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

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #24]

Now part of New Zealand wine folklore, Cloudy Bay Vineyards was set up at the beginning of the Marlborough gold-rush (grape-rush?) in 1984 by David Hohnen.  Hohnen was no stranger to innovation as he had set up the pioneering Cape Mentelle in Margaret River in 1970.  As he was based in Western Australia, he recruited fellow Australian Kevin Judd to actually make the wines.

Cloudy Bay was one of the main producers which put Marlborough Sauvignon on the world map of wine, and such was demand that it often outstripped supply – it was frequently only available from merchants on allocation.  Over the years as other vineyards were established, Cloudy Bay was able to increase its supply of grapes but also had more competitors in the market.  Perhaps due to the expertise of luxury goods company LVMH who acquired it in 2003, Cloudy Bay has still managed to command a price premium over all its direct competitors.

Although hardly cheap at €35 and upwards in Ireland, the “straight” Sauvignon Blanc is one of the least expensive wines of the Cloudy Bay range.  The other include non-vintage and vintage sparkling Pelorus (which we had served for the toast at our wedding), Pinot Noirs from Marlborough and Central Otago, the excellent Chardonnay and a barrel-fermented wild yeast Sauvignon called Te Koko.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (13.1%, €35 – €42, stockists below)

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (1)

The 2019 vintage was released in Ireland at the beginning of November, so this is a very young wine, but awkward and angular it is not.  It has an unmistakably Marlborough Sauvignon nose with intense citrus and tropical fruits.  They are joined on the palate by juicy grapefruit and gooseberry.  There is plenty of acidity, but it presents as mouthwatering freshness and zip rather than being strong enough to make you wince. There’s a certain roundness and texture which is absent from many other Savvies. Hating on Sauvignon is quite common nowadays, but I think this wine is good enough to win plenty of converts.

Conclusion

Thirty years on, Cloudy Bay is still at the top of the pile – though its price reflects the renown of its brand as much as the quality of the wine.

Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Gibney’s, Malahide;  Londis, Malahide; Sweeneys D3, Fairview; Martin’s, Fairview; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 2; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Higgins, Clonskeagh; Redmond’s Ranelagh; Mitchell’s, Glasthule & CHQ; Blackrock Cellars; Donnybrook Fair; On the Grapevine, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Bradley’s, North Main St, Cork; 1601 Kinsale; Wine Centre, Kilkenny; McCambridge’s, Galway; World Wide Wines, Waterford.

Disclosure: sample provided for review, opinions remain my own.

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Plaimont Saint Mont “En La Tradition” Blanc 2016 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #23]

Producteurs Plaimont are a co-operative wine producing organisation based in south western France.  They produce AOC wines from Madiran, Pacherenc and Saint-Mont plus IGP Côtes de Gascogne.  I won’t go into lots of detail on them here as they will feature in a future article in my series on Co-operatives.

Saint-Mont is a small commune of around 300 people in the Gers department, located in the new Occitanie region of south-west France.  Côtes de Saint-Mont was created as a VDQS in 1981, lost the “Côtes de” in 2007 and was then promoted to AOC in 2011 when the VDQS level was eliminated.  The permitted zone of production is around 1,200 hectares reaching across 46 communes.

Both reds and whites are produced here.  Permitted grapes are:
  • Red wines: Tannat (minimum 60%),  Fer Servadou (minimum 20%), Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • White wines: Arrufiac, Petit Courbu, Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng

Plaimont Saint Mont “En La Tradition” Blanc 2016 (13.0%, RRP €15.95 – €16.95 at Baggot Street Wines, D4; Honest 2 Goodness, Glasnevin; Ardkeen Stores, Waterford; Daly’s Drinks, Boyle, Co. Roscommon)

Plaimont Saint Mont En La Tradition Blanc

Either consciously or subconsciously, many wine enthusiasts think of an inverse correlation between quantity and quality, i.e. if there’s a lot of it, it’s not going to be that good.  This wine smashes that theory as it is anything but small production, yet tastes absolutely delicious!  It’s very aromatic on the nose, with fleshy peach, apricot, mandarin and grapefruit on the palate.  Generous fruit sweetness on the mid-palate gives way to mineral notes and a long, fresh finish.  With fruit, texture and acidity this would be a very flexible wine for food matching.

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Castello di Ama “Ama” Chianti Classico 2015 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #22]

Great wines have been made around the village of Ama for centuries, but the Castello di Ama winery was only founded in the 1970s by a group of local families who were keen to revive the area’s vinous fortunes.  Over the years they developed a significant range of Chianti wines – including several single vineyard wines that became part of the Gran Selezione classification – plus some IGTs including a Pinot Nero and a Chardonnay.

However, a significant milestone was  in 2010 when parts of each of the four vineyards were planted with new, high quality clones of Sangiovese.  As Sangiovese is prone to mutate quicker than many varieties (as in the case with Pinot Noir), a co-ordinated project within the Chianti Classico region was launched to improve the genetic material in the vineyards.  Of course, this cannot be done in a single go without huge quality and cashflow issues so it is done piecemeal.  Once the new vines were old enough to bear good grapes they were harvested and blended into a new cuvée, simply known as “Ama”.

Vineyard Technical Data (from website):

  • Total vineyard area: 80 hectares (198 acres)
  • Vineyard names: Bellavista, Casuccia, San Lorenzo and Montebuoni
  • Exposure: North-West, South-East
  • Soil: clay and calcareous
  • Altitude: 460-525 metres above sea level.
  • Training system: vertical trellis with single Guyot
  • Vine density: 5,200 vines/ha
  • Clone selections (for “Ama”): Sangiovese: CC2000, CC2004, AGRI45; Merlot: 343; Rootstock: 420

Castello di Ama “Ama” Chianti Classico 2015 (12.5%, RRP €32.95 at Karwig Wines and Mitchell & Son)

Castello di Ama

For me there is a lot of ordinary Chianti around (although this could be said for many well-known regions) and the wines can be quite thin and tannic without any fruit to counterbalance.  Despite 2015 being a warm and excellent year, the indicated alcohol of Ama is only 12.5%, which is a touch lighter than I would have expected both before and after tasting it.

Wine Technical Data (assembled from website):

  • Blend: 96% Sangiovese, 4% Merlot
  • 2015 Harvest dates: 22nd September (Merlot), 5th to 8th October (Sangiovese)
  • Yeasts: Ambient yeasts
  • Fermentation time: 25 days (varieties fermented separately)
  • Malolactic fermentation: Yes, in stainless steel tanks
  • Maturation: After blending, in second-use tight-grained oak casks
  • Bottled: January 2017

This is a smooth, quite powerful and spicy wine which is recognisably Sangiovesi and recognisably Chianti but is quite self-assured.  To have these results from such young vines is a testament to the plan of using new clones, the potential of the site and very accomplished wine-making.  After being disappointed too often this has renewed my love of Chianti!

 

Single Bottle Review

Terrazes Malbec for World Malbec Day [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #21]

There seems to be a wine-related celebration of some sort on virtually every day of the year, but World Malbec Day is definitely one of the most keenly observed by wine aficionados.  Started in 2011 by Wines of Argentina to celebrate the country’s signature grape variety, it has grown each year (always on the 17th of April); last year there were 120 events held in 100 cities across 60 countries.

Terrazas de los Andes was founded as recently as 1996, but there is a long history of  Europeans – especially French and Italians – heading to South America and taking their grape-growing and winemaking expertise with them – and of course their home varieties.  Terrazas is a part of well-known drinks group Moët-Hennessy so remains in French hands, and doing well – it was  the winner of the Argentine Wine Producer of the Year 2018 Trophy at the International Wine & Spirit Competition.

Disclosure: sample provided for review, opinions remain my own

Terrazas de los Andes Malbec 2017 (14.0%, RRP €25.70 at independent wine merchants)

Terrazes Malbec 2017 Bottle

There are two important facts about the vines from which this wine was produced:

  1. High Altitude Vineyards – which is important enough to be stated on the front label just below the grape.  There is something of an “arms race” in Argentina to have the highest vineyards.  The Mendoza vineyards are just over a kilometre above sea level!
  2. Old Vines – the age of the plots varies between 20 and 80 years old, giving some concentration to the flavours.

Most Argentinian Malbecs are big, bold, fruity wines that pack an unmistakable punch.  This is no lightweight, but the high altitude has definitely given it some elegance and a (relative) lightness to go with the power.  Plums dominate the palate, with blackberry and vanilla from ageing in French (80%) and American (20%) oak.  There are some fine grained tannins on the finish which give a nice savoury edge.  This would actually be better with the ubiquitous steak than many cheaper commercial style Malbecs, and so it’s definitely worth your consideration – whatever you might be eating on the 17th of Aprl!

Single Bottle Review

Never had Navarra? [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #20]

The Navarra Denominación de Origen (DO) is often overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbour Rioja; after all, the latter does extend into the Autonomous Community of Navarre, leaving the southern part for the Navarra DO.  Rosé – well, Rosado more properly – was the style which Navarra became most well known for, but increasingly its reds are gaining in prominence and recognition.

Bodegas Ochoa is currently in the hands of the fifth (Javier Ochoa) and sixth generations (his daughters Adriana and Beatriz), with each generation improving both the quality and diversity of the range.  When I tried the Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva four years ago I was very impressed.  When I recently got the opportunity to try the current release of the Reserva I didn’t have to be asked twice!

Disclosure: sample was kindly provided, opinions remain my own

Ochoa Navarra Tinto Reserva 2010 (13.5%, RRP €20 at Hole in the Wall, Cabra; O’Donovan’s, Cork; Morton’s Ranelagh)

Ochoa reserva

The blend here is very typical of Navarra: Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Maturation is between 15 to 18 months in French and American barriques (225 litre oak barrels) then a further five or so years in bottle before release.

The result is a wine which is simply bursting with ripe fruit!  Even though this wine is eight years old, tasting it is like munching on fresh blackcurrants and blueberries, with a touch of vanilla.  It’s not a jammy fruit bomb, though – it’s very smooth and elegant but complex at the same time.

If you’ve never had Navarra before, this sets the bar very high indeed!

 

Single Bottle Review

The Only Way Is Up! [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #19]

In the search for cooler sites, particularly in these days of noticeable climate change, vignerons have a number of options open to them:

  • Head north: more northerly climates tend to be cooler (note the Champenois taking a keen interest in southern England).
  • The north face: vineyards with a northerly aspect receive less sun than those facing south, making them a little cooler.
  • To the coast: large bodies of water – such as oceans, seas and even lakes – moderate land temperatures – even more so if they help generate a bit of fog.
  • Where the wind blows: even if not that close to the coast, having regular strong winds helps to keep the temperature down, for example in the northern Rhône

Of course, the first two points are reversed for the southern hemisphere!

El Coto 875m Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2017 (12.0%, RRP €18.99 at Vintry Rathgar, DrinkStore Stoneybatter, McHughs Malahide Rd & Kilbarrack Rd, O’Donovans Cork, World Wide Wines Waterford, Sweeney’s, Gibney’s Malahide & Deveneys Dundrum)

Global Image Projects S.L.

In Rioja, the four options above aren’t readily available, so for its new plantings of Chardonnay, major producer El Coto followed a different path: the only way is up (the mountain)!  As highlighted on the label, the vineyard is at 875 metres, the highest point in the whole of Rioja.  The altitude promotes acidity and minerality, while the longer growing season allows some light tropical notes to show through.  The barrels used for fermentation are not toasted (steam is used to bend them into shape instead of a fire) so the oak notes are not overly prominent, with just a touch of vanilla added to the citrus.

This is no Meursault wannabe, it’s far more subtle than that.  Keeping with the Burgundy parallels, I’d say a closer description would be Chablis 1er Cru from a warm vintage – a great effort indeed for a new variety in Rioja!

Rioja

And for those who may remember it, here’s the track I referenced in the article title:

Single Bottle Review

Giorgia on my Mind [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #18]

Giorgia

There’s so much dull Prosecco made that it could probably have its own lake in north east Italy, but a little searching can bring great rewards in terms of both outright quality and interest.  On one hand there are some fantastic Col Fondo Proseccos which are aligned with the natural wine movement and low intervention.  There are also some quality conscious producers – particularly in the DOCG areas of Conegliano, Valdobbiadene and Asolo – who strive for more interesting wines through planting on hillsides, harvesting at low yields and controlling quality.

One of Valdobbiadene’s innovators, Ca’ Salina, has chosen another route for one of its wines, using technology as a way to produce a cleaner wine:

Disclosure: sample provided for review, opinions my own

Ca’ Salina Giorgia Vino Spumante Brut 2016 (11.5%, RRP £17.99 from Just Perfect Wines)

Giorgia Brut

Ca’ Salina are located in the heart of the Valdobbiadene DOCG area and have an excellent reputation for quality.  However, this offering does not carry the DOCG label – or even the lesser DOC tag – due to innovative methods used in the production process.

The “Flotation Method” is designed to remove from the juice anything which isn’t directly from the grapes – yeast, bacteria, other fungi and anything else coming in from the vineyard.  Air is mixed into the must using a centrifuge pump which creates billions of tiny bubbles.  Their electrostatic charge attracts the impurities and so the bubbles and detritus all rise to the top as a dark foam over a perfectly clear juice.  This process takes a few hours, after which the foam is removed and selected yeasts are added to begin the second fermentation.

The purity of the must means that for this wine no sulphur is added at any part of the process.  Of course naturally occuring sulphites are still present, as in all wine, but at the very low level of 10 mg/L compared to the legal limit of 210 mg/L.  The dosage is on the light side at 8 g/L, making this a Brut.

And the most important part – the taste!  Firstly, this is unmistakably a sparkling wine from north east Italy, no matter whether it has the DOCG label or not.  Made from 100% Glera (the grape formerly known as Prosecco) is has lovely citrus and pear notes, with just a touch of biscuit and brioche.  The modest dosage allows the refined fruit to come through without being swamped in sugar and leaves a crisp finish.  This is better than pretty much all Prosecco you will find in a supermarket.

I don’t know if this new technique will catch on, but in the hands of a good producer such as Ca’ Salina it can make a very good wine!