Wine Of The Week

Wine Review: Kangarilla Road McLaren Vale Terzetto

Among the criticism thrown at Australian wine – with a little justification, I feel – is that there isn’t enough variety in the grapes grown. This is borne out in the figures, with the top eight varieties accounting for close to 75% of all wine grown in the country.

Thankfully, there are other interesting grapes grown in Oz, and for me McLaren Vale stands out for its Italian varieties. Kangarilla Road make one such wine, but before we look at the wine itself, let’s have a reminder on McLaren Vale and Kangarilla Road.

McLaren Vale

McLaren Vale map

Which wine styles come to mind when you think of McLaren Vale? Shiraz and southern Rhône-style GSM blends are certainly the most important, even if the GSM order is often rearranged. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc also make an appearance as key international varieties. However, the other varieties that the Vale specialises in are those of the Mediterranean, including:

  • Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Vermentino and Fiano (from Italy)
  • Grenache Blanc and Roussanne (from the Rhône / Spain / southern France)
  • Tempranillo (from Spain)

I don’t know for sure why McLaren Vale became the hub for Italian varieties in Australia. Most likely there were Italian immigrants in the area (as was the case across much of Australia) and they found that the vine cuttings they brought worked really well in the Vale.

Kangarilla Road

Kangarilla Road Winery was founded by Kevin O’Brien (no relation to O’Briens Wines, as far as I know) in 1997. He caught the wine bug at university as a member of the Rowing Club – they often drank wine at social events and organised tours to Australian wine regions. He was hooked; he changed from a general science degree to Oenology and pursued a career in wine. He combined a research-heavy role at the Australian Research Institute (AWRI) with travelling and working in European countries such as France, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

He met and subsequently married a like-minded soul in Helen. Together they pursued a dream of having their own winery, and in 1997 bought the former Cambrai vineyard on McLaren Vale Flats. At that time it already had Australia’s largest plantings of Zinfandel / Primitivo, then came Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, and finally more Italian varieties.

This is the current Kangarilla Road portfolio:

  • Kangarillo Road Whites: Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, “Sixmo” Chardonnay, Fiano, Duetto (Vermentino & Fiano), “The Veil” Vermentino Under Flor
  • Kangarilla Road Reds: Shiraz, “Thieving Angels” Shiraz, Nero d’Avola, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Primitivo, “Black St Peter’s” Zinfandel, “Devil’s Whiskers” Shiraz, “Alluvial Fans” Shiraz, “Blanche Point” Shiraz, “Q” Shiraz
  • Other labels: Strada Bianco (Chardonnay & Vermentino), Sparkling Chardonnay / Pinot NV, Street Cred Sparkling Shiraz NV, 2Up Shiraz

You may notice that Terzetto is not on the list above; I understand that this blend is no longer made, so snap it up while you can!

Kangarilla Road McLaren Vale Terzetto 2013

Kangarilla Road Terzetto

Before researching this wine I wondered if Terzetto was an obscure Italian grape that I hadn’t yet tried. Alas, no: Terzetto is simply the Italian term for “Trio”, perfectly apt as this is a blend of three Italian varieties:

  • Sangiovese (from Tuscany, but widely grown in other Italian regions)
  • Primitivo (from Puglia)
  • Nebbiolo (from Piedmont)

Each Kangarilla Road wine has an image of its variety’s leaf on the label, so for this wine all three are featured.

It pours a cherry red, most definitely not the Shiraz (which is also available in Ireland). It has a very perfumed nose, with deep red fruit notes – fresh and dried – plus orange peel, tobacco, balsamic, vanilla and herbs. In the mouth it has lovely fruits, just as on the nose. The mouthfeel is soft in the centre but with prickly edges – often a sign of acidity. Although now nine years old there is still some evidence of oak, tobacco and balsamic notes and the palate, with a chocolate finish

This is a modestly priced wine which tastes much more expensive. It’s more interesting than most wines at this price point and higher. As it looks like there won’t be any more of this coming our way I’ve already bought a few more bottles to enjoy over the coming years.

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €17.95
  • Source: purchased from O’Briens
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores, though only a few bottles left
Wine Of The Week

Wine Review: Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2011

If you vaguely remember seeing this wine before on Frankly Wines then you are not mistaken. I bought a dozen of the 2011 vintage of Polish Hill many years ago, and I drink a bottle every autumn to celebrate my eldest son’s birthday. If you haven’t guessed yet, he was born in the year 2011, hence my choice of vintage.

Before the tasting notes themselves, brief reminders on Clare Valley and Grosset Wines

Clare Valley

Clare Valley map
Credit: wineaustralia.com

Clare Valley is located around two hours’ drive north of Adelaide, into the northern Mt Lofty Ranges. It is subdivided into five sub-regions: Auburn, Clare, Polish Hill River, Sevenhill and Watervale

European settlement began in the 1830s, and it only took a few years for them to plant vineyards and make wine. Many of these immigrants were from Germany and Italy, countries with long established wine cultures, so it was natural for them to bring cuttings with them and develop vineyards, whether for commercial or personal consumption.

Being a hilly region, there are lots of different soil types* – eleven in fact, with red soil over limestone (similar to Coonawarra’s terra rossa) in Watervale and broken slate in Polish Hill River. These soil types obviously have an effect on the style of wines made. Across Clare Valley as a whole, Riesling is the most popo

Grosset Wines

We all have our own story of how we caught the wine bug. For Jeffrey Grosset, it was at the tender age of 15 when he tasted a bottle of wine his dad brought home for dinner. He signed up at Roseworthy Agricultural College – Australia’s premier wine college – on his 16th birthday then spent five years studying Agriculture and Oenology, learning both sides of the trade. After graduating he had a series of roles in Australia and Germany, but at 26 in 1981 he decided to strike out on his own and founded Grosset Wines.

Jeffrey’s focus has always been on quality, so even as additional vineyards were added to the firm over the years, he maintained control and wasn’t subject to the whims of partners or shareholders. Even 40 years later there are only eight people in the whole company, many of them long term employees. He was also at the forefront of the Clare Valley producer movement to screwcaps, to preserve Riesling’s gentle aromatics. In the vineyard, sustainable practices and intimate knowledge of the vines eventually led to organic and biodynamic certification.

The Grosset Wines portfolio now extends to ten wines, eight from Clare and two from Piccadilly Valley in Adelaide Hills:

Riesling

  • Polish Hill (the Flagship)
  • Springvale (from the Watervale sub-region)
  • Alea (from Grosset’s Rockwood Vineyard, just off-dry)
  • G110 (made from a single Riesling clone in a single plot)
  • Rockwood (also from the Rockwood Vineyard)

Other Clare Valley Wines

  • Apiana (Fiano)
  • Gaia (~ 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc)
  • Nereus (Shiraz with a little Nero d’Avola)

Piccadilly Wines

  • Chardonnay
  • Pinot Noir

So now onto my notes on Grosset’s top Riesling

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2011

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2011

The key to this Riesling’s power and longevity is its tough upbringing. The Polish Hill vineyard has dry, slatey soil which forces the vines to send their roots deep. It’s also fairly cool, even for the Clare Valley. Bunches tend to be small, with small berries, so flavour is concentrated:

Grosset Riesling grape bunches from Springvale and Polish Hill
Credit: Grosset Wines

Most dry Rieslings are very light in colour when young, but 11 years have seen this bottle take on a little colour, so it’s now on the borderline between deep lemon and light gold. The nose shows even more evolution; on release it was tight, almost unapproachable, but now the lime, lemongrass and subtle herb notes have relaxed a little. It’s so nice to sniff that you might even forget to taste it!

When you do taste it, the attack is dry and subtle, but is quickly overwhelmed by a fruity mid palate: lime, grapefruit and quince. They fade out very gently over the long finish. There’s plenty of texture – small berries encourage a fleshy character, and the wine was not fined or filtered before bottling.

When I bought this wine, Grosset wines were a little cagey on ageing, suggesting that 15 years was probably the top end, but Jeffrey himself has said that some vintages can cellar for 25 years. It’s easy to see why this has become an Aussie icon, and an example of how good Australian Riesling can be.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €50 – €58 for current vintages
  • Source: purchased from The Wine Society
  • Stockists: good independents

 

* mountains and hills are caused by existing soils being uplifted, often twisted at the same time, so various layers are brought to the surface.

Wine Of The Week

Wine of the Week: Bourcier-Martinot Mâcon

The Mâconnais

Similar to the Rhône and Beaujolais regions (the latter of which it slightly overlaps), the Mâconnais has an easy enough hierarchy to its AOCs. Furthermore, there is the possibility for wines of a village or commune to be promoted in the rankings. Starting off as a simple Mâcon, then a Mâcon-Villages, up to Mâcon hypenated with the village name (e.g. Mâcon-Uchizy) to an AOC of the village all alone (e.g. Saint Véran, my go-to Mâconnais wine).

Surpringly, these days* the most basic category is not the largest:

Pie chart showing relative size of Mâcon AOCs

Being the southern-most part of Burgundy proper, Mâcon wines tend to be riper than their northern counterparts. Chardonnay is the king here, though Pinot Noir and Gamay are permitted in the small amount of reds and rosés (they only account for around 8% of the total made).

Of course as we are in Burgundy, the producer is very important:

Bourcier-Martinot 

Bourcier-Martinot is a value-driven label owned by childhood friends Jean-Luc Terrier and Christian Collovray. The pair have a serious operation at Domaine des Deux Roches where they have been making wines for over three decades. The Domaine owns “A total of 63 hectares of vines, of which around 24 are in the Saint-Véran appellation, 25 in Mâcon-Villages, Mâcon or Mâcon Chardonnay, and Mâcon La Roche Vineuse, and 2,300 square metres in Pouilly-Fuissé…” Bourcier-Martinot gives them the opportunity to use their winemaking skills on bought in grapes from the Mâcon AOC.

Bourcier-Martinot Mâcon 2020

Bourcier Martinot Mâcon

A brief search online for previous vintages of this wine suggest that it was previously unoaked, but even the colour in the glass – light gold – suggests that this was not the case for the 2020 vintage. The nose confirms that this Mâcon has seen some oak, with vanilla and smoky notes interlaced with pip and stone fruits. The oak is also present on the palate, nice and tangy but already well integrated; I suspect that the barrels used were mainly – if not all – seasoned and not new. The orchard fruits also show in the mouth, with nice texture and weight.

For a “mere” AOC Mâcon this is excellent. Inexpensive Chardonnays rarely do it for me, but this is well worth the normal price of €20 and worth snapping up at the offer price of €17.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €19.95, currently on offer at €16.95
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

 

2010 figures taken from Wikipedia

Wine Of The Week

Wine of the Week: Man O’ War Estate Chardonnay

This week’s Wine of the Week is a Chardonnay from Man O’War, one of the outstanding producers on Waiheke Island in New Zealand. Before we get to the wine itself, first we take a look at Waiheke Island and then the producer.

Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island

Although much further north (and therefore closer to the equator) than most of New Zealand’s quality wine regions, Waiheke Island’s climate is significantly moderated by the Hauraki Gulf surrounding it, especially with cooling sea breezes. This leads to longer growing seasons and therefore more physiologically developed grapes. Its promoximity to Auckland makes it a popular destination for wine tourism, though the wines are not “spoofy”. There are over 25 named vineyard sites across the island, including – at the northern side of Waiheke – Man O’ War, named after the bay onto which it faces.

Man O’ War Vineyards

The Man O’War Vineyards company was founded by the Kulta family (of Finnish origin) in 1993. Land under vine now totals 150 acres / 60 hectares split over 76 separate hillside blocks, each with a different combination of soil, altitude and aspect. They are vinified separately as far as possible before blending to achieve the desired style for each bottling.

Wines in blue are – or have been – available in Ireland

Kulta: Tytti Bordeaux Blend, Mathilda Chardonnay, Tulia Blanc de Blancs, Totto Syrah

Flagship: Ironclad Bordeaux Blend, Dreadnought Syrah, Valhalla Chardonnay, Exiled Pinot Gris, Gravestone Sauvingon Blanc / Semillon, Pinqué Rosé, Holystone Noble Pinot Gris

Estate: Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Island (Red) Blend, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cactus Bay Semillon

Man O’War Waiheke Island Estate Chardonnay 2019

Man O'War Waiheke Island Estate Chardonnay

The fruit used for the Estate Chardonnay is selected from earlier-ripening vineyards, mainly on volcanic soils. The juice undergoes fermentation and ageing in 500 litre French oak puncheons (20% new, 80% used), with small amounts of sulphur added to block malolactic fermentation. The wines are left on gross lees while maturing, but no bâtonnage takes place.

The nose has substantial reduction (if that isn’t an oxymoron) and a tang from the volcanic soils. These notes are overlaid by citrus and ripe orchard fruits. The palate is quite old world in style – you know the region I’m thinking of, but not saying – as the struck match character comes through on the palate. It’s already nicely integrated, though; you don’t have to sit on this bottle to wait for things to mellow out. There’s a definite richness here, as the lees influence, oak and fruit combine beautifully, but there’s also a linear streak of acidity running though the middle (the better for MLF being blocked.)

I’m a long time fan of the Valhalla, an excellent Chardonnay from Man O’ War, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this “lesser” bottling. I shouldn’t have worried, as it’s very good in its own right. It’s more approachable at this young age than the Valhalla, and perhaps more refreshing.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: ~€20
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: not currently available in Ireland – ask O’Briens to bring it in

 

Wine Of The Week

Wine of the Week: Château des Grands Chènes Médoc

Before looking at the wine itself, let’s set the scene by briefly discussing the wine region it comes from, the estate and its owner.

The Médoc

Map of the Médoc wine region
Credit: Bordeaux.com

AOC Médoc wines are not that frequently seen on our shelves – in fact just before opening this for a French friend she mentioned that she rarely sees them in France. Médoc wines are definitely the junior wines of the Médoc peninsula, though at least they though no longer carrying the Bas Médoc moniker. Further south, the Haut Médoc contains most of the famous Bordeaux AOCs: Margaux, Saint Julien, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe; the gravel banks close to the Gironde Estuary are perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant blends. The lower sites of the Médoc AOC tend to perform better with a larger proportion of Merlot.

A few Châteaux have flown the flag for quality in the Médoc, Château Potensac being the most obvious example: the only “Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel” of its appellation.

Bernard Magrez

Bernard Magrez started in the wine trade at a young age and was very much the entrepreneur. He was instrumental in establishing some major wine brands including Malesan and Sidi Brahim. He later began investing in prestigious Bordeaux properties, including his four grands crus classés which he still owns today

  • Château Pape Clément, Pessac-Léognan, Grand Cru Classé de Graves
  • Château La Tour Carnet, Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé en 1855
  • Clos Haut-Peyraguey, Premier Grand Cru Classé de Sauternes
  • Château Fombrauge, Grand Cru Classé de Saint-Émilion

He later expanded outside of Bordeaux, from the south west of France all the way round the world:

  • Rest of France (Languedoc, Roussillon, Rhone, Bergerac, Cahors, Provence, Gascony)
  • Rest of Europe (Italy, Spain)
  • Americas (USA, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina)
  • Africa (Morocco)
  • Asia (Japan)

And of course, he is the proprietor of Château des Grands Chènes.

Château des Grands Chènes

The Château saw its first harvest in 1880, as proudly mentioned on the front label. Its location in Saint-Christoly-Médoc is one of the best in the Médoc, being somewhat elevated, right on the Gironde estuary and with soils consisting of gravel, clay and limestone. The Château building itself was originally a fort1 with a strategic position overlooking the water. The estate changed hands several times since its inception, with several owners investing in renovations in the vineyard and the cellars. The most notable of these was, of course, Bernard Magrez who bought it in 1998.

The Château’s vines are planted in the proportion 60% Merlot (mainly on clay) and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon (on gravel and limestone). There used to be Cabernet Franc planted but it was replaced. There is just a single wine made these days; previously there was also a Grande Cuvée made from the best grapes1, but now they all go into the main wine. The name Grands Chènes means great oaks, so it’s fitting that the wine spends time maturing in oak barrels.

Château des Grands Chènes Médoc 2019

Ch des Grands Chênes Médoc 2019

Whilst doing a quick sweep through the wine aisles of the supermarket close to my parents’ in France, I spotted this magnum on promotion. The crossed keys (from Château Pape Clément) and Bernard Magrez signature caught my eyes, so I decided to give it a try. A barbecue with friends the next evening was the perfect occaision to pop it open.

Even the colours on this wine show its youth; a black, almost opaque core is surrounded by a purple glove. The nose is aromatic, with ripe black fruits: plums, blackberry and blackcurrant. There’s sweet vanilla and a touch of spice, too. In the mouth it is powerful and smooth, but generously fruity. There’s a very attractive velvet mouthfeel, with a graphite tang and some good structure supporting all the fruit.

So, so young at the moment, this 2019 could easily last into the 2040s in magnum format, but it’s already approachable and downright delicious!

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €26.95 (magnum, in France)
  • Source: purchased from Intermarché

1Source: The Wine Cellar Insider

Wine Of The Week

Wine of the Week: St. John’s Road Motley Bunch GMS

St John’s Road is a small scale winery in South Australia’s Barossa making a small range of three Barossa Valley reds and a solitary Eden Valley white. Their wines undoubtedly reflect their origins, but also a European sense of balance and elegance – possibly due to the time their founders spent in the south of France.

Grapes for the red wines are mainly sourced from long-term partner growers in Stonewell, Light Pass, and Gomersal, plus their own small holdings.

St. John’s Road Motley Bunch GMS 2016

St. John's Road Motley Bunch Barossa Valley GMS 2016

GMS is a twist on the classic Southern Rhône GSM blend, with Mataro (a.k.a. Mourvèdre, 36%) overtaking the Shiraz (27%) in the blend, but Grenache narrowly staying up front with 37%. It’s not just a case of chucking all the grapes into a fermenter, either; they are selected, vinified and matured to give an end wine that is more than the sum of its parts. Grenache doesn’t shine with new oak nor lots of oxygen so it’s matured in old 500 litre French oak puncheons. The Mataro and Shiraz elements are aged in smaller, 300 litre hogsheads, though only 10% of this oak was new.

How does this translate in the glass? To kick off, it pours a bright, glowing ruby. The nose shows lifted strawberry aromas and perfumed redcurrants, tinged with notes of spice and earth. The palate is lithe and delicious, with delightful red and black fruits to the fore, and a touch of oak in the background. There are also savoury, gamey notes which stop this wine running away with itself, and plenty of structure to frame everything nicely.

There’s no doubt that this is an Aussie wine, but it’s a modern, food-friendly wine which speaks firmly and produly of its origins but doesn’t shout.

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €20
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists (2017): jnwine.com; La Touche Wines, Greystones

 

Wine Of The Week

Wine of the Week: Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Semillon

Almost a year ago to the day I published a producer profile of Pegasus Bay, arguably the top producer in New Zealand’s Waipara, which included tasting notes on their stunning Chardonnay and Pinot Noir plus an aged sweet Riesling from my cellar. I recently spotted another of their wines for sale so snapped it up, their Sauvignon Semillon blend:

Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Semillon 2018

Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Semillon 2

The pairing of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon is a staple of Bordeaux white wines – infact you could easily call it a White Bordeaux Blend as the counterpart to Cabernet / Merlot red blends. In the Graves, these white blends often have as much prestige as the reds, if not more, and of course Sauvignon and Semillon are the basis of Sauternes and other Bordelais sweeties. As temperatures have risen in Bordeaux, the higher acidity – and hence freshness – of Sauvignon has been at a premium, so the blend has moved decisively in favour of that variety.

Outside the Gironde, the Sauvignon/ Semillon blend has proved most successful in Western Australia’s Margaret River, a wine region founded on the premise that its climate was similar to that of Bordeaux. It has become such a mainstay of the region that few producers omit if from their portfolio.

Waipara’s temperate climate is suited for what I might call “cool+” climate varieties; those such as Riesling and Pinot Noir which really need a cap on temperatures, and those such as Chardonnay which are flexible and can be grown in a range of climates, albeit with differing styles.

Pegasus Bay’s Sauvignon and Semillon vines are over 30 years old and planted on poor fertility, free-draining soil and so have low yields. The old equation that low yields = high quality doesn’t always hold, but it does in this case. Concurrent freshness and ripeness are achieved thanks to the long Waipara growing season with warm days but cool nights.

The Pegasus Bay website’s tasting notes for this wine mention “a hint of struck match complexity” but to me this is a real understatement – I found it quite pronounced on opening the bottle, initially overwhelming the fruit. It also dominates the palate at this young age – and yes, it’s still a young wine as there is only one younger vintage released (2019) which probably hasn’t yet made its way up north from New Zealand. I found it far better integrated on the second day of tasting, where the reductive notes become a foil for the fruit rather than a blunt instrument that is constantly beating it up. If1 I were to buy another bottle I would either just lay it down for a few years or be better prepared and decant it for several hours before tasting.

This is not a cheap wine, but it compares favourably with Pessac-Léognan examples at twice the price – and it has a screwcap to seal2 the deal on longer ageing.

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €32.95
  • Source: purchased
  • Stockists: O’Briens; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; wineonline.ie; Barnhill Stores; Pinto Wines, Drumcondra; Deveneys Dundrum, On The Grape Vine, Dalkey

1 I know, “if” really means “when”!

2 Sorry

Wine Of The Week

Wine of the Week: Trapiche Finca Ambrosia Malbec

Argentinian Malbec is one of those wines which no wine retailer will be without, and it’s likely that most restaurants will offer one on their list – especially if they take their steaks seriously. However, Malbec is often seen as a commodity wine, one that is similar no matter who makes it, and thus price becomes the main differentiating factor.

Once you go beyond the big volume commercial blends, often in an independent off licence, the field opens up: “Mendoza” is not the only geographic designation on the label – with small sub-regions indicated – or even at all, with other regions such as Salta and San Juan also featuring. Even further down the specialisation route is the single vineyard bottling – and here’s one such expression:

Trapiche Single Vineyard Series Finca Ambrosia Malbec 2015

Terroir Series Finca Ambrosia Malbec 2Like most Malbecs, this is fairly dark in the glass, though not quite opaque. The nose is perfumed, with lifted scents of cedar and ripe blackberries, plums and blackcurrants. Just fabulous! On the palate this wine is full of youth. It’s a big mouthful, certainly; delightfully smooth, with the cedar back again with the black fruits. There is great structure here, tannins which are fairly firm but not in the slightest bit austere: the fruit has the tannins put firmly in their place.

I tried this wine before noting the vintage – to think that this is close to seven years old is incredible as it is still so powerful. But not dauntingly so, it can be enjoyed on its own without food. A winner in my book.

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €38 – €40
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: Martins Off Licence, Redmonds of Ranelagh
Wine Of The Week

Wine of the Week: RhonéA Rasteau Tradition

RhonéA1 is a superco-op, an agglomeration of 5 existing co-ops from the South Rhône. Their range covers a distinct part of the Rhône méridional, based on where the member co-ops’ own members vineyards lie: the AOCs of Beaumes-de-Venise, Gigondas, Rasteau, Sablet, Vacqueyras and Visan.

Included in their range is a Côtes du Rhône blended in collaboration with local chefs – “Légende des Toques” – but for a few euro more their Rasteau blend is a distinct step up:

RhonéA Rasteau Tradition 2019

RhonéA Rasteau Tradition

Rasteau has only been an AOC for dry red wines for a dozen years or so, and still flies under the radar next to Gigondas, Vacqueras and of course Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Perhaps there’s a certain underdoggedness (if such a word exists) which makes them state that Rasteau is a “Cru” on the label; or, perhaps, it’s for the benefit of consumers who aren’t that familiar with “Rasteau” but do know “Rhône”2.

Back to the wine itself, and this is a typical southern Rhône GSM blend, consisting of 60% Grenache (Noir), 25% Syrah and 15% Mourvèdre. No oak is used for either fermentation or maturation – concrete tanks give a little softer edge than stainless steel but no added aromas or flavours.

It’s perhaps a touch darker in the glass than it’s CdR sibling: that’s the Syrah and Mourvèdre showing their face. The Grenache comes through strongly on the nose with a big hit of alpine strawberries and blackberries, but there’s also more intense and darker fruit, lavender, violets and thyme. The palate has all those herbs and dark fruit notes intertwined in a tasty package. The finish moves more towards black olive and savoury notes: once again the minor players make a big impression!

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €19.95 currently down to €16.95
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

1No, there’s no circumflex over in RhonéA, despite there being one in Rhône. And no, I don’t know why not!

2Just like “Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux”; there will be some who aren’t familiar with “Blaye” but do know “Bordeaux”!

Wine Of The Week

Wine of the Week: Astrolabe Southern Valleys Chenin Blanc

Family-owned Marlborough winery Astrolabe make some excellent Sauvignon Blancs including their Province Sauvignon Blanc and Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc. The full range made at the winery is significantly more extensive than is available to us here in Ireland, but one relatively new release here is their Chenin Blanc Sec from Marlborough’s Southern Valleys:

Astrolabe Southern Valleys Sec Chenin Blanc 2020

Astrolabe Southern Valleys Chenin Blanc Sec

Chenin Blanc is up there with Riesling as one of the most versatile grape varieties around – it makes great sparkling wine, and still wines that can range from bone dry to intensely sweet. Outside of South Africa it hasn’t had the same press as Riesling, however – how many winemakers outside Europe dream of making a great Chenin compared to dreams of Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir? 

Marlborough’s long, cool growing season is perfect for aromatic varieties, and while Sauvignon Blanc is the runaway favourite there it has also been a successful home to Riesling, Grüner Veltiner and others. So why not Chenin?

In the glass this Southern Valleys Chenin Blanc pours a bright straw yellow, something that sets it apart from Marlborough Sauvignon. The nose is fruit driven with notes of apple blossom, orange peel, pink grapefruit and some pip fruit. The palate is all Tarte Normande1, minerals, honey and fresh citrus.

So yes, this wine definitely has some sweetness. It’s labelled as a “Sec” i.e. a dry wine, but dry doesn’t always mean dry. In Champagne, for example, a Sec has between 17 and 32 g/L of residual sugar, with demi-sec above that at 32 to 50. Tellingly, the Astrolabe product page for this wine did have demi-sec in its description before being corrected.

In the end it’s not the amount of residual sugar on its own that determines how sweet a wine tastes, the flavours and acidity profile have a significant effect. I would classify this wine as off-dry, but more importantly as delicious!

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €21.95
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

1That’s an apple tarte from Normandy, you heathens!