Category: Tasting Events

The Fifth Element – Part 1

Quintessential Wines are are specialist wine importers, distributors and retailers based in Drogheda, just north of Dublin, and with an online store.  Here are a few of their wines which really took my fancy at their portfolio tasting in April:

Doran Vineyards Paarl Arya 2015 (13.0%, RRP €18.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

Doran Vineyards Arya

Doran Vineyards is the baby of Irish born Edwin Doran, partnered by South African winemaking legend André (“Adi”) Badenhorst.  “Baby” is actually quite apt as the winery was redeveloped as recently as 2012.

This wine is quite an unusual blend, one that could only really be from South Africa: 57% Chenin Blanc, 22% Grenache Blanc and 21% Roussanne.  The nose has citrus, herbs and floral notes; the wine is soft and supple in the mouth with fresh apple, stone fruit, citrus and a hint of nuts.  This blend is lovely to drink on its own but is also very food friendly.

Clos Cazalet Tursan Carpe Diem 2015 (12.5%, RRP €16.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

carpe-diem-clos-cazalet-blanc-sec 2

Tursan is one of the lesser known appellations of south west France, spanning the border between the new regions of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitanie.  It also has a lesser known grape at the heart of its white wines – the delightfully named Baroque which must be between 30% and 90% of the blend.  The balance is made up by a combination of Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc.  Reds are based on Tannat (40% maximum), Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Clos Cazalet is one of the few independent producers in Tursan.  Their Carpe Diem comprises 60% Gros Manseng, 30% Baroque and 10% Petit Manseng.  This blend gives a full “here comes the Lilt man” tropical experience – pineapple, peach, pear and grapefruit.  it’s soft and round in the mouth,  a perfect summer drink!

Mas des Agrunelles Barbaste 2016 (13.0%, RRP €22.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

barbaste-2015

We’re on a go-slow here – well a go-sloe to be exact, as Agrunelles are sloes which are common round this area.  And what an area – a part of the Languedoc traditionally not used for viticulture given the cool micro-climate, and instead given over to sheep grazing and charcoal production.

The Domaine was set up by Frédéric Porro of Domaine La Marèle and Stéphanie Ponson of Mas Nicot as the antithesis of bulk cooperative grape production – each small plot is harvested and vinified separately so production is spread over a large number of different wines, though volumes of each are small.  It is also worthy of note that Mas des Agrunelles is both organic and biodynamic.

Barbaste is a blend of Chardonnay, Roussanne and Marsanne; it’s a thing of beauty, tangy yet soft (some oxidative softening, perhaps?) with spicy pear and fennel flavours.  Very moreish!

Mas des Agrunelles Camp de Lèbre 2015 (12.5%, RRP €27.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

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Another wine from Mas des Agrunelles…whereas Barbaste means “white frost” in Occitan (the local language), Camp de Lèbre means “Field of hares”, as the local varmints help themselves to the tasty wine buds in spring.  This is a varietal wine, being 100% Carignan Blanc planted on clay and limestone.

The first line of my tasting notes was: “What the hell is that?  it’s Magnificent!”  There’s lots of texture and roundness in the mouth (possibly from some time in oak?).  Aniseed and herbs partner soft pip and stone fruit – deliciously tangy!

 

Selection from Febvre – Part 2

Selection from Febvre – Part 2

After an all white Part 1, here are more of my favourite wines from Febvre’s recent portfolio tasting – fizz, sweet, rosé and red:

Champagne Deutz Brut Classique NV (12.0%, RRP €55.00 at On The Grapevine, Dalkey; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Wine Online)

Deutz

Classique is very apt in the case of this Champagne as it is a blend of equal parts of the 3 classic Champagne grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.  I narrowly preferred it to Taittinger’s equivalent NV Brut as it seemed slightly more lifted and elegant.  It has a fine mousse when poured then citrus on the attack (from Chardonnay) and red fruit on the mid palate (from the Pinots).  There’s a lovely creamy leesiness to the body and a crisp, precise finish.  For a few quid more this is waaay better than some more famous marques!

Champagne Taittinger Nocturne City Lights Sec NV (12.0%, RRP €58.00 at On The Grapevine, Dalkey; Higgins, Clonskeagh)

Nocturne

The blend for this cuvée is 40% Chardonnay then 30% each of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – but it’s the dosage which marks it out as different from the Deutz above. Whereas Brut Champagne often has around 10g/L of residual sugar, this Sec has almost twice that at 17.5g/L; the next step up is Demi-sec which is around double that of a Sec. The apparent sweetness of the Nocturne is off-dry; there’s still some crispness and the sugar adds fruitiness and smoothness rather than sugariness.  It’s a wine you can drink all night long!

Francois Lurton Les Fumees Blanches Rose Gris de Sauvignon 2016 (12.5%, RRP €24.99 at The Grape Vine, Ballymun; Leopardstown Inn Off Licence; 1601, Kinsale)

Fumee

No my account hasn’t been hacked and your eyes aren’t deceiving you, this really is a rosé recommendation from yours truly.  “But how can a Sauvignon make rosé?” I hear you ask – well it all depends on which Sauvignon is used – and this is a blend of both the familiar Sauvignon Blanc and its less well known sibling Sauvignon Gris.  The colour comes from the skins of the latter which are grey~pink, but as they are paler than black grapes usually used to make rosé then they need more maceration time.  The grapes are sourced from four different wine regions of France and blended to make a complex, delicious wine.  It has lovely soft and inviting strawberry flavours, but with a slight edge to stop it being flabby.

Delas Freres Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise 2015 (15.0%, RRP €15.95 (half bottle) at On The Grapevine, Dalkey)

Muscat

This is a fortified sweet wine which has been made in the southern Rhône for two thousand years!  It is classed as a Vin Doux Naturel, literally a “Natural Sweet Wine”, meaning that its sweetness all comes from the original grapes.  95º grape spirit is added part way through fermentation, killing the yeast and leaving plenty of residual sugar.  Of the hundreds of different Muscats (and Moscatos, Moscatels, Muskatellers etc.) only two can be used:  Muscat blanc à petits grains and Muscat rouge à petits grains, both of which (obviously if you speak French) have small berries, and thus have more intense flavour.

De Bortoli Deen de Bortoli Vat 5 Botrytis Semillion 2009 (11.0%, RRP €13.75 (half bottle) at Wine Online)

Vat 5

De Bortoli’s Noble One stands as one of the best sweet wines in the world, so I was interested to try its “baby brother” named after the second generation of the family (and first to be born in Australia) Deen De Bortoli.  It pours a lovely golden colour and has the distinctive honey and mushroom botrytis notes on the nose.  On the palate it has an amazing intensity of flavour – honey and stone fruit with a touch of caramel and ginger.  It’s rich and sweet but not cloying, with a fantastic long finish.

Finca del Marquesado Rioja Crianza 2014 (13.5%, RRP €14.95 (though currently in restaurants only))

Marquesado

Whereas many Bodegas in Rioja source grapes and even wines from a multitude of growers, this wine from respected producer Bodegas Valdemar is made on a single Finca, or farm.  After several years of planning and preparation, the vines were planted in 1984 in a fairly classic proportions:  70% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha and 5% Graciano. Being a Crianza means it has spent at two years or more maturing, at least a year of which must be in oak barrels – I would guess closer to 18 months in oak from the nose…it smells like a Médoc chai to me! (which is a good thing by the way).  It’s still on the young side but has intense red and black fruit flavours with smoky oak notes.

Selection from Febvre – Part 1

Selection from Febvre – Part 1

Wine importer Febvre has operated in Ireland for over 50 years, representing some big brands and others not as well known.  Here is a selection of the wines I enjoyed at their recent tasting event:

Frères Laffitte Le Petit Gascoûn Blanc 2016 (11.5%, RRP €13.50 at Malthouse, Trim; Grapevine, Ballymun; Ennis Gourmet Store)

petit-gascoun-blanc

If the image on the bottle doesn’t give away its origin, then the name of the wine certainly does – Le Petit Gascoûn comes from Gascony in South West France.  The white is a blend of Colombard and Ugni Blanc – the latter rarely seen in a table wine in France, though it’s a mainstay of Armagnac and Cognac.  It’s a highly aromatic wine with peach, pineapple and lychees on the nose, with those notes continuing on the palate, rounded off by a fresh, crisp finish.  Fantastic value for money.

Herdade de Esporão Monte Velho Alentejo Branco 2015 (13.5%, RRP €13.95 at On the Grapevine, Dalkey; 1601, Kinsale)

Monte Velho

As with many Portuguese wines, unless you’re very familiar with the country’s wines you might not have heard of the constituent grapes of this wine: Antão Vaz, Roupeiro and Perrum.  I assure you that they are genuine grape names and not just a lot of randomly assembled letters!  (Plus, Perrum is the Portuguese name for Andalusia’s Pedro Ximénez.)  There’s lots of texture and flavour here, stone fruits with a herbal edge.  It’s pleasant drinking on its own, but I’d imagine wonderful with tarragon chicken.

Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé 2015 (13.0%, RRP €29.95 at Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown; Jus de Vin, Portmarnock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St)

tracy PF

On the opposite site of the Loire from Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé isn’t quite as famous and is only around half the size.  For me, the wines of Pouilly-Fumé are more consistent, however, possibly due to fewer négotiants trading on the reputation of the appellation rather than the quality of their wine.  Château de Tracy is a serious contender for best producer on the right bank, and this wine shows why: supple, concentrated fruit with no hard edges, full of fresh grapefruit and gooseberry.  Just delicious!

Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Riesling 2014 (12.5%, RRP €19.95 at On the Grapevine, Dalkey; Lilac Wines, Fairview)

Lawsons

Tucked out of the way just south east of Blenheim, Lawson’s Dry Hills is one of Marlborough’s relatively unheralded family wineries, but produces some excellent wines – I’m still holding on to my last few bottles of their 2008 Chardonnay which is stunning. Their Riesling has been a firm favourite of mine for at least a decade.  This 2014 is developing nicely and, while still showing primary lime, lemon and elderflower notes, is also starting to give some lovely petrol aromas.  Just off-dry with 8.2g/L of residual sugar, it’s a lovely summer tipple on its own or with plenty of different recipes.

d’Arenberg the Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2015 (13.1%, RRP €16.95 at O’Briens Wines; Gerrys, Skerries; SuperValu; Egans, Portlaoise; Bradleys, Cork)

Hermit Crab

d’Arenberg are one of the few McLaren Vale producers who use traditional basket presses and other traditional techniques for gentler handling of the fruit and therefore better wine.  The Hermit Crab is from their “Originals” range and is a blend of two white Rhône grapes;  58% Viognier and 42% Marsanne for the 2015 vintage.  While the Viognier is the senior partner in the blend, it doesn’t dominate the wine with overblown floweriness and oiliness (though some might like that) due to the cool fermentation process which reins in those aspects.  It has tangy peach and apricot with subtle nuts, herbs and spice.  Well worth a try if you fancy something different!

Jordan Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.50 at Martins, Fairview & Londis, Malahide)

Jordan

Somewhat confusingly there are two prominent Jordans – Jordan Wine Estate of Stellenbosch (South Africa) and Jordan Vineyard & Winery of Alexander Valley (California).  This is most definitely the former, run by husband and wife team Gary and Kathy Jordan since 1993.  They also produce an unoaked Chardonnay which is nice, but this is the real McCoy, the full Monty, the..[ok I’ll stop there] of which 92% is fermented in Burgundian 228L pièces (the remainder tank fermented).  The wine was also matured for nine months in a mixture of barrels (45% new, 30% second-fill and 25% third-fill) for texture as well as flavour.  It’s not over the top, but it is fairly oaky – and I love it!  there’s plenty of buttered toast from the the oak but also pineapple and racy citrus flavours – a well balanced wine!

So You Think You Know Burgundy?

So You Think You Know Burgundy?

Well let me be the first to put my hand up and say that I don’t know Burgundy – though I’m trying!  Given the sizeable tomes that are published seemingly every year, Burgundy is a complicated wine area that gets a lot of attention – it certainly takes up the most space in on my book shelves.

Though fairly simple in terms of grape varieties – as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir make up the vast proportion of plantings – Burgundy is a complex wine region in terms of appellations – there were 83 at the last count*. In an attempt to simplify the story for the average wine drinker, Burgundy is often broken down into the main sub-regions – see Phil My Glass’s Beginners’ Guide to Burgundy article.

Some commentators focus on the most celebrated Burgundy wines – those from the Côte d’Or – and pass over Chablis, the Côte Chalonnaise and the Maconnais. Of course the elephant in the room is Beaujolais and its Gamay reds, which are part of Burgundy according to some criteria, but are usually considered distinct from the rest.

Here are some wines from less-celebrated appellations within Burgundy – mostly generously donated by Nomad Wine Importers apart from the Saint-Bris which was kindly brought direct from the vineyard by Tony & Liz of DNS Wineclub.

Basse-Bourgogne (Yonne)

Most wine drinkers have, of course, heard of Chablis, but far less well known is the larger area within which Chablis is situated – the Basse-Bourgogne. There are some reds up here – Irancy is an AOC producing light, delicate Pinot Noir (try M&S’s Irancy as an example of the style) – but white grapes are the majority, and apart from a few rows of Sacy that means Chardonnay and Sauvignon!

In 1850 there were 40,000 hectares of vineyards compared with around 7,500 in 2015 – there’s lots more potential in the area!

2000px-Vignobles_chablis-fr.svg
Credit: DalGobboM

Domaine Goisot Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre 2015 (13.0%, RRP €22 from: Blackrock Cellar)

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Auxerre is the largest town in the Yonne, with Chablis very close.  Grapes from the hills around Auxerre qualify for their own appellation, which still (helpfully) has Bourgogne at the beginning for easier recognition by more casual drinkers.  As with Chablis, the wines are 100% Chardonnay.

Based in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, Guilhem (son) and Jean-Hugues (father) Boisot are known as the “Popes of Saint-Bris” for their outstanding local wines.  They are certified organic and biodynamic, believing that high quality wines are only possible with meticulous care in the vineyard.

This Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre is flinty, smoky and fresh – it would stand up against pretty much any AOC Chablis I have tasted.

Domaine Sorin DeFrance Saint-Bris Sauvignon 2014 (12.0%, bought at winery)

Sorin DeFrance

After promotion up from VDQS status in 2003, this is the only Sauvignon (Blanc and Gris) based AOC / AOP within Burgundy, based around the town of Saint-Bris-le-Vineaux.

Domaine Sorin DeFrance is the result of the marriage of Henry Sorin and Madeleine DeFrance, though the Sorin family have been making wine since 1577.  Their Saint-Bris is 100% Sauvignon – I presume Sauvignon Blanc, though you never know.  It is far more expressive than many French Sauvignons, showing notes of grass, nettles, elderflower, lychees and garden mint.

Domaine Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté 2014 (12.5%, RRP €20 from: Blackrock Cellar, Jus de Vine, Lilac Wines, Redmonds and Mortons)

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Although a traditional grape of Burgundy, as it has long been considered second class to Chardonnay, Aligoté was relegated to inferior sites (just like Barbera in Piedmont and Sylvaner in Alsace), and became something of a bulk wine where yields were more important than quality.  Acidity was so fierce in those wines that local crème de cassis was often added to tame it, and thus the kir cocktail was invented.

The search for something new (even if old) and authenticity has reawakened interest in Aligoté – especially when they are simply superb wines such as this one from Domaine Goisot.  Although Bourgogne Aligoté can be made all over Burgundy, Goisot’s vines are in the Yonne.  It has floral aromas and spicy pear flavours, all delivered with refreshing – but not austere – acidity.

Côte d’Or – Côte de Beaune

A simple rule of thumb is that many of the best red Burgundies come from the Côte de Nuits and the best whites are often found in the Côte de Beaune.  Together they make up the Côte d’Or and have all but one of Burgundy’s Grand Cru AOCs.  But to the west of the posh addresses of Beaune and on the top of the the main Côte d’Or escarpment is the appellation Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune.

Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune La Justice 2014 (12.5%, €21 at Redmonds, Donnybrook Fair)

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The Billards (not Billiards!) are based in Rochepot close to Beaune and have 17 hectares spread over 12 different appellations, both red and white.  This wine is from the lieu-dit (or named vineyard) La Justice and is both fermented and matured in oak barrels, though the latter is mainly older oak.  It is very approachable and drinkable now but has the structure and texture to develop over the coming five to ten years. 

Beaujolais Blanc

The Beaujolais wine area was legally attached to the Burgundy wine area though a civil case in 1930, reinforced by the decree in 1937 which created the Burgundy AOC.  While arguments for an against continue, I’ll just concentrate on the wine – in particular the rare whites.  Chardonnay is the principal white variety with small amounts of Aligoté, Melon (de Bourgogne, the Muscadet grape) and Pinot Gris also planted.

Domaine des Nugues Beaujolais-Villages Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP €18 at Blackrock Cellar, Jus de Vine, Martin’s Off licence)

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In the northern marches of Beaujolais there has always been some overlap with the most southerly villages of the Maconnais, the most southerly region of Burgundy “proper”, but this is bona fide real-deal Beaujolais-Villages Blanc.  Of course the -Villages part means that it is above standard Beaujolais but not made in one of the Cru communes.

Gérard Gelin took over the domaine from his father in 1976, and now runs it as a joint venture with his son Gilles.  They have 36 ha in total of which over 20 is in Beaujolais-Villages.

This wine is 100% Chardonnay from young vines, with some lees ageing to add character and texture.  It’s quite floral on the nose then mainly citrus on the palate.

 

* excluding Beaujolais!

10 Top Reds from O’Briens

Ranging from €14 to €49, here are some of my favourite reds from the recent O’Briens Wine Fair:

Viña Chocálan Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (14.5%, €13.95 at O’Briens)

Cab Sauv

Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is usually pretty good, even when inexpensive, as Chile has enough sunshine to fully ripen the fruit but the temperatures aren’t so high that it becomes jammy and unbalanced.  This is full of juicy blackcurrant but also has a little bit of cedar wood and graphite which adds interest.

Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza 2013 (14.0%, €17.95 down to €15.95 for May at O’Briens)

Sierra-Cantabria-Rioja-Crianza

Particularly at Crianza level, Rioja is known for red fruit flavours (strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant, red cherry) with a good helping of vanilla from American oak.  Sierra Cantabria doesn’t follow this plan at all – it’s all about black fruit and intensity of flavour, much more akin to a good Ribera del Duero than most Riojas.  Why not try it back to back with the Reserva?

Urlar Gladstone Pinot Noir 2014 (14.5%, €23.95 at O’Briens)

Urlar-Pinot-Noir_1

At the bottom of New Zealand’s North Island is the Wairarapa wine region (not to be confused with Waipara near Christchurch).  The oldest part is probably Martinborough (not to be confused with Marlborough at the top of the South Island) but there are other notable areas within the Wairarapa such as Gladstone.  Urlar (from the Gaelic for “Earth”) is an organic and practicing biodynamic producer which makes fantastic Pinot Noir.  While full of fruit it has a savoury, umami edge, and will undoubtedly continue to develop complexity over the coming years.

Viña Chocálan Vitrum Blend 2013 (14.5%, €24.95 down to €22.95 for May at O’Briens)

Vitrium Blend

Sitting just below their icon wine Alexia, Vitrum is Chocalan’s premium range, so named as the owners Toro family have been in the glass bottle making business for over 80 years.  As stated it this wine is a blend, and the grapes aren’t named on the front label as there are so many of them! (for reference the 2013 is: 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Syrah, 8% Cabernet Franc, 8% Malbec, 4% Carmenère, 2% Petit Verdot).  All these different varieties make for an interesting wine – quite full bodied and with considerable structure, but balanced and drinkable.

Domaine Olivier Santenay Temps des C(e)rises 2014 (13.0%, €28.95 down to €23.16 for May at O’Briens)

Domaine-Olivier-Sant-Temps-des-Crises_1

If you don’t speak French then you’d be forgiven for missing the jeu de mot in the name of this wine: temps des crises is the time of crises and temps des cerises is the time of cherries – and also the name of a famous French revolutionary song.  Anyway, on to the wine itself: this is a mid weight Pinot Noir from Santenay in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune.  It has delightful red currant and red cherry with a touch of smokiness from barrel ageing.  It’s a food friendly wine which could also be drunk on its own.  While ready to drink now I would (try to!) keep this for a few more years before drinking.  Great Burgundy for the €€!

Château Fourcas Hosten Listrac-Médoc 2009 (13.0%, €29.95 down to €23.95 for May at O’Briens)

Ch_teau-Fourcas-Hosten-2009_1

Listrac is one of the two villages (with Moulis) in Bordeaux’s Médoc peninsula outside of the famous four that have their name on an appellation, but is rarely seen in Ireland. Château Fourcas Hosten was bought by the family behind the Hermès luxury goods group around a decade ago and they have invested significantly in quality since then.  As 2009 was an excellent vintage in Bordeaux this is a fairly ripe and accessible wine.

Unusually for a warm vintage it has quite a bias towards Merlot (65%) versus Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), even though they make up 45% each of the vineyard area (and Cabernet Franc being the final 10%).  This wine shows fresh and dried black fruit with some pencil shavings and tobacco – classy, accessible Bordeaux!

Cambria “Julia’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2012 (13.5%, €29.95 at O’Briens)

Cambria-Julias-Vineyard-P-Noir

The spotlight on US Pinot Noir mainly falls on Oregon and its Willamette Valley, but California shouldn’t be ignored – especially Santa Barbara County, which was of course the setting for Sideways.  The cool climate here, especially in Santa Mary Valley, helps Pinot Noir develop fully, keeping acidity and light to medium tannins to frame the fresh red fruit.   One of my favourite American Pinots!

Man O’War Waiheke Island Ironclad 2012 (14.5%, €34.45 at O’Briens)

Man-O_War-Ironclad-Bordeaux

I’m a big fan of Man O’War’s premium range, all nautically named and great examples of their type (I’m just gutted that demand for their Julia sparkling wine at their winery restaurant means that it won’t be exported anymore).  Ironclad is the Bordeaux blend; the blend changes from year to year depending on how each variety fared, with any fruit that doesn’t make the grade being declassified into the next tier down.

The current release is the 2012 which is 45% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, 13% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon – only Carménère misses out from Bordeaux’s black grapes, and hardly anyone grows that in Bordeaux nowadays anyway. It’s full of ripe blackberry, blackcurrant and blueberry fruit with some graphite.  It would pair well with red meat, but being a bit riper in style than most Bordeaux means it drinks well on its own.

Frank Phélan 2012 (13.0%, €34.95 down to €27.95 for May at O’Briens)

Frank-Phelan

Back to Bordeaux proper again with the second wine of Château Phélan Ségur, named after the son of the original Irish founder Bernard Phelan.  As a second wine it mainly uses younger fruit than the Grand Vin, a shorter time in barrel and a higher proportion of Merlot (this is 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon).  All these lead to it being a more supple wine, and more approachable in its youth.  For me this was quite similar to the Fourcas Hosten – dark black fruit in particular – but younger and with a little more tannin and graphite notes.  Steak anyone?

Torbreck The Struie 2014 (14.5%, €49.00 down to €42 for May at O’Briens)

Torbreck-Struie

It’s fair to say that Barossa Shiraz is one of Australia’s most well-recognised wine styles, but there are actually significant differences within the Barossa.  The most notable difference is that there are actually two distinct valleys – the Barossa Valley itself and the Eden Valley which is at a higher altitude and hence has a cooler climate (there’s some great Riesling grown in the latter but very little in the former!)

The Struie is a blend of fruit from both valleys: 77% Barossa (for power and richness) and 23% Eden (for acidity and elegance), all aged in a mix of old and new French oak barrels.  There’s intense blackberry and plum fruit with a twist of spice.

This is a fairly monumental wine which actually deserves a bit more time before drinking, so buy a few and lay them down…but if you can’t wait, decant!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life After Malbec

As most people know, Malbec is the signature grape of Argentina.  It’s become the classic match for steak and anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s one of the few red wines that casual wine-drinking blokes are prepared to pay a little more for.

But as so often is the case, when a signature grape becomes almost synonymous with a country, other varieties are unfairly overlooked.  Here are a few examples of Life After Malbec:

Callia “Alta” Pinot Grigio 2016 (13.5%, RRP 12.99 at Fresh Stores; McHuhes; D-Six Harolds Cross; DrinkStore.ie; Donnybrook Fair)

Pinot Grigio

Regular readers may be quite flabbergasted by the inclusion of a Pinot Grigio, and it’s true that I rarely like wines labelled as such, but for me this wine is leagues ahead of the cheap “chick water” that flows out of Italy.  Compared to Alsatian Pinot Gris it does exhibit some of the varietal characteristics such as stone fruit and spiciness (particularly ginger) and has decent acidity, but it isn’t at all oily (which I like but isn’t for everyone). Just so nice to drink!

Amalaya Torrontés / Riesling 2016 (13.0%, RRP €16.99 at Martin’s Off Licence; Red Island Wine Company; Red Nose Wine; World Wide Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Sweeney’s)
Amalaya

Apart from a few exceptions I rarely enjoy varietal Torrontés as I find it a bit too full on – too perfumed, too flowery, and in all honesty better suited as air freshener rather than wine.  The Hess Family have a solution with their Torrontés / Riesling blend – 85% of the former is freshened by 15% of the latter, and it really is more than the sum of its parts. This is one of my go-to Argentinian white wines.

Domaine Bousquet Chardonnay Grande Reserve 2014 (13.5%, RRP €23.99 at Searson’s)

Bousquet Chardonnay

The Bousquets are a southern French wine-making family, now into the fourth generation of vignerons.  They began looking into vineyard sites in Argentina in 1990 and took the plunge with a purchase in 1997.  This is a fairly full on Chardonnay with eight to twelve months maturation in French oak, depending on the vintage.  I found the 2014 still a little young so would benefit from being decanted; when I tasted the 2011 in 2016 it was already well-integrated.  This level of quality costs much more in other countries!

Alta Vista Premium Bonarda 2012 (15.0%, €20.00 at Mitchell & Son)

Bonarda

Italian wine fans might be saying “Oh, Bonarda in Argentina? Makes sense with all the Italian migration to Argentina in the past”, and they’d be partially right – this isn’t the same grape as the Bonarda of Piedmont, but has been found to be the same as Deuce Noir which originated in the (formerly Italian, now French) region of Savoie.  This is a fairly big wine (15% abv!) with lots of red and black fruit but enough acidity to keep it fresh.

Bodegas Salentein Portillo Pinot Noir 2014 (14.3%, €12.99 at Wines On The Green; Baggot Street Wines; Clontarf Wines; Fresh, Stepaside; McCabes, Blackrock)

portillo-PinotNoir

Although widely planted in Chile, Pinot Noir is not that common in Argentina; it’s a finicky grape that needs fairly cool growing conditions and much of Argentina is just too warm.  Bodegas Salentein make several Pinots at different price points, and this is the entry level from their Portillo range.  Despite the low price tag this is proper Pinot Noir – it’s amazingly drinkable for the price.

Callia “Magna” Shiraz 2014 (14.5%, RRP €18.99 at Redmonds Ranelagh; Vintry Rathgar; World Wide Wines Waterford; Bradley’s Cork; Sweeney’s; McHughes)

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Callia’s “Magna” range sits above their “Alta” (see Pinot Grigio above) and “Selected” ranges.  All of Callia’s wines come from their home San Juan province, but for Magna wines the grapes come from specific sub-regions – in the case of the Shiraz (also labelled as Syrah in some markets) this is the Tulum Valley (don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either).  This Shiraz is round and full bodied with lots of delicious black fruit, but also some black olive / tapenade notes.

Top 10 White Wine Bargains from O’Briens

After another successful O’Briens Wine Fair, I find myself with the usual predicament of too many good wines to recommend.  I have therefore picked my 10 favourite whites listed at €15.00 or under – before any promotional offers.

Examining the list shows that:

  • Several varieties are repeated: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Colombard and (unoaked) Chardonnay
  • Several places are repeated: Chile, the Loire and Gascony

From which you could draw certain conclusions:

  • Obviously, there’s a link between variety and place!
  • Certain varieties are better for making good yet inexpensive wines
  • Oak is a significant cost so is seldom used for the least expensive wines

Here are the ten wines:

Domaine Duffour Côtes de Gascogne 2016 (12.0%, €11.45 or 2 for €20 during summer at O’Briens)

Duffour

From the land of d’Artagnan (and Dogtanian as well, for all I know) come probably the best value white wines of France – Côtes de Gascogne of south west France.  Nicolas Duffour is a big fan of local star Colombard which gives ripe melon flavours; Ugni Blanc (more commonly distilled into Cognac or Armagnac) adds freshness while Gros Manseng (well-established in Jurançon) gives complexity.  Summer in a glass!

Viña Chocálan Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.5%, €13.95 at O’Briens)

chocalan

This wine is so grassy that you might wonder if you have face-planted into a pile of mown grass.  It’s fresh and linear, with a juicy citrus finish.  Tasted blind I would probably have guessed it hailed from the Loire Valley, perhaps a Touraine, but this is actually from a family run winery in Chile’s Maipo Valley.

Famille Bougrier Les Hauts Lieux Chenin Blanc 2015 (12.0%, €13.95 down to €10.95 for May at O’Briens)

Bougrier-Chenin-Blanc

The Bougrier Family make several Loire wines (their Sauvignon Blanc was just 45 cents too much to make it into this article) labelled as Vin de France, giving them flexibility over grape sourcing and varietal labelling.  I found the Chenin just off dry, emphasizing the ripe stone and pip fruit, with the acidity keeping it fresh.  So drinkable!

Viña Leyda Chardonnay Reserva 2014 (14.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)

Leyda-Chardonnay-Reserva

This Chardonnay is unoaked but is not a lean-Chablis like wine (the 14.0% alcohol might have been a clue).   Viña Leyda are based in the Leyda Valley (no surprise there) and so are close enough to benefit from cooling coastal breezes – these help extend the growing season and help to increase intensity of flavour while maintaining aromatics.  This is a great example of ripe but unoaked Chardonnay, full of tropical fruits and citrus.

Domaine Langlois-Château Saumur Blanc 2014 (12.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)

Domaine-Langlois-Chateau-Saumur-Blanc

The Maison des Vins de Saumur is one of my favourite places to taste wine in France – it has close to a hundred wines of all types from the Anjou-Saumur sub-region of the Loire. The white wine of Saumur itself are unfairly overlooked in favour of Vouvray and other appellations for white and Saumur’s own reds and rosés.  Of course this is Chenin Blanc and its perfect balance of acidity and fruit sweetness makes it a great drink to sip on a nice sunny day.

Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (13.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)

Los-Vascos-Sauvignon-Blanc_1

Los Vascos is a project of the Lafite branch of the Rothschild family, sourcing wines from both Argentina and Chile.  This Chilean Sauvignon is very racy and less exuberantly aromatic compared to many – it’s probably closer to a Touraine Sauvignon or even a Chablis than most Savvies (Marlborough it ain’t!) Appealing mineral notes would make it a great accompaniment for oysters or other shellfish.

Hijos de Alberto Gutiérrez Monasterio de Palazuelos Rueda Verdejo 2016 (13.0%, €13.95 down to €10.95 for May at O’Briens)

rueda

Rueda and its Verdejo is often overlooked in favour of Albariño and Godello from north west Spain.  And that’s ok with me as Rueda wines are consistently good quality and good value for money.  This one has lovely melon and citrus notes, so soft and approachable that you will be pouring a second glass quickly!

Boatshed Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.0%, €14.95 down to €11.95 for May at O’Briens)

Boat-Shed-Sauvignon-Blanc

Different Sauvignons from Marlborough offer flavours from a wide spectrum, but often concentrating on one part of it.  This seems to have nearly all of them!  There’s tropical and green fruit such as passionfruit, grapefruit, gooseberry and pineapple, but also green pepper and asparagus notes.  Compared to – say – the Los Vascos Sauvignon, it’s probably the other end of the spectrum – a wine great for quaffing on its own.

Producteurs Plaimont Labyrinthe de Cassaigne Côtes de Gascogne 2015 (11.5%, €13.95 down to €9.95 for May at O’Briens)

labyrinthe

This is a single estate Côtes de Gascogne from the north of the area, close to Condom (make your own jokes please).  Tropical fruit from Colombard and Gros Manseng make this a real Vin de Plaisir – and fairly light in alcohol at 11.5%.  Good value for money at €14, great value at €10!

Los Vascos Chardonnay 2015 (14.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)

Los-Vascos-Chardonnay

Like its sister Sauvignon above, this unoaked Chardonnay has a great deal of minerality which make it ideal for shellfish and other seafood.  It does have more body, however; enough to almost give it the feel of an oaked wine, though not the flavour.  The finish is zesty citrus and stays with you for quite some time.

I Wanna Give You Devotion – Part 3

Vignobles_val_de_loire

Along its many twists, turns and tributaries, the Loire River encompasses a multitude of wine styles: white, rosé and red (plus orange nowadays); bone dry though off dry, medium and sweet; still, lightly and fully sparkling; neutral to highly aromatic.  After all, at over a thousand kilometres in length, it dwarfs (swamps?) the Shannon (360 km) and Thames (346 km) as it winds through 15 départements.

In some ways the different sub-regions are not that related, especially when it comes to grape varieties, but the key thing the wines generally share is acidity, even in sweet wines – all down to a relatively northern latitude.

The Loir (no “e”) River is a sub-tributary of the Loire (with an “e”) River via the Sarthe River and runs fairly parallel to the north.  Close to the city of Tours is the appellation of Coteaux-du-Loir which covers 80 ha and can be used for white, rosé or red wines. Adjoining the top of this area is the AOC of Jasnières which only produces white wines from Chenin Blanc.

Here are a couple of stunning Loir wines from the Nomad Wine Importers tasting:

Domaine de la Bellivière Coteaux du Loir “Eparses Vieilles Vignes” 2013 (13.0%, ~ €116 in restaurants: L’Ecrivain, Patrick Guilbaud and Ely Wine Bar)

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Domaine de la Bellivière was set up in 1995, ad has been run on organic lines since 2005 and was certified as such from the 2011 vintage.

This wine is made from various parcels of old Chenin Blanc vines – and old is really apt here as they are between 50 and 80 years old – mainly planted on clay with flint over “tuffeau” (the famous local limestone).

Natural yeast fermentation is in one to three year old barrels (75%) and new oak (25%). The different parcels are vinified and matured  (for at least a year) separately before being assembled to produce the final cuvée for bottling.

This is a deliberately dry wine, still with Chenin’s typical honey notes but also floral and stone fruit aspects.  Very fresh and intense!

Domaine de la Bellivière Jasnières “Calligramme” 2013 (13.0%, ~ €137 in restaurant: The Greenhouse)

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The Calligramme is made in Jasnières itself so is of course (you have been paying attention, haven’t you?) 100% Chenin Blanc.  The vines are from 50+ year old plots which are mainly southerly in aspect, on the slopes (“Coteaux“!) down to the Loir River.

As with all the Domaine’s wines, the sweetness of the final wine depends on the character of the vintage; only in years where botrytis is well developed are the wines left with some residual sugar.  In other years – such as 2013 we have here – the wine is dry but intense.  Apple, peach and floral notes are joined by minerality, giving the wine a real versatility for food matching.

Also from the Nomad Wine Importers tasting:

 

And finally, the obscure reference in the title of these articles on Nomad’s wines: those of a certain vintage and taste in music (such as myself) might have recognised the allusion to the 1991 dance music classic “I Wanna Give You Devotion” by Nomad!

I Wanna Give You Devotion – Part 2

Following on from a pair of whites from France’s mountainous eastern marches in Part 1, we now turn to some excellent Jurançon wines distributed by Nomad Wine Importers.

The wines of South West France receive only limited recognition outside of their region(s) – and to be honest the plural is more fitting here as they are actually a diverse collection of wine regions with some geographical proximity.

In fact, looking at a map of south west (no caps) France shows that the biggest wine region of the area – Bordeaux – is not included in South West (with caps) France.

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Credit: DalGobboM

Located in the foothills of the Pyrenees, south and west of Pau, Jurançon is an area whose wines I am quite familiar with after visiting the area several times.

At least I thought I was, anyway – cheap examples of an appellation picked up at a supermarket aren’t a good indicator of the quality available within a region.

The most important thing to know is that there are two different appellations, Jurançon itself which is sweet (moelleux) and Jurançon Sec which is dry.  Not the easiest for novices to remember, just like Bordeaux’s Graves-Supérieures is actually sweet.

There are five grapes permitted for both AOCs – Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng (which must make up at least 50% of each blend), (Petit) Courbu (which ripens early and adds acidity) and the minor legacy varieties Camaralet de Lasseube and Lauzet.

Camin Larreyda is currently run by Jean-Marc Grussaute, son of Jean & Jany Grussaute who terraced and replanted the family property in 1970.  The Domaine has been certified organic since 2007 and has 9.5 ha planted to 65% Petit Manseng, 27% Gros Manseng and the remaining 8% Petit Courbu and Camaralet.  They also make wine from their neighbours’ grapes.

Here are the four wines I tasted recently, each named after the plots where the grapes are grown:

Domaine Larredya Jurançon Sec “la Part Davant” 2015 (14.0%, RRP €28 at Jus de Vine, Greenman Wines)

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The “entry level” wine from Larredya consists of 50% (very ripe) Gros Manseng, 35% Petit Manseng and 15% Petit Courbu & Camaralet.  The Part Davant plot is 4.5 ha and is farmed organically.

This is a lighter and fresher style than the other wines made by Larredya – there’s the typical peach stone fruit notes but also citrus and a touch of minerality.  For me this is a pleasant drinking wine but even better with food such as white fish, poultry, pork or veal.

Domaine Larredya Jurancon Sec “la Virada” 2015 (14.0%, RRP €40 at Jus de Vine)

camin-larredya-jurancon-la virada

This is a blend of equal parts Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng and Petit Courbu, harvested at a very low 20 hl/ha.  The grapes are whole bunch pressed then fermented with natural yeast.  Fermentation and maturation take place in barriques and foudres.

The alcohol is quite high at 14.0% as all the sugar has been fermented to dryness, but it doesn’t stand out on the palate.  Peach and apricot fruit flavours are to the fore, but there’s also honey all the way through with a bracing, fresh finish.  Superb!

Domaine Larredya Jurancon “Costat Darrer” 2015 (13.0%, 60g/L RS, RRP €27)

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Just below the name of the appellation on the label, “Les Grains des Copains” shows that this wine was made from their friends’ grapes rather than their own.  The average age of the source vines is 25 years and the different vineyards are either organic or “lutte raisonnée” which roughly translates as sustainable.  Yields are between 30 and 35 hl/ha and the blend is 70% Petit and 30% Gros Manseng.

This is definitely a sweet wine but the sweetness enhances the exotic fruit flavours rather than dominating them.  This could be the perfect wine to match with a fruit salad!

Domaine Larredya Jurancon “Au Capceu” 2015 (13.0%, 130g/L RS, RRP €42 at 64 Wine)

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This cuvée is 100% Petit Manseng and is from a three hectare plot, mainly higher altitude terraced vines with a southerly or eastern orientation; the location is excellent for producing late harvest wines without grey rot.  The vines are 30 years old and yields are low at 20 hl/ha.  Fermentation and maturation (for a year) are in a mix of barriques and foudres.

This is an intensely concentrated wine with a combination of stone fruit and citrus – it also reminded me somewhat of whisky marmalade.  Although quite sweet it is nicely balanced and not at all cloying.  An absolute treat!

I Wanna Give You Devotion – Part 1

Dublin based Nomad Wine Importers was set up ten years ago by Sommeliers Charles Derain and Thierry Grillet, and now has an enviable reputation for sourcing exciting wines from all over France, with Burgundy being a particular speciality.  Here are a few of their wines which impressed me at their recent trade tasting co-hosted with Grapecircus and Tyrrell’s:

Domaine des Ardoisières IGP Allobroges “Argile” 2015 (12.0%, RRP €28 at Mitchell & Son (Glasthule & CHQ), Blackrock Cellar, Redmonds of Ranelagh, Greenman Wines and Martin’s Off-Licence)

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The Alpine territory of Savoy (or Savoie) has been variously a county, then an independent duchy, a part of the Kingdom of Sardinia and then the French Empire. Partly due to its remote location there are several local varieties which are seldom seen elsewhere.

Aside from the AOCs such as Chignin Bergeron (Rousanne), Chignin and Roussette de Savoie, there is also the IGP (formerly Vin de Pays) des Allobroges named after the area’s original Celtic inhabitants The Allobroges.

Domaine des Ardoisières was founded relatively recently in 2005 and is run on organic principles.  Slopes of up to 60% might sound better for daredevil skiing than for viticulture, but the extra sun falling on the vines offsets the cooler air at higher altitude. The wines are mainly made from local grapes and are named after the soil types of the individual plots (very interesting for wine geeks!)

Argile is the French for clay; the blend consists of local heroes Jacquère (40%) and Mondeuse Blanche (20%) plus the ubiquitous Chardonnay (40%).  Fermentation is with wild yeast and maturation is a third in older oak barrels (for texture) and two thirds in steel tanks

It’s a fleshy wine, with zingy acidity and a very long finish.  It’s quite unique as a wine and deserves a far wider audience – though production is limited to around 20,000 bottles which won’t stretch that far.

Domaine Tissot Arbois “Les Graviers” 2015 (13.0%, RRP €47 at Baggot Street Wines, Jus de Vine, 64 Wine and Greenman Wines)

graviers2

From the Alps we move north to the Jura, still mountainous border country but with its own local specialities – particularly the use of flor in some of the wine styles to ramp up the umami.  It’s not always obvious whether a particular wine is flor-influenced or not – it all comes down to whether the barrels that the wine matures in are topped up (or not) to replace evaporation losses – if they aren’t then a flor will often form.  To make sure you get the style you prefer, ask if the wine is “ouillé“.

As befitting a region next to Burgundy, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are well established varieties, with Savagnin (aka Traminer, not Sauvignon) also used for white wine and Poulsard and Trousseau (also known as Bastardo in Portugal) used for reds and rosés. Poulsard is so pale that Pinot Noir is sometimes blended in to add colour!

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Credit: DalGobboM

The oldest Jura appellation is Arbois, not to be confused with the grape of the same name which is mainly found in the Loire Valley.  This is the home of Domaine André & Mireille Tissot, now run by Bénédicte & Stéphane Tissot.  They run the estate on biodynamic lines and are certified as such.

Les Graviers is 100% Chardonnay, a third of which was matured in oak barrels and two thirds in tank.  As the wine is young the oak is quite noticeable, but it’s already drinking superbly – one of my favourite wines from the whole tasting.  It has texture, pithiness and freshness, with a certain tang that I haven’t tasted outside of the Jura.  A must-try wine!

 

Footnote

If you are a keen wine drinker you may have heard of Wink Lorch’s excellent book Jura Wine which was published in 2014 after Kickstarter crowd funding.  Wink has recently started another Kickstarter campaign to fund production of her next book on Savoie Wine – have a look here!