Single Bottle Review

Super Premium Portuguese

Port has had a global reputation for centuries, but the rest of Portuguese wine has lived in its shadow – outside the country at least.  These days it is seen as a place where lots of quality, interesting wines come from – and usually at a decent price.  But why stop there?  Some producers want to make the best that they possibly can, whatever it costs to make.

One such producer is Quinta dos Carvalhais in the Dão region.  Dão is about a third of the way down Portugal, surrounded by (clockwise, from the north west): Vinho Verde, Douro Valley, Távora & Varosa, Beira Interior and Bairrada.  The Dão is somewhat insulated from both the cool coast and the warmer interior by a ring of mountains.  Altitude results in warm – but not blazing hot – days and cool nights, keeping flavours intense but fresh.

Owned by the Guedes family since 1988, Quinta dos Carvalhais covers 105 hectares in total of which 50 are planted with vines on poor granite soils.  The grapes planted are local Dão varieties (Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro, Jaen and Tinta Pinheira for reds and Encruzado, Assario, Gouveio, Bical and Cercial for whites).

The Quinta dos Carvalhais Dão Encruzado (white) is a seriously good wine with a premium price tag; it has an RRP of €32.99 in Ireland which is among the most expensive Portuguese table wines I’ve seen.  At the Liberty Wines portfolio tasting in February I had the chance to taste the Quinta dos Carvalhais flagship wine Único with an RRP over three times that of the Encruzado at €107.  Is that a crazy price or is it justified?  Are Vega Sicilia going to complain about the name?  I had to try it…

Quinta dos Carvalhais Único 2015

Quinta dos Carvalhais Unico

Único in Portuguese means “single” or “unique” – perhaps this is the number one table wine in Portugal?  It is only made in exceptional years, and I believe that this 2015 is the third bottling after 2005 then 2009.  Like many Portuguese wines it’s a blend, and consists of all the varieties planted on the Quinta: 88% Touriga Nacional, 6% Alfrocheiro, 2% Jaen Tinto, 2% Tinta Pinheira, 2% Tinta Roriz.

To improve on the already-high quality of their other wines, winemaker Beatriz Cabral de Almeida picks special plots which are then harvested and vinified separately, with great care.  Alcoholic fermentation is temperature controlled at 28ºC (not that hot for reds) over eight days followed by 20 days maceration.  The must is then transferred into new French oak barrels for 12 months’ maturation.  Each batch is tasted several times over the whole process to see if the barrel will be included in the final blend.

Although now over four years since harvest, the 2015 Único pours a deep purple, hinting at relative youth.  The nose is like finding big bramble bushes in a pine forest, red and black berries with pine needles on the floor.  The smoky French oak is also notably present (those barrels given a decent toast I reckon).  The palate is rich and concentrated, with firm tannins and striking acidity giving plenty of structure.

This is a wine made to last the course; it’s very nice to drink now but I can see it opening up considerably over the next five to ten years, and then lasting for another ten after that.  So it is worth the price tag?  Perhaps, is my cop-out answer.  Without many previous vintages to assess its longevity is still not 100% proven, but I think it will make a name for itself in the future.  It’s more than I spend on a bottle of wine, but if I could justify it as an investment for my twins who were born in 2015 then that might just work…

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €107
  • Stockists: wineonline.ie
Single Bottle Review

Vigneti del Salento”I Muri” Primitivo 2018

Puglia
Puglia within Italy.  Salento is the southern peninsular part of Puglia.

The Farnesi Vini group – itself a part of the Fantini Group – has three separate wineries in Puglia: Cantina Sava, Luccarelli and Vigneti del Salento.  The Salento crowd have different labels within their range, including the “I Muri” for the less-well-heeled (sorry!) and “Zolla” ranges.

The I Muri Primitivo is a long-standing favourite of mine since I first tried it at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin.  It is widely available in Ireland, though of course in these difficult times not many wine retailers are open.  Still, if you like the sound of this wine then put it on your list to buy when things return closer to normality.

Vigneti del Salento”I Muri” Puglia Primitivo 2018

I Muri Primitivo

Consultant winemaker Filippo Baccalaro is not a native of the area – he is from Piedmont – but has spent several decades in the area which make it a second home for him now.  The grapes are bought in but from growers with whom Filippo has a long term relationship and don’t dilute concentration in the hunt for maximum yields.

Winemaking is modern, with inoculated yeasts, temperature controlled fermentation and maturation in stainless steel tanks.

Primitivo is of course one of the key grapes of Puglia, along with Negroamaro, and it’s a real sun-worshipper.  Ripeness is a key feature of the wines down here and this shows immediately on the nose; intense black and red berries vie for attention, along with exotic spices.  Those berries continue through to the palate, which is soft and generous.  There’s a rich, luxurious feel to this wine which belies its modest price.  Yes, this is still a winner!

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €15 – €17
  • Stockists (*indicated currently closed): Baggot Street Wines*; Blackrock Cellar*; Cashel Wine Cellar; Donnybrook Fair; JJ O’Driscoll; McHughs Kilbarrack Road & Malahide Road; Mortons Dunville Avenue; Sweeneys D3; wineonline.ie; 64 Wine  
Single Bottle Review

Cà dei Frati I Frati Lugana 2018

Lugana is one of Italy’s lesser-known white wine jewels.  The vines are grown close to the southern shores of Lake Garda in Lombardy, northern Italy, across from Bardolino and neighbours in the Veneto’s eastern part of the lake.  The grape used is normally known as Trebbiano di Lugana, or Turbiana by locals, but it is not the same variety as the Trebbiano (aka Ugni Blanc) which accounts for a full third of all Italian white wines; instead it is actually the same as Verdicchio from the Marche!

In addition to its location close to a large body of water, the Lugana wine region also has soils which are mainly clay, and hence are poor-draining.  The vineyards are therefore prone to flooding, which is countered by creating a dome shape to the contours of the land (encouraging water to run off) and by giving the vines long, bare stems to encourage ventilation.

As well as dry whites there are also late harvest whites and sparkling wines produced in the region, though they are far less common than even the dry whites.

The Cà dei Frati estate differs from its neighbours in several respects: the vines are actually trained lower than normal (using single or double Guyot), are planted more densely (as is the modern way, so that vines compete for nutrients) but yields are kept down.

Cà dei Frati I Frati Lugana 2018

I FRATI LUGANANew

I have recommended this wine before bu I make no apology for repeating myself – it’s an excellent wine that offers a lot of flavour at a fairly modest price point. The nose is fairly expressive, with peach and some apricot notes.  The palate is tangy, full of peach and pear.  There’s a lovely rounded aspect to the palate, helped by a little residual sugar (6.3 g/L), but a crisp, fresh finish.  This wine doesn’t need food – it’s eminently quaffable all by itself – but it would be a good partner for a wide variety of dishes – pan-fried scallops would be perfect!

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €24 – €26
  • Stockists (*indicate currently closed): Baggot Street Wines*; Blackrock Cellar*; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Fresh Outlets, Dublin; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; La Touche Wines, Greystones; Sweeneys D3; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; wineonline.ie; World Wide Wines; Whelehans Wines; 64 Wine 
Single Bottle Review

A Bourgeois Sauvignon

Henri Bourgeois is one of the most well-respected producers in the Loire’s Central vineyards, with 72 hectares on both the Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé sides of the river.  Different sources give slightly different nuances to their description of the soil types, but the company’s website classifies them as the following three types:

  • Clay-limestone, which gives rise to fresh, fruity vintages;
  • Kimmeridgian marls, the memories of fossilised shells from the Jurassic Era that give intense flavours of exotic fruits and a superb structure;
  • Flint, which initiates elegant wines with smoky, roasted notes and minerality of great finesse.

Pouilly

One of the first things than a serious wineaux learns is the difference between Pouilly-Fumé (a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc) and Pouilly-Fuissé (a Chardonnay from the Mâconnais in southern Burgundy).

Later they may stumble across the oddity that is AOP Pouilly-sur-Loire…an appellation based around the same Loire town as Fumé but based predominantly on the Chasselas grape (which is more at home in Valais (Switzerland), Baden (Germany) and Alsace (France)).

The love of Sauvignon Blanc also took the family to Marlborough where they make Clos Henri, a New Zealand Savvy with a French sensibility.

Here’s a Bourgeois wine I tried and enjoyed recently:

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

Henri Bourgeois Pouilly Fumé La Porte de l’Abbaye 2018

Henri Bourgeois Porte de l Abbaye Pouilly Fumé

For a Sauvignon this was only lightly aromatic, more subtle than those of the antipodes, but that’s no bad thing.  The palate has hints of grapefruit and gooseberry but it’s mainly lemon which shines.  The finish is long and mineral.  Overall this is somewhat on the simple side, but very pure and enjoyable.  It would be at its best with seafood – perhaps some shellfish to match the Jurassic soils on which it was grown.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €25.95
  • Stockists: O’Briens shops and obrienswine.ie
Single Bottle Review

Bodega Garzón Albariño Reserva 2018

Bodega Garzón is one of Uruguay’s best wineries, founded and funded by Argentian energy billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni.  The winery is located close to Punte del Este (the “Saint Tropez of South America”) and charming seaside towns on Uruguay’s Riviera, facing almost due south into the Atlantic.  It’s now a destination itself with various tours and an upmarket restaurant headed by star chef Francis Mallman.

They have several ranges of wines within their portfolio:

  • Late Harvest: Petit Manseng
  • Sparkling: Extra Brut and Brut Rosé
  • Estate: Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Pinot Noir Rosé, Tannat Blend, Cabernet Franc Blend, Sauvignon Blanc
  • Reserva: Marselan, Albariño, Tannat, Cabernet Franc
  • Single Vineyard: Tannat, Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Pinot Noir
  • Petit Clos: Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, Albariño, Cabernet Franc
  • Balasto: Flagship Red Blend

Uruguay’s signature grape is of course Tannat – originally from the other side of the Atlantic in south western France.  Garzón does make excellent Tannat, but here we focus on another grape from the eastern Atlantic coast, Galicia’s Albariño.

Of course, Galicia doesn’t have sole ownership of Albariño – it’s also grown south of the Miño/Minho as Alvarinho and is also one of the varieties being trialled in Bordeaux.  In these maritime climes the proximity of the vines to the coast has a marked effect on the style of the wine; littoral areas give more mineral and saline characteristics to the finished wine whereas inland sites lend a little more richness and fruit.  How does Garzón’s Albariño compare?

Bodega Garzón Albariño Reserva 2018

Bodega Garzón reserva albariño

I’ve been lucky enough to taste this wine several times over the past six months or so, but for some unknown reason each time I taste it I am pleasantly surprised at how good it is.  Fermentation and maturation are in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks to help preserve the bright fruit flavours, but the wine does also spend three to six months (depending on vintage) on its fine lees, adding texture, weight and a certain creaminess.

The nose shows pronounced white peach and citrus, more expressive than lesser Albariños for sure.  On the palate the citrus shines through most, with a streak of fresh acidity and a saline tinge.  It reminded me of a Rías Baixas wine from close to the coast, except with more depth of flavour – perhaps a touch more sunshine and the time on lees make the difference.  Overall, this is a delicious wine that deserves the praise and recognition it has been receiving.

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €21.95
  • Stockists: Baggot Street Wines, Blackrock Cellar, McHugh’s, Martin’s Off-licence, Gibney’s of Malahide, The Vintry, Clontarf Wines, Brady’s Shankill, Deveney’s Dundrum, Higgins Clonskeagh, 1601 Kinsale, Morton’s Salthill, World Wide Wines Waterford, Alan McGuinness, Drink Store

Thanks to Liam and Peter from DNS Wine Club who have both shown this wine in recent months.

Single Bottle Review

Top Notch Malbec from Trapiche [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #29]

Trapiche make an almost bewilderingly wide range of wines, with around twenty different labels that vary from a single variety to a choice of thirteen for the “Vineyards” label.  Their “Terroirs Series” has three single vineyard Malbecs from different sites around Mendoza, an exercise in showing the effects of terroir has on the same grape.  Ambrosia comes from Gualtallary in Tupungato, the highest of the three at 1,307 metres above sea level.  The other two in the series are Suárez Lastra at 1,072m and Orellana de Escobar at a “mere” 990m.

Disclosure: this bottle was a sample, but opinions remain my own

Trapiche Terroir Series Ambrosia Single Vineyard Malbec 2014 (14.5%, RRP €36.99 at Martin’s Off Licence; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Ice Box Off Licence)

Trapiche Terroir Series Ambrosia Single Vineyard Malbec 2014

Even before the first glass is poured, on opening this reveals itself to be a serious wine, with a left bank Bordeaux sensibility: French oak rules the day.  The smokiness and hints of vanilla on the nose are joined by pencil shavings, leather, and bold black fruit.  On the palate, there’s ripe black fruit on the attack along with tangy oak.  Beautiful mineral notes join for the long, elegant finish.  Although this is a “fruity” wine, it’s far from jammy and confected; rather, it’s beautifully balanced and serious, though doesn’t take itself too seriously.   Ambrosia is well worth its status as a single vineyard wine.

Single Bottle Review

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #28]

What once was lost was found again!  

Let me explain.  In late 2017 I published a series of guest posts on my blog which were all on the theme of Xmas wines or. more exactly, the wines that some wine loving friends were looking forward to enjoying over the festive period.  Effi Tsournova was one of those friends and she wrote this guest post on Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Saering 2014 (obviously a favourite of mine) and a really good Chianti…but on top of that she arranged for a bottle of the very same Chianti to be sent to me here in Dublin!

But then, I managed to lose the bottle.  Misplace is probably a better word than lose, but I just didn’t know where it was, and assumed that it had probably been passed on as a gift to someone else (my wife is very generous with wine).  I was relieved and delighted in equal measures when I found the Lord Lucan of bottles tucked away at the back of a wine fridge.  Happy days!

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012 (14.0%, RRP £49.99 at Cambridge Wine Merchants, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Handford Wines, Whole Foods, Il Toscanaccio, The Vineking, Nickolls & Perks)

Mazzei Castello Fonterutoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2012

Over the past forty years Mazzei have proved that winemaking is a science as well as an art.  Their Chianti Classico grapes are sourced from 120 parcels (50 owned) and number 36 different clones of Sangiovese, half of which are exclusive to Fonterutoli.  In 2012 the vines ranged from 10 to 25 years old – obviously add 8 to both figures for 2020.

The final blend for 2012 was 92% Sangiovese plus 8% Malvasia Nera and Colorino.  Maturation was in 225 and 500 litre French oak barrels, 60% new and 40% used.

Compared to the 2015 I tasted recently (more on which soon), the 2012 is already a little lighter in the glass, with ruby tinges on the rim.  The nose is complex: red and black cherries, raspberry and blackberry are wrapped in a light vanilla jacket, with highlights of exotic spice and garden herbs.  Black fruits are more to the fore on the palate, though the red fruits still linger.  The acidity (present, but in no way searing) and tannins (fine, not grippy) that were there on release have softened considerably.  This is a fine wine that has entered its peak drinking window.

 

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

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

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

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

Dog Point Chardonnay

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

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

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

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

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

 

Opinion, Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

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

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

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

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 3

 

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

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

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

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

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

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

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

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

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

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

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

Undurraga Sibaris Leyda Sauvignon Blanc

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

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

 

*Yes, I like big buts