Make Mine A Double

Puglia Pair for BBQ Season [Make Mine a Double #56]

With the current restrictions on being able to visit restaurants in many countries, eating – and drinking – at home has become the new dining out.  As we have been lucky with the weather in Ireland so far this summer the siren call of the barbecue has been heard throughout the land.

How should we choose the wines to drink with our charcoal cooked food?  For me there are a few key criteria:

  1. Drinkability: this doesn’t mean a dichotomy between wine that is either palatable enough to be drunk or wine to be poured down the sink, it means a BBQ wine should be approachable, gluggable, and not austere.
  2. Robustness: barbecue food has lots of strong flavours and needs wines that can stand up to it and take it on.  There’s little point drinking a delicate Tasmanian Pinot Noir with flame-grilled burgers or sticky ribs
  3. Affordability: barbecues are an informal affair – you’re often eating without utensils, possibly on paper plates, and quaffing multiple glasses, so reasonably priced wine makes the most sense.

Here are a couple of wines I tried recently that perfectly fit the bill – and as it happens they are both from Puglia in Italy.

Disclosure: Both bottles kindly provided as samples, opinions remain my own.

Old True Zin Barrel Aged Zinfandel Salento IGT 2018

Old-True-Zin-Organic-Zinfandel

The name and label design of this wine are more reminiscent of a beer than a wine, and using the better known term Zinfandel rather than its Puglian name Primitivo give it an American image.  Is this misleading?  Perhaps a little, but the most important aspect of any bottle of wine is the liquid, and its that which I am assessing.

The bright purple colour in the glass gives you an idea of what you’re in for.  The nose showcases an intense collection of fruits – plum, black cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant among them – plus notes of coffee and chocolate – mocha anyone – and vanilla from the barrel ageing.  The flavours on the palate are a continuation, so no surprises there, but even given the richness of the nose the full-on explosion of flavour might take you back.  It’s the richness and sweetness together which make this such a mouthful.

On reflection, if this wine suggests that it is a Californian Zinfandel then that it is fair enough as it is exactly in that style!

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €17.95
  • Stockists: Mortons, Ranelagh; Listons Camden Street; Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Gleeson’s, Booterstown; Molloys Liquor Stores; The Old Orchard Off Licence, Rathfarnham

Bacca Nera Negroamaro Primitivo Salento IGT 2018

Bacca Nera Negroamaro Primitivo

The Bacca Nera is from the same place as the Old True Zin and is the same vintage, but differs in two main respects; firstly, it has (attractive) conventional packaging with an Italian name, and secondly that Puglia’s other main grape: Negroamaro.  It’s a little less deep in colour than the Zin, but we’re not talking Pinot Noir here.

The nose is delightfully spicy at first, then revealing dark berry fruits.  In fact “Bacca Nera” means “Black Berry” according to google translate, so the name is apt.  On tasting this wine is a big mouthful – round and powerful with sweet and rich fruit – very more-ish.  The fruit flavours are both red (strawberry, raspberry and red cherry) and black (blackberry and black cherry), tamed by a touch of bitterness (that would be the Amaro) which adds interest and partially offsets the sweetness.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €17.95
  • Stockists: Mortons Ranelagh; Listons Camden Street; Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Gleeson’s, Booterstown; Molloys Liquor Stores; The Old Orchard Off Licence, Rathfarnham

Conclusion

These wines both fit the bill perfectly.  There’s little to choose between them in quality and just a slight difference in style.  With my BBQ ribs I would narrowly choose the Bacca Nera!  Now where are my coals…

 

 

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A Lidl Bit Chile For Summer? [Make Mine a Double #55]

How well do you know Chile?  It’s the slim country running down to the west of the Andes to the Pacific Ocean:

Chile Chili
Credit: Nolo Sanchesky (via The Language Nerds, Facebook)

Joking aside, here’s how the country is broken down into different wine regions:

WoC_Map2
Credit: Wines of Chile winesofchile.org

The two wines we are looking at here are from different – though relatively close – sub-regions.  If you find the capital Santiago on the map above and head due north into the Aconcagua region you find the Aconcagua Valley and thus the Aconcagua Mountain after which the region is named.  Best known for red wines – including Errázuriz’s super-premium “Seña” – it also makes fuller bodied whites.

South west of Santiago and on the coast is the Leyda Valley, attached to the more established San Antonio Valley.  Due to the influence of the Pacific the climate is cool here and so the best performing varieties tend to be Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.  In Ireland at least, Leyda Valley has become a name to look out for on the label of these wines.

The two wines below are available from Lidl Ireland as a limited release from Thursday 21st May, while stocks last.

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly provided as samples, but opinions remain my own

V Selection Valle de Leyda Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva 2019

211113 Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva Valle de Leyda €9.99

Emblazoned with a Chilean flamingo, this Sauvignon Blanc has the label “Gran Reserva” – a term with no standing in Chile – the grapes were picked barely 12 months ago – but nevertheless designed to communicate a high quality level.  Sauvignon Blanc is a key white variety for Chile and is often recognisable in blind tastings by strong hints of fennel.

Any hints of fennel are subtle in this wine, but the overwhelming aroma and flavour is of asparagus!  It’s not that rare in Sauvignons as such but it ordinarily tends to be just a component of the nose and / or palate.  The only other I can think of with such an asparagus bias is the very cool climate Astrolabe Kekerengu SB from the southern part of Malborough.  But it’s not just asparagus, there’s also lime and lemon rounding off the palate and a lovely crisp, clean finish.  This Leyda Valley wine is perfect for salads and seafood.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €9.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

V Selection Valle del Aconcagua Chardonnay Gran Reserva 2018

242485 Chardonnay Aconcagua €10.99

The national bird of choice for this Chardonnay is the Humboldt penguin, what a cute little thing!  Again we have a Gran Reserva, but at least this one is two years old.  There’s a tropical tinge to the nose, though not overpowering.  This does continue though to the palate but it is very restrained; tasted blind I would probably have guessed it to be from southern Burgundy.  There’s a lot of texture on the wine, partially from the high altitude vineyard and partially from the use of (mainly seasoned) oak.

Don’t make the mistake of drinking this wine straight from the fridge; give it at least half an hour and drink from your biggest wine glass for extra swirlage.

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €10.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Conclusion

These are both good wines that offer very good value for money.  Compared to the New Zealand pair I reviewed previously that are part of the same release, I am not quite as enthusiastic, but they are both worth a try – unless you hate asparagus, in which case you should pass on the Sauvignon and just head for the Chardonnay!

 

 

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Lidl’s New Zealand Outlook

Lidl Ireland’s latest wine promotion is broadly termed “Iberian” – very broadly in fact as it includes Chile (Spanish speaking, granted) as well as Australian and New Zealand wines.  Kicking off on Thursday 21st May, the wines will be on limited release – once they are gone, they are gone.

Here I look at two examples from New Zealand.  The first is from NZ’s biggest and best known region – Marlborough – though isn’t a Sauvignon Blanc.  The second is from one of the longest standing NZ wine regions – Hawke’s Bay – which is roughly two thirds the way down the east coast of the North Island.  The brand Outlook Bay appears to be a Lidl private label, i.e. you only find these wines in their stores.

nz-regions.DcoCkA
Credit: nzwine.com

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly provided as samples, but opinions remain my own

Outlook Bay Marlborough P.G.R. 2019

242394 Outlook Bay Marlborough €9.99

P.G.R. stands for Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer1 & Riesling, though immediately below the wine name on the back label it gives the blend as Pinot Gris, Riesling & Gewürztraminer2, so P.R.G. would be a better name.  Perhaps PGR is now a “thing” in New Zealand, or sounds better in other languages?  Ours is not to reason why…

Although the blend might be unusual for New Zealand, it makes sense; all three grapes are classed as aromatic and the long, cool growing season in much of Aotearoa – particularly Marlborough – therefore suits them, just as it suits Sauvignon Blanc.  And where else is famous for its aromatic wines?  Alsace of course!  And as these are the three key Alsace grapes (in my opinion) I have no compunction in calling this an Alsace blend.

The nose is very floral (apple blossom?) with lychees – that’s the Gewurz3 showing its superpowers.  The palate is something of a conundrum; it has a gentle, juicy attack then a textured, dry mid-palate.  There’s round pear and apple yet spice as well.  There is a little sweetness here, but the slight (pleasant) bitter hints on the crisp, citrus finish resolve it as fruit sweetness rather than sugar.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €9.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Outlook Bay Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2018

242393 Outlook Bay Chardonnay €9.99

Marlborough does make some remarkable Chardonnay, but Hawke’s4 Bay’s richer style seems to be more in demand at the moment, and that is where this wine hails from.  It’s unmistakably oaked Chardonnay on the nose, with toasted coconut and pineapple – almost like the coconut “mushrooms” and pineapple cubes that were around when I was a nipper – but not as synthetic.

The aromas continue through onto the palate which has a rich, creamy, tasty texture.  The sweetness promised by the tropical fruit on the nose is more moderate in the mouth; I would guess that a good proportion has been though MLF but not overwhelmingly so as there is lots of tangy freshness.

This isn’t going to covert (m)any people of the ABC = Anything But Chardonnay crowd, but for those in my ABC = Always Buy Chardonnay camp this is a cracking example and ridiculously good value for money at a tenner.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €9.99
  • Stockists: Lidl Ireland

Conclusion

An easy one – buy both!!  These two wines are quite different in style, but happen to be styles that I’m very partial to.  They are well made and absolute bargains at the price.

 

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  1. Notice the German spelling with an umlaut
  2. It’s still there!
  3. Arghhh sorry I forgot it this time
  4. Hawke’s more often than not has the apostrophe, so I’ve put it in, even though the label omits it
Make Mine A Double

Single Vineyard Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs [Make Mine a Double #53]

For Sauvignon Blanc Day, what better wines to be comparing than two Marlborough Sauvignons.  There are some people who don’t care for the variety and / or the particular expression that is created in Marlborough – perhaps it’s just “tall poppy syndrome” – but I’m not one of the naysayers.   Marlborough Sauvignon is now one of the key recognisable styles in the world of wine and has many imitators, though few are successful.

That said, although nearly all of them would be recognised blind (many at the point where the wine is opened), there are significant variations in style and flavour profile within the region.  Some of that is down to terroir; my humble palate can often distinguish between Savvy made in the Awatere Valley from one made in the Wairau Valley (and of course that’s before smaller terroir differences are considered).  There’s also the winemaker and his or her desired style.

Here we have two Marlborough Sauvignons which share many things: they come from the same single vineyard, and therefore obviously the vines are owned by the same person, they are made from the same grape variety by the same wine maker.  Yet they are different!  In what way?  Why?  Read on!

Disclosure: these bottles were both kindly provided for review, but opinions remain my own.

Insight Vineyard Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018

insight vineyard marlborough sauvignon blanc

Marlburians Fleur McCree and Hemi Duns bought an old sheep farm in the Waihopai Valley (part of the Marlborough’s Southern Valleys sub-region) in 2002.  They planted their 41 hectares with grapes, initially selling the grapes to large companies but then setting up as a producer themselves.  They recruited Eveline Fraser (formerly of Cloudy Bay) to be their winemaker; a less well known label, perhaps, but less pressure from the owners.

Also known by the locals as “Spy Valley” due to the NZ government monitoring station there – and even giving this nickname to the Spy Valley winery – the Waihopai is cooler than the main Wairau Valley (which is home to esteemed names such as Cloudy Bay, Nautilus and Te Whare Ra).  This cooler micro-climate tends to give a less exuberant, more subtle wine, and that’s what we have here with this Insight Vineyard 2018.  It has plenty of green notes (I prefer herby to herbaceous as the latter makes me think of eating foliage (perhaps that’s just me) plus the exotic fruit notes that are the calling card of Kiwi Sauvignon.  However, they do not dominate the wine which is relatively light and lithe; it’s not as though someone has mixed your wine with pineapple juice!

This is a food-friendly style of Marlborough Sauvignon that will also make you reach for a second glass – or more – and a bargain at the sale price.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €18.95 down to €12.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswines.ie

Pounamu Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019

pounamu marlborough sauvignon blanc

Pounamu is Fleur’s new label, named after a greenstone found in New Zealand and treasured by Maori, that is often handed down from generation to generation.  The website states that the vines are “grown on two terraces and three different areas within the single vineyard.  The lower terraces contain stony silt loam soils with fine sandy loam topsoil and gravels over alluvial gravels.  Considerable stone is evident in the topsoil profile.  Upper terraces contain friable silt loams over blocky silt loams on gravels.

I asked Fleur about the difference between the two wines (apart from the branding, obviously).  She replied that “although they’re both from our vineyards we are utilising different blocks, different rows, picking at slightly different times and different levels of ripeness.  Then Eveline looks at all the different parcels (cuvées ) and blends according to range….the theme for both though is: authenticity.  A strong sense of place”  Thus we are looking at differences of  style rather than quality!

The key note from the Pounamu for me was grassiness – there’s more than a little of Touraine Sauvignon about it.  On the nose there are also hints of nettles, flowers, citrus and tropical fruits.  The palate has a clean and fresh attack, with juicy grapefruit joining on the mid-palate, and a long, crisp finish.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €19.95 down to €14.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswines.ie

Conclusion

These wines obviously share a common origin and sensibility, but the difference is obvious enough to be apparent to most winelovers.  I could not place one over the other, but rather think of them as best in slightly different situations; for an aperitif or with shellfish I would favour the Pounamu, whereas for slightly richer fare or drinking on its own I’d take the Insight.

 

 

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A Cheeky Pair of Pinots From Romania [Make Mine a Double #52]

Since the turn of the millennium the most notable Romanian exports have been the Cheeky Girls, a pair of identical twin sisters who – somehow – had 4 top 10 hits in the UK. While their music was aimed at pre-teens, Romania has much better products for adults: wine!

When I got into wine in the early/mid ’90s, Deulu Mare Pinot Noir from the south of Romania was a staple in the supermarkets, which had a much better range back then.  Romania is reportedly the sixth largest producer of wine in Europe, making wines from:

  • International varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
  • Mid / Eastern European varieties such as Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch
  • Romanian varieties such as Tămâioasă Românească and Busuioacă de Bohotin

Little Romanian wine seems to hit our shores these days, but the Wildflower range are welcome recent arrivals.

Wildflower Pinot Grigio 2018

wildflower pinot grigio

As a confirmed Grigio skeptic I approached this wine with caution, but rather than being dilute this wine was light; the difference might seem subtle but it’s important.  The nose is attractive, floral and fruity.  On the palate the fun continues with fresh citrus and pip fruit, and a clean crisp finish.  This isn’t a complex wine, and doesn’t pretend to be, but it’s perfect for a mid-week glass or three.

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RRP: €13.95 (until 1st June: €9.00, 6 for €50)
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswines.ie

Wildflower Pinot Noir 2018

wildflower pinot noir

As Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult to grow well, i.e. make reasonable wine out of, an inexpensive one might raise an eyebrow or two.  However, this is recognisably Pinot Noir with its medium intensity colour, fragrant nose and supple palate.  It’s light enough that twenty minutes in the fridge before pouring at a barbecue would be perfect.  It has soft red fruit – raspberry, cherry and strawberry – and gentle tannins, with fresh acidity for added structure.  Just remember to use a wine glass and not a pint glass!

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €13.95 (until 1st June: €9.00, 6 for €50)
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswines.ie

Conclusion

These wines – and their counterpart Wildflower Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz – are described as “party wines” by O’Briens.  For me this has two slightly different connotations;

  1. It could be the cheap-as-chips / industrially produced swill that a host will lay on at a big party or function while they drink something else (we all know one of those kind of people).  The kind of wine that you wince slightly while drinking, but you drink anyway because there’s no alternative
  2. Or, it could be an easy drinking wine that a party host is happy to drink with his guests because wine isn’t the focus of the party, but the crowd are likely to consume quite a lot of it!

The Wildflower Pinots Grigio and Noir definitely fall into the second category.  They are acceptably priced at €13.95 (especially the Pinot Noir) but a complete steal when on offer for €9.  Given the current lock down the potential for partying is rather limited…but for those who work from home (and thus don’t have to drive) or are furloughed and want a great VFM tipple, fill your boots!

 

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Sweet or Dry Fortified? [Make Mine a Double #51]

SuperValu Ireland currently have their Spanish wine sale underway, running until Wednesday 4th March.  Here are a few of the wines included that I have tasted in the past and would be putting in my trolley in the next week:

  • Martin Codax Albariño (€12.00 down from €17.99)
  • Paco & Lola Albariño (€12.00 down from €14.99)
  • Segura Viudas Cava Reserva Heredad (€20.00 down from €30.00)
  • Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Gran Reserva (€20.00 down from €30.00)
  • Finca Labarca Rioja Reserva (€10.00 down from €15.99)
  • Cune Rioja Gran Reserva (€20.00 down from €30.00)

On top of the reductions there’s also €10 off any six wines – definitely worth thinking about if you’re stocking up.

Instead of picking a few of the usual table wines for my review I have instead picked two Spanish fortified wines, though they could hardly be more different:

Williams and Humbert “Dos Cortados – Oloroso” NV (19.5%, 75 cl. €20.00 at SuperValu)

Dos Cortados Sherry

From the sweet to the very dry; this is a savoury, aged Sherry which cries out for some umami accompaniment, despite having some wonderful sweet notes on the nose.  The closest I came to adequately describing the nose is salted caramel – and this follows through onto the palate, though there is no sugariness; imagine dabbing the end of your tongue with blotting paper and that might give you an idea of the dryness.  There are also rancio and yeasty notes which just add to the splendour.  This is a “special guest” wine which won’t be available indefinitely, so if you want to try it then get a move on!

Geek Speak

Now I am far from a Sherry expert – or even a regular Sherry drinker – but I do remember some of the info I learned during my WSET studies.  Very simplistically, dry Sherries are generally made in a lighter, yeast-influenced style such as a Fino or an oxygen-influenced style such as Oloroso.

There are some which start out as a Fino but where the flor yeast dies off and then oxygen does its work; this can either happen naturally or due to the addition of more alcohol.  The Sherry is then known as a Palo Cortado, or “cut stick”.

In the case of this wine the process was done twice so has been named “Dos Cortados”.  Slightly confusingly the producer calls it an Oloroso, but as it is very rich and dark in style that’s understandable.  On more recent labels Williams & Humbert does call it a Palo Cortado (thanks Sherry Notes).

Torres Floralis Moscatel Oro NV (15.0%, €15.00 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Torres Moscatel Oro

The name of this wine gives you plenty of  information; it’s very floral on the nose and quite golden in colour.  There are also notes of orange blossom, orange peel and Seville orange marmalade.  The palate is rich yet light, intensely sweet with 188g of residual sugar, but balanced by firm acidity – it is far from cloying.  My only criticism would be that the finish is not very long, but such a gorgeous wine at this price is well worth a try.

Geek Speak

Torres call this a “naturally sweet wine” which immediately brings to (my) mind the French term Vin Doux Naturel, a wine which is fortified before fermentation has finished so that some of the grapes’ natural sugar is left in the wine.  Muscat is often the grape of choice in France for these wines, and elsewhere around the Mediterranean: Moscatel in Spain and Portugal, Moscato in Italy.

Of course, Muscat is a family of grapes rather than a single variety; in France the smaller berries (and hence more flavoursome) Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains is often the version used, whereas other regions often use Muscat of Alexandria – as Torres do in this wine.

 

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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.

 

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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:

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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Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

Domaine Thomas Sancerre [Make Mine a Double 47]

The compare and contrast idea behind Make Mine a Double is really honed in this review: two wines made from the same grape in the same region by the same producer…just grown in plots with different soil types.

Domaine Thomas is now in the hands of Julien and his partner Justine, but still with advice from his father Jean.  The Domaine traces its origins back to the 17th century and Julien is keen to preserve this heritage, but with his own take on making wines in a fairly natural and biodynamic way.

Here are two Sancerre Blancs from Domaine Thomas which offer a real taste of their terroir:

Domaine Thomas Sancerre Le Perrier 2017 (12.5%, RRP €24.95 at Searsons)

Le-Pierrier-Sancerre Domaine Thomas

Pierrier” translates as “scree”, a collection of broken rock fragments that have usually accumulated over time from rockfalls.  The soil is limestone and of course the grapes are 100% Sauvignon Blanc.  There’s a lot said about minerality in wines these days, even if the mechanism for grapes developing a mineral taste is not well understood, but this wine is very mineral and fresh indeed.  There is fruit as well, with grapefruit and green apple; although these are green fruit and there are no exuberant tropical notes, this is not an under-ripe wine in any respect.  The finish is longer than The Blue Room by The Orb – this is a seriously good wine.

Domaine Thomas Sancerre “Grand’Chaille” 2016 (12.5%, RRP €27.95 at Searsons)

Grande-Chaille-Sancerre

The Grand’Chaille vineyard is a mixture of clay and silex; clay is known for adding power to wines and so it proves here.  The wine is much rounder in the mouth than Le Pierrier, with fruit more to the fore: lemon, lime, grapefruit and gooseberry.  Yes, there are still mineral notes but this is a more generous wine.  Whereas Le Pierrier would be perfect for oysters and other shellfish, this cuvée could handle stronger fare such as goat’s cheese tart and similar dishes.  Personally, I’ll pass on the cheese and take the wine!

Conclusion

As you may have gathered from my notes above, these wines are both excellent but have a different profile and focus.  I defy anyone to taste them back to back and say that terroir does not matter.  In terms of preference, it really comes down to the context, and in particular if they are being taken with food.  Le Pierrier is perhaps a greater wine in my eyes but Grand’Chaille is more accessible.

 

 

 


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