If you look way down the list, yours truly squeezes on to the list…surprised and well chuffed!
If there’s one thing you can guarantee in Ireland, it’s that the weather will change during the day. It’s not quite the “Four Seasons In One Day” that Crowded House sang of – the climate here is generally too moderate for those extremes – but rain could arrive at any time. Sat outside in the sun at the weekend, I pooh-poohed the rain symbol on my smartphone’s weather app…
My friend and fellow ex-pat Laurent holds a barbecue every year for his birthday in July, and it has now become something of an institution. Despite the usual poor Irish summer he has been lucky with the weather for several years now. This year it was mixed – but I didn’t get wet so I’m all right (Jacques).
As the hosts and majority of guests are French, the format follows French protocols which are quite different to a usual Irish (or English) barbecue:
- It stretches out over five hours or so – much more civilised than wolfing down food
- It always starts with the apéritif, including nibbles, and often sweet wine
- There’s loads of red wine on the go all the time
- High quality meat on the barbecue is going to be saignant!
- Sparkling wine with dessert (works as long as it’s not too dry)
Below I’ve picked out some of the excellent wines we had this year:
Pol Roger “Extra Cuvée de Réserve” Brut NV
The blend is a third of each of the classic Champagne grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. There’s (citrus and red berry) fruit and flowers in there as you’d expect from the blend, but there’s also a delicious aroma of brioche from extended lees ageing that comes through nicely on the palate.
Pol Roger is still family owned and was famously the favourite tipple of Winston Churchill – they even named their prestige cuvée after him. You might just be able to make out the royal warrant in the photo above – the British Queen drinks it too so we’re in exalted company.
The non-vintage (NV) is also available as an ultra-dry zero-dosage “Pure” and a sweeter demi-sec “Rich”. I haven’t tried them but my money would be on the regular Brut being the best balanced.
Muscat à petits grains Passerillé Vin de Pay d’Oc 2004
The Muscat grape is one of the oldest continually grown wine grapes around, and flourishes around the Mediterranean in particular. It’s also one of the few whose wine actually smells and tastes of grapes. Due to its antiquity it has had plenty of opportunities to mutate, so there are now over two hundred different varieties of Muscat. The main four varieties used for wine-making are:
- Muscat blanc à petits grains
- Muscat of Alexandria
- Muscat of Hamburg (aka Black Muscat)
- Muscat Ottonel
This is a different kettle of fish entirely. Instead of fortifying the fermenting grape must to increase the sweetness and alcohol levels, the Passerillé method involves drying picked grapes on straw mats so that water evaporates remaining sugar and flavour is concentrated. It’s sometimes known as straw wine due to the process.
Having a sweet wine as an apéritif is a very French thing to do – and this oak-aged beauty was something special.
Cave de Turckheim Riesling “Marnes et Calcaires” 2010
Probably the best co-operative in Alsace, the Cave de Turckheim has a fantastic range of varieties, quality levels and styles on offer. The Terroirs range has different grape and soil combinations. This is a Riesling grown on marl and limestone and shows beautiful lemon and grapefruit cossetted by a hint of sweetness on the finish. Perfect for a warm day and great value.
The Main Event – Les Cotes de Boeuf
This is the “before” picture – it was so tasty it didn’t stand a chance of being snapped “after” being cooked! A côte de boeuf is basically a rib-eye on the bone, but cut really thick as you can see. Just delicious!
Domaine de Chazalis Coteaux de l’Ardèche 2010
This was probably my favourite red we tried at the barbie. It’s made in northern Rhône which is the original Syrah homeland, but just to the west of the Côtes de Rhône appellation, hence it carries the IGP tag Côteaux de l’Ardèche.
Like many a St Joseph or Cornas, it’s a very savoury style – smoky bacon! – with dark black fruit and a twist of pepper. This example from the warm year of 2010 is great to drink now but would happily keep on evolving for the next five to seven years at least.
Wolf Blass Yellow Label Shiraz 2011
It’s a while since I last had this so I was surprised that it wasn’t totally over the top alcohol wise – 13.5% is fairly modest for a South Australian Shiraz, even in these days of modest ABVs. The flavours and mouthfeel are pretty much what you’d expect – concentrated black fruit with a touch of vanilla from the oak, and quite chewy but with very restrained tannins. This isn’t going to evolve into something fabulously complex but it’s very pleasant drinking right now – and it was a bargain at a fiver from Asda.
La Domelière Rasteau 2012
Rasteau has long been an Appellation Contrôllée for fortified wines, but was promoted to AOC for dry red wines in 2010 with effect from the 2009 vintage. Prior to that it had been a VDQS (AOC in waiting) and was also allowed to be sold as Côte de Rhône Villages-Rasteau.
Now we’re in the southern Rhône it’s Grenache, not Syrah, that dominates. Big, bold and fruity at 14.5%, this 2012 is still very tight, and although it’s very easy drinking it will be better still with a few more years.
Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs NV
This is fab easy-drinking fizz. The Special Reserve is a step up from the standard Lindauer range and so receives 24 months on the lees rather than the usual 15 – so it’s probably had more than many cheap Champagnes.
Being a Blanc de Blancs this is of course made from just white grapes, and it’s the classic Chardonnay of Champagne. Lindauer source their grapes from Gisborne on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, an area noted for its Chardonnay.
Well not quite (sorry Douglas), but this was the meal to end all meals. The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that some of the wines included in my “Best Of 2013” posts had an asterisk (one of these: * , not a Gaullish resistance warrior) by them.
Just before Crimble last year we invited four friends (two couples) round for dinner, ostensibly for my wife Jess to have a dry run at making beef wellington, but it ended up being a big night!
Selection of olives and nuts with:
- Varnier-Fannière Brut Zero NV
- Varnier-Fannière Grand Vintage 2006
The saline quality of the Brut Zero was particularly fine with the salt in the olives and nuts
Pea, Chili & Coriander Soup with soda bread and:
- Sullivan’s Cove Tasmanian Sauvignon Blanc 2010
- Zind-Humbrecht Alsace Pinot Gris “Heimbourg” 2002
Both were good, though not perfect matches; the texture of the Pinot Gris was outstanding.
Beef Wellington and roasted vegetables and:
- Penfolds Bin 95 Grange South Australia Shiraz 1996
- Penfolds Bin 95 Grange South Australia Shiraz 1997
- Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
Beef with mature beefy wines? Perfect match!
Fresh Fruit Meringue with:
- Trimbach Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2001
- Pegasus Bay “Encore” Noble Riesling 2008
- Arthur Metz Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles 2007
- Domaine Engel Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Noble 2010
The phrase “gilding the lily” springs to mind – but what the heck, you don’t get to do this very often.
It will take a lot to top this!
The Wine Society is a mutually-owned wine buying club based in Stevenage in England. Since its inception in 1874 as The International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society Limited its aim has been to buy wines direct from growers to ensure their authenticity and quality and to offer them to members at fair prices.
The Society has over 120,000 active members in the UK and Ireland which gives it great purchasing power and a licence to list more unusual bottles. They run various tasting events throughout the UK and one in Dublin most years. The most recent one focused on wines from the Americas, and below are my personal highlights. Our hosts were the charming Simon Mason and the lovely Isobel Cooper.
Viña Litoral Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley, Chile 2013
Leyda is situated close to the Pacific coast (as you might guess from “Litoral”) with its cooling sea breezes and thus is well suited to Sauvignon Blanc. This example has ripe grapefruit and gooseberry balanced by refreshing acidity. The 13.5% abv gives it a generous roundness in the mouth.
Concha y Toro Corte Ignacio Casablanca Riesling (Chile) 2013
From a very cool, top vineyard in western Casablanca, this is a
medium-dry riesling with about a third of the harvest affected by
noble rot, overlaying a lovely light honeyed aroma and flavour
over a bright, fresh palate. Drink now to 2018. 12%
Primus Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile) 2011
A textbook example of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, not terribly complex but bursting with fruit and the beginnings of cedar and tabacco notes. Drinkable on its own mid week or with a medium rare steak.
Faldeos Nevados Torrontés (Argentina) 2013
Torrontés is Argentina’s signature white grape, with aromas and flavours somewhere between Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Viognier. At 14% abv it has plenty of body to match the bold grape and stone fruit flavours.
Norman Hardie Chardonnay Unfiltered, Ontario (Canada) 2011
The first Canadian wine I have tasted that wasn’t an Ice Wine. The aim here is more Burgundy than California – it has a modest 12.5% abv and a streak of minerality through the middle. It reminded me most of Premier Cru Chablis. In my view a little less oak would let the fruit shine more.
Weinert Carrascal (Argentina) 2008
This is a blend of 40% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot, all Bordeaux varieties, although of course Malbec is mainly reduced to a minor supporting role in Bordeaux nowadays. No shrinking violet, this is a big, rich, in-your-face wine with a velvety finish. Great for cold nights or with red meat.
Ravenswood Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel (USA) 2011
Ravenswood make some fantastic Zin; big, bold and very gluggable. Their Lodi Old-Vine is slightly more expensive but more concentrated, higher in alcohol and will live for longer. It’s a world away from “blush” white Zinfandel.
Ridge Geyserville (USA) 2011
Ridge is almost legendary among Californian producers. This is a Zinfandel-Carignan(e) blend based on some of California’s oldest vines; the youngest are 10 years old, the oldest over 120 years, with 60% 40 years old or more. It is very dense at first – takes a while to open up in the glass – then the powerful dark black fruit comes through, wrapped in vanilla. This will surely continue to develop over the next 10 years.
Quartet Anderson Valley Brut Roederer Estates (USA) NV
For me this was the star of the whole event. It is a traditional method sparkling wine from Mendocino County in California. The grapes are sourced from four separate vineyards (hence the name) in the northern Anderson Valley, cooled by the proximity of the Pacific Ocean. On the palette the 30% Pinot Noir initially gives lots of soft strawberry flavours and then the 70% Chardonnay comes through as bright citrus. The finish has classic brioche richness from ageing on the lees. Wonderfully balanced and put together.
This is the sixth installment of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, but the first one I have been able to enter. The theme of “Mystery” was set by The Drunken Cyclist who won the previous month’s challenge.
Normally I read the other entries which are posted to get an idea, but on a couple of occasions I’ve seen other people have already had a great idea which was at the back of my mind – and plagiarism isn’t good, even the appearance of it.
So for this challenge I’ve gone way out of my comfort zone and attempted a short bit of fiction – something I haven’t done since English class at school! A little inspiration came from the badge created by The Armchair Cyclist…
The door was unlocked so I let myself into the hallway; the rain was coming down like bullets into the night so I needed to get out of the rain. I peeked round the corner – nobody there, so I headed down the stairs and took a seat at the bar.
“How are you Frank? What’ll you have?” said the bartender. He was new. His accent was strange..somewhere from the mid-Atlantic. His pale skin and red hair made him look like he would get sunburn from a lightbulb. He must have heard my name from the boss.
“Champagne. Bollinger. Vintage.”
“No. A bottle” He obviously didn’t know me. Not. At. All.
“Two glasses then? Are you waiting for someone?”
“Do I look like I want company?” I growled. “Open the goddam bottle will you?”
The bartender opened the bottle with a brief sigh (the bottle, not him) and poured me a glass. He put the bottle in an ice bucket with a fancy towel over top. It said “Ely” on the towel.
I knocked back a mouthful – man, this was great stuff. Creamy, complex, red fruits and biscuit with a long finish. My kind of drink. In fact, it was my regular drink at Ely. Don’t get me wrong, I like some of the other fizzy stuff they had, but not the Italian or Spanish garbage – far too simple, far too easy.
I quaffed the rest of the glass then poured myself another. The bar owner walked in and nodded to me as he walked past. “On the usual, I see, Frank”. Obervant as usual. He was a nice guy, real friendly, but left me alone when I wanted to be.
“You still have eyes then, Fred” I muttered. “You know me, I know what I like.”
“Come on, my old friend, tonight you should try something else.” A raised eyebrow made him pause. “On the house!”
“Okay Fred, just to make you happy, I’ll try them again. Then you won’t ask me again, right?”
“Great, I’m sure you will like some of them, Frank!” He seemed excited, like a puppy. This had better be quick and had better get him off my case.
“Pour away, Fred. This here..” I tapped the bottle of Bollinger Grand Année. “This here is my benchmark. Whatever you give me has to match this baby.”
He took a bottle out of the fridge behind the bar and popped the cork. Reaching up, he grabbed a couple of glasses from the shelf above the bar.
“What the heck is that? That’s no Champagne cork!”
“My friend, this is frizzante Prosecco. It doesn’t need a big cork and wire cage, it’s not as fizzy as other sparklers.”
I didn’t like Prosecco. I hated it. In fact, I hated it with a loathing far beyond mere contempt. It was a chick’s drink. As Fred poured us both a glass, I looked round to make sure no-one else could see I was trying such an absurd drink.
Bam! Fruit all the way! But then it was gone, as quickly as it came, leaving a slight prick of acid in my throat. It was like using a water pistol instead of a real gun – surprise from the impact, but no lasting effect.
“Fred that’s nowhere near close,” I said. “I hope you’ve got something better than that”
“Coming right up, my friend.” He fished another bottle out of the fridge. This time it looked to have a regular Champagne cork.
Another pair of glasses. He poured again. At least this seemed to be properly fizzy.
“So you reckon this is better, huh? Where’s it from?” I asked.
“Just try it and see what you think, Frank.”
I took a mouthful. Nice and round in the mouth. Not sweet. Biscuitty. Chewy even. But then it faded quickly; far too simple. The label said Freixenet Elyssia. Sounded more like a medical complaint than a drink.
“Well Fred…it’s just like I thought. Those other drinks, now they’re just fine for other folks. But not for me, they’re far too simple. I need a bit of wonder in my beverages. I need mystery.”
Click here to vote.
It might seems strange, but I’m posting my 2014 Wine Resolutions before my 2013 Best Wines, mainly because it will be shorter.
So, here are a few of the wines I’m hoping to drink (more of) this year:
Yes, that’s right, Muscadet – the classic example of a bone-dry white wine. It’s supposed to be perfect with white fish and sea food, but as I don’t eat that much sea food at home I’ve nearly always tried it on its own. The Melon de Bourgogne grape doesn’t have that much flavour, so some of the better growers let it mature on its lees (dead yeast cells and other solid matter) to give it a bit more oomph. And that helps (a bit).
And how does it taste? Well, frankly, many of the bottles I’ve had over the years have been somewhere between vinegar and paintstripper. It’s usually very high in acidity with no residual sugar (RS) and the lack of flavour can make it taste thin and just, well, unpleasant.
However, as one of my favourite sayings goes: “It’s never too late to lose a prejudice”, so perhaps a few better bottles might change my mind. Muscadet is often cited as underpriced for its quality, and as a Yorkshireman getting VFM is a good thing. I’m thinking I might have to include a few different Muscadets in a mixed case from The Wine Society…
Most people with a bit of wine knowledge realise that Cava’s image is quite poor in the UK (where I’m from) and Ireland (where I live). It’s made in the traditional method like Champagne, but although the Chamapgne grapes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are permitted nowadays, Cava is often made from the indigenous grapes Macebeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo. Perhaps I’m being a snob here, but these grapes don’t sound that promising as base material for great sparkling wine. Whenever I’ve put a Cava into a flight of sparklers in a blind tasting it has been spotted by most of the tasters, usually because of its relative lack of refinement and a certain earthiness.
Cava is often one of the cheapest sparkling wines in the supermarket which sounds a bit crazy when you consider the production method, more costly than Prosecco’s tank method, for example. So how do they make it so cheaply? Firstly, grape yields are higher than Champagne (which are already high for a quality wine), so the same vineyard area produces more grapes. Secondly, many producers buy in grapes from growers, and the market price for grapes in Catalonia (where ~95% of Cava is made) is much lower than in Champagne. Thirdly, the miniumum length of the second fermentation in bottle is only nine months for non-vintage compared to fifteen in Champagne. Use of Gyropalettes (machines which enable riddling to be done in bulk in a much shorter period) is another significant cost saving and is now standard for Cava. Of course, some Champagne houses do use them as well. Finally, due to its place in the market there is far far less spent on marketing and publicity for Cava compared to Champagne.
So why am I going to try more Cava in 2014? After some interesting twitter discussions with Alex Hunt MW (@alexhuntmw), Lenka Sedlackova (@lenkster) and others last year I decided to ignore the dross and look for the best that Cava has. I took down some recommendations:
- Raventos I Blanc
- René Barbier
I will also be scouring the Cava section of the Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & sparkling wine which I was lucky enough to be bought for Christmas. If you like fizz, buy this book!
Another target for 2014 for which I will be gleaning info from that book is:
This is Italy’s quality traditional method sparkling wine made in Lombardy. I must confess I haven’t tasted a single sip to date! Franciacorta gets some good press, but as the volume of production is relatively low (about a tenth of Champagne) and domestic demand is high, very little is exported.
Some of the top producers I will try to find:
- Ca’ Del Bosco
- Guido Berlucchi
- Barone Pizzini
Prestige Cuvée Champagnes
This resolution is very much wallet dependant! I’ve had many different vintages of Dom Perignon (it was the fizz on tap in Emirates First Class to and from our honeymoon in New Zealand) and tried Krug’s Grand Cuvée, Veuve Clicquot’s La Grande Dame and Louis Roederer’s Cristal, but there are still several top Champagnes I would like to try – even if that’s a taste rather than buying a bottle:
- Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne
- Dom Ruinart
- Perrier-Jouët’s Belle Epoque
- Philipponnat‘s Clos des Goisses
- Pol Roger‘s Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill
So there are my 2014 Wine Resolutions – what are yours?
Please feel free to leave a comment.
Sweeney’s Wine Merchants in Glasnevin, Dublin, hold regular wine tastings on their mezzanine floor. A dozen or so of the regulars, including myself, have been socialising together for several years, whether for meals in town or tasting events arranged at each others’ houses (see Glasnevin Fizz Fest).
For our 2013 Xmas meal we descended upon Beirut Express on Dame Street in Dublin – not because we all adore Lebanese food (though I am a fan myself), but rather because they only charge €3 corkage which is perfect for winos on a budget!
Here is a selection of the bottles we enjoyed last night – and apologies for the poor image quality. My personal favourites were the Chateau Musar and the Yalumba Botrytised Viognier.
Veuve Ambal Cremant de Bourgogne 2011 was the surprise standout from last night’s fizz tasting…crisp acidity and racy citrus fruit against a background of yeast and toast. The balance and development were a happy surprise in such a young and inexpensive wine.
This wasn’t as much of a surprise: Pierre Gimonnet 1er Cru Cuis Blanc de Blancs NV (from The Wine Society) did all of the above and more. Being a Non Vintage it isn’t apparent which years’ harvest the grapes are from, but the developped bready (autolytic for you real wine geeks) nose and flavours were appreciated by all the tasters. I’m hoping I have another bottle or two left!
The two sparklers above were both “Good”, so now for the bad. Jean Louis Ballarin Cremant de Bordeaux is a blend of Semillon and Muscadelle, two of the three standard white grapes of Bordeaux (the third being Sauvignon Blanc). Unfortunately this example was faulty as the main flavour coming through was wet cardboard – yuck! The sibling Cabernet Franc-based Black Pearl was much nicer.
The biggest selling Champagne world wide is The Ugly – or more precisely the Short and Boring. This was served blind and tasters’ guesses as to its origins were all wide of the mark – no one thought it worthy of the badge Champagne.
Offering very little on the nose, muted flavours on the palate a short finish, Moet et Chandon is a triumph of marketing over winemaking. Give it as a present to someone who likes labels, but look elsewhere for good fizz.