresh and baked apples with a hint of honey. The orchard theme continues onto the palate where stone fruits such as peaches also shine. There’s great texture here – this would make a superb and versatile food wine – with fresh acidity that cuts through the fruit and honey sweetness. The finish is dry but not austere.
Interestingly this is one of the Liberator wines chosen for release as “Rick in a Tin” – great for picnics and a midweek sip.
Liberator Wines Episode 24: Four and Twenty Blackbirds
If you tilt your head sideways you will notice the French term “Le Merle Noir” – meaning blackbird – after which the black skinned Merlot grape is supposedly named. This being the 24th Episode, the third line of the nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence” sprang to mind:
Sing a song of sixpence, A pocket full of rye. Four and twenty blackbirds, Baked in a pie.
This is a 100% Merlot which, to my great surprise, was harvested over 12 years ago; the vintage is written on the back label but not the front. Opening the wine reveals a Nederburg stamp on the cork, so the origins of this wine are very much not a secret.
The wine pours almost an opaque black, with only faint hints as to its age at the rim; if you know the age you might spot the reddy-brown rim it but it doesn’t pop out to the unknowing eye. The nose has intense aromas of plum, blackberry, blackcurrant and vanilla – really enticing. The palate showcases all these notes on the tongue, with a touch of leather and perhaps a slight hint of volatile acidity. The tannins are present yet supple and there’s enough acidity to keep the fruit from running away with itself.
In style I would liked this wine to a top-notch Saint-Emilion satellite village wine – perhaps a touch more extraction than is common from the vast majority of wines from Saint-Emilion proper but arguably better balanced than some of those wines are nowadays. This was an excellent, tasty drop.
Too often these days there is often a choice between well-marketed but lower quality wines on one hand versus well-made but obscure wines on the other. Liberator Wines does both things well; the story of the company is interesting, the labels and wine names are original and the wines themselves are excellent. The two wines tasted are both great value, tasty wines…of the two it’s the Blackbird which really excels.
Today – 2nd of July 2021 – marks eight years since the first post on Frankly Wines!
In May 2015 I corralled fellow members of DNS Wineclub and some fellow wine bloggers from Dublin into attending a public tasting at Honest 2 Goodness in Glasnevin, Dublin. During a memorable evening of great wines and great company, Paddy from The vine Inspiration posited that not all of us present would still be writing in a year or two’s time.
From our original gang of five wine bloggers I am the only one to still be posting regularly. Lots has happened in those eight years…life just takes over sometimes, including “proper” jobs and children (we have gone from a total of 3 kids between us in 2013 to now having 12! Perhaps a parenting blog might have been more appropriate…)
I try to strike a balance on Frankly Wines between information, entertainment and accessibility. Where possible I like to use a map to explain where a particular wine region on winery is located because location is one of the key things to understanding most wines (plus I love maps…)
Above all they have been fun to write! I never thought of myself as a writer before starting Frankly Wines, although I know my English is excellent [/humblebrag], but passion conquers everything. One thing I try to do with every article is improve my knowledge with the research I do in advance of actually writing
This is the 452nd post on Frankly Wines, but not all have been written by me. I have had very generous guest posters for three different series:
Valentines’ Day Wines (2015)
Wines for Xmas (2017)
Wine + Music Matching (2020)
Thanks again to all those who have contributed over the years.
Easily the most popular theme – in terms of views – across my posts has been wines from Supermarket Lidl. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that they are an international outfit and so people search for reviews of their wines in many countries. Of course, it helps that I have a good relationship with Lidl Ireland and receive plenty of samples from them to write about.
The second most popular theme is my (admittedly irregular) Top 10 posts; Top 10 Reds of the year, Top 10 Value Whites, etc. While they might seem like clickbait, they are a genuine attempt to list wines (out of the hundreds or thousands that I might taste in a year) that most impressed me.
An older standalone post that has resurged in popularity over the past few years is Who’s The Dada, a post from 2017 which ended up being the most popular overall of 2020. I don’t know why this post became so popular, though it is about a very commercial and high selling wine, but it appears as the #4 on Google results for “Dada Wine Review”. For 2021, a new rival popular wine post has emerged: 19 Crimes Red.
Of course I would love for articles on wines from boutique and specialist importers to be more popular, but as the biggest source of views on my page is through search engines it is the popular wines that will tend to wine out.
My Favourite Posts
Above we’ve looked at the most popular posts, but which have been my favourite posts to write? Here are a dozen I look back on with fond memories:
What’s the best inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc from SuperValu? Here are four Sauvignons from the current SuperValu sale, from four different countries: France, Australia, Chile and Argentina.
La Petite Perrière Sauvignon Blanc 2019: The minerally one
It’s rather fitting that the producer of this wine is named after a stone quarry in Sancerre as it has a wonderful mineral streak through its core. Yes there are plenty of citrus notes too – lemon, lime and grapefruit – but they are along for the journey rather than being the destination themselves. This is a fresh style of Sauvignon Blanc that has more than a passing resemblance to a dry Alsace Riesling, which is obviously a positive in my book!
“Sauv Block” is some sort of pun on Prison Block / Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s fairly weak (yes, this is me saying this!) I’ve already covered the 19 Crimes Red Wine and its unusual packaging, so this time we will just consider the wine inside. It has some of the typical grapefruit and gooseberry notes on the nose but there are also more soft and tropical fruit aromas. The palate reflects this, with melon and pineapple alongside the green fruits.
The 19 Crimes SB doesn’t have the zing and freshness of a typical SB. I haven’t tasted enough Aussie single varietal Sauvignons to compare it to, but this wine seems almost like it’s made with a different grape variety – something like Godello – though I’m sure it’s not. In short, this is a Sauvignon Blanc for people who don’t normally go for this variety as they find it too sharp – but there’s nothing wrong with that! Well chilled it is fine for sipping in the sun.
Cepas Privadas Sauvignon Blanc 2019: The herby one
Most wine drinkers will be familiar with Argentina’s signature black grape Malbec and the largest wine region in the country, Mendoza. As Mendoza is principally a warm wine region it may surprise some to learn that it has cooler parts, cool enough to be suitable for Sauvignon Blanc.
The nose is initially all about green pepper and herbs, with touches of green fruits in the background. The palate is fresh and zippy, with a core of minerality around which citrus and herbs are wrapped. I don’t think this wine lives up to the normal RRP of €18, but for €8 it represents very good value.
Aresti Estate Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2020: The grapefruity one
Sauvignon Blanc is one of the key varieties for Chile, especially in Ireland where it is available in pretty much every supermarket, convenience store and off-licence. Hailing from Curicó Valley, Aresti are a family business with several ranges within their portfolio; Estate Selection appears to be their entry level for the Irish market.
It ticks all the boxes you’d expect from an inexpensive SB, but it’s key attribute is drinkability. It’s not going to challenge Sancerre or Marlborough but it’s a very pleasant drop for mid week or even the weekend.
These are obviously inexpensive wines which are for everyday drinking rather than a special treat. The 19 Crimes is noticeably different in style, but has its place. The other three are quite similar and very reasonable wines for sipping outside on a warm summer’s day (if we see one this year in Ireland!) – it comes down to small differences in flavours, aromas and drinkability. On that basis, my narrow favourite is the best all-rounded, the Aresti Estate Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2020.
When it comes to naming New Zealand’s wine regions, the significant region which is most often forgotten or overlooked is North Canterbury, close to the major city of Christchurch on the South Island. North Canterbury includes the sub-region of Waipara which is more often seen on wine labels (though not to be confused with Wairarapa which is at the bottom of the North Island and includes Martinborough). I’m not sure why Canterbury is overlooked – perhaps because it doesn’t specialise in Sauvignon Blanc? – but some great wines are made here.
Not too dissimilar to Marlborough which is further north on the South Island, Waipara is situated in the rain- (and wind-) shadow of the Southern Alps and is close to the sea, giving temperate summers with cool nights and dry autumns which allow grapes to achieve full phenolic ripeness as their own pace. The most important varieties here are Riesling and Pinot Noir, though other aromatic whites and Chardonnay also do well.
To show how the terms can be used interchangeably, note that the sign above mentions Waipara whereas the website banner states “Fine North Canterbury Wine” under “Pegasus Bay”
Background to Pegasus Bay
It started with a doctor reading a book. The doctor was Neurologist Ivan Donaldson and the book was one of Hugh Johnson’s wine books, “Wine”, given to him by his then girlfriend Christine. The book lit a fire within him; he journeyed round many of Europe’s well-established wine regions, and on his return he planted Canterbury’s first vines in 1976. This first vineyard was in Mountain View, just south west of Christchurch, and was very experimental in nature. Ivan managed to fit in his wine hobby in between hospital and private consulting work.
Almost a decade later, Ivan and Chris decided to make the jump from a hobby to a proper enterprise. By now they had four sons, so it was a combined family effort to plant vines in the Waipara Valley. They named their winery Pegasus Bay after the large bay running from the City of Canterbury up to the mouth of the Waipara River.1
The first vintage was 1991 which Ivan made in his garage. The family gradually expanded the winery, cellar door, restaurant and gardens. All four sons are now involved in the winery, with the eldest – Matthew, a Roseworthy graduate – being chief winemaker. As well as estate wines under the Pegasus Bay label the Donaldsons also make Main Divide wines from bought in fruit.
Pegasus Bay Wine Styles and Philosophy
In a nutshell, Pegasus bay wines have something of a Burgundian sensibility but they reflect Waipara and the vintage in which they are made. In a interview that Ed Donaldson gave for the Wine Zealand Project2 in 2016 he expounds the family’s philosophy:
So what drives us is – hopefully – making better wine all the time
One of the advantages [we have is that] my brother Matt’s taken over the winemaking so he has a lot of time to experiment, and to tweak, and to change, and see the wines age, and the vines getting some vine age, and just seeing what works and what doesn’t work, and continually trying to evolve and make better wine.
Our winemaking style is to be true to ourselves, not trying to emulate anything. We have a lot of respect for the old world and its wine styles. We as a family drink a lot of wine from all over the world but we’re not necessarily trying to emulate them, we’re trying to make the best example of what we think expresses the region and the season as best we can. Trying not to follow trends, we try to make the best wine we can and find a home for it.
We’ve been members of the Sustainable Winegrowers Programme pretty much since its inception, and we make wine as naturally as possible.
Pegasus Bay Wine Ranges
There are two main ranges, Estate and Reserve. The Estate wines are (obviously) made only with their own fruit, and although they are perhaps the junior wines in the Pegasus Bay portfolio they are not what you or I would call “entry level”, which has connotations of lower quality, simpler wines for drinking very young. Make no mistake, the Estate wines are seriously good.
The Reserve range is a significant step up again, in both quality and corresponding prices. This range includes two botrytis sweet wines; a Semillon Sauvignon blend reminiscent of Sauternes and a Riesling which evokes the Rhine. The Reserve wines are named with an operatic theme as Chris Donaldson is an opera devotee.
The Vengence range has just two experimental wines whose composition varies from year to year. They are totally different in style from the main two ranges; they are fun and quirky rather than being serious. They give the winemakers the opportunity to play around with different vineyard and winery choices that they couldn’t just jump into with the main ranges.
Reserve: Bel Canto Dry Riesling, Aria Late Picked Riesling, Virtuoso Chardonnay, Prima Donna Pinot Noir, Maestro Merlot/Malbec, Encore Noble Riesling, Finale Noble Semillon Sauvignon
Vergence: Vergence White (Semillon blend), Vergence Red (Pinot Noir)
Wines in bold are reviewed below
Pegasus Bay Chardonnay 2017
As with most of Pegasus Bay’s vines, this Chardonnay is harvested from vines which are mainly ungrafted. The vines now average 30 years old and are planted on rocky soils which are free draining and low in fertility. These facts all lead to lower yields but with concentrated flavours. The climate is warm, rather than hot, yet with cool nights, so the growing season is long.
I mentioned above that there’s a Burgundian sensibility to Pegasus Bay wines, but in the case of this Chardonnay the winemaking is definitely Burgundian in nature. Multiple passes were made to hand harvest the fruit at optimum ripeness. The grapes were whole bunch pressed then transferred to 500 litre oak barrels, 30% new and 70% used. Spontaneous fermentation took place in these puncheons and the young wine was left to mature on its lees over winter and spring. Malolactic fermentation started naturally into the summer months, with the winemaking team halting it based on regular tasting to get the balance between fresh malic and round lactic acids.
When poured this Chardonnay is a normal lemon colour. On the nose there are citrus fruits but they initially take a side seat to outstanding “struck-match” reductive notes. There are also soft yellow fruits and a stony mineral streak. The palate is magnificent, a really grown up Chardonnay that balances fruit, tanginess, minerality, freshness, texture and roundness. This is one of the most complete Chardonnays I’ve had the pleasure of trying in many years.
Stockists: Donnybrook Fair, Donnybrook; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.
Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 2016
This 2016 pours a medium intensity ruby red, consistent across the glass. The nose has lots of fruit, more black than red; the black fruits appear at first (blackberry and black cherry) but gradually cede attention to red (red cherry and pomegranate). Enticing savoury notes and spice complete the olfactory picture. It’s a very sophisticated and complex nose that deserves – nay demands – frequent revisits.
The palate is savoury and fruity in taste. Those same black fruits come to the fore but with black liquorice and black olive counterpoints, Fine grained tannins and acidity provide a fantastic structure, but this is a supple and sappy wine, not austere.
The alcohol is little higher than we usually see in a Pinot Noir, but the 14.5% does not stick out at all when tasting. This is a well-balanced wine, albeit a powerful one. When it comes to food pairing, Pinot Noir is often matched with mid level meats such as veal or pork – and to be fair this would be excellent with charcuterie – but this has the weight and intensity to match well with game, lamb or even beef.
Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule; World Wide Wines, Waterford: The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Donnybrook Fair, Donnybrook; La Touche Wines, Greystones; D-Six, Harolds Cross
Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling 2008
Pegasus Bay have four Rieslings in their portfolio, as befitting a top Waipara producer:
The Estate Riesling is produced every year
The Bel Canto (Reserve) Dry Riesling has a little botrytis and is made in two out of every three years, depending on vintage conditions
The Aria (Reserve) Late Picked Riesling is a late harvest style that often has a small proportion of Botryis grapes and is made roughly one on two years, vintage dependent
The Encore (Reserve) Noble Riesling is only made with fully botrytised berries, often requiring multiple passes, and of course when there are sufficient grapes in a particular vintage.
Only in very exceptional years such as 2008 and 2014 are all four styles made. The Riesling vines are on a rocky outcrop which has warm days but very cool nights, helping to maintain acidity and thus preserve freshness.
As the pure botrytis (and therefore sweetest) Riesling in their range, Pegasus Bay liken it in style to a Séléction de Grains Nobles (SGN) from Alsace or a Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) from Germany. When harvested the grapes are totally shrivelled and so produce a very small amount of juice – but such luscious juice! After clarification the juice is allowed to ferment naturally; when the yeast finishes its task there is plenty of residual sugar, though the precise figure is not published.
On the nose it’s instantly identifiable as Riesling, but with honey and tropical fruits to the fore. In addition to the pineapple, mango and grapefruit there are also hints of mushroom. The palate is beautiful but perhaps confounding for the uninitiated – it’s rich and sweet yet full of acidity, giving your palate a smorgasbord of experiences. The finish is amazingly long.
At 13 years of age this bottle has had plenty of development, possibly rounding off the acidity slightly while also tapering the apparent sweetness to some degree (the mechanism for which is not yet understood). It still has plenty of life left though – it could easily keep to the end of this decade.
RRP: €35 for 2016 vintage (375ml bottle)
Stockists: currently no retail stockists, but available in some restaurants
Source: own cellar
Other Pegasus Bay Wines available in Ireland
In addition to the three wines reviewed above there are three further Pegasus Bay wines available in Ireland
Sauvignon / Semillon: RRP €29, Stockists: Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; The Corkscrew; Jus De Vine, Portmarnock
Bel Canto Dry Riesling: RRP €35, currently no retail stockists, but available in some restaurants
Prima Donna Pinot Noir: RRP €75, Stockist: The Wine House, Trim
Frankly Wines and Pegasus Bay
Now, those who follow me on Instagram may realise that I live in the Dublin suburb of Glasnevin, also home to the National Botanic Gardens, the Irish Met office and the large Glasnevin cemetery. It was therefore a huge surprise when, while touring New Zealand on honeymoon, we suddenly realised that we were driving through Glasnevin, Canterbury. And where was our first stop? Pegasus Bay, of course!
1Ironically Pegasus Bay was originally known as “Cook’s Mistake” – I’m glad I didn’t find that out on my honeymoon!
As a devoted fan of Alsace wines I’m heartened that Lidl include one or more examples in their limited release French wine events. For example, in 2017 I have really enjoyed Jean Cornelius Sylvaner, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Blanc. I also tried the Jean Cornelius Riesling in 2019.
The next Lidl Ireland French wine event starts Thursday 25th February and includes eight whites and eight reds. Below I briefly review two of the whites which I enjoyed.
Disclosure: both bottles were kindly sent as samples, but opinions remain my own
Jean Cornelius Alsace Riesling 2019
This is an entry level Alsace Riesling, presumably from vineyards on the flat and productive plains heading east towards the Rhine. The nose is muted, though it does give hints of Riesling goodness. The palate is bone dry, with zesty lime and a squeeze of juicy stone fruit, finished off by tinned grapefruit notes. This isn’t a wine to get too excited about but it managed to combine freshness and roundness in a pretty tasty package. Would be perfect with seafood or as an aperitif.
Stockists: Lidl Ireland stores from 25th Feb 2021, while stocks last
Bourgogne Aligoté 2018
Aligoté won’t be that familiar to many supermarket shoppers, and if they have tasted the grape it’s just likely to have been in a (proper) Kir cocktail as on its own. The variety originated in Burgundy as a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc, making it a full sibling of Chardonnay and Auxerrois, among many others. It ranks as the second most planted white grape in Burgundy, but in reality it’s way behind big brother Chardonnay. Long derided, Aligoté is on the comeback – more on which in a future article.
This example is one of many Lidl wines which don’t mention the producer on the label, so I opened it with caution, but for such an inexpensive wine and a modest grape it has plenty going on. It is bone dry with Aligoté’s trademark high acidity, but there are also notes of melon and stone fruits. There’s also a little smokiness, minerality and herbiness to the wine, and more texture than I anticipated. There’s no overt oakiness though perhaps a little leesiness. This wine does cry out for food or, if that’s not forthcoming, another glass!
Stockists: Lidl Ireland stores from 25th Feb 2021, while stocks last
Other wines included in the Lidl Ireland French Wine events are:
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
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