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!

 

 

Wine Of The Week

Wine of the Week: Domaine Fournier Pouilly Fumé “Les Deux Cailloux”

Domaine Fournier are a class outfit based in the Loire Valley’s two most renowned Sauvignon Blanc appellations, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. I really enjoyed their Sancerre Les Belles Vignes when I tried it a year or so ago. I recently tried the counterpart to that wine from the other side of the river:

Domaine Fournier Père et Fils Pouilly Fumé “Les Deux Cailloux” 2020

Fournier Pouilly Fumé Les Deux Cailloux 2020

For those who don’t speak French, “Les Deux Cailloux” just means “The Two Pebbles”, a reference to the stony soils of the area. This makes perfect sense for a river-based wine region!

The wine itself is lemony gold in the glass. It has an expressive nose with juicy, succulent gooseberry and grapefruit drawing you in. These notes follow through to the palate where they are joined by green pepper, smoke and minerality. It’s quite round and supple in the mid-palate – something which elevates it above the simpler wines of the Loire – though there’s no doubting the crisp Sauvignon finish.

This is a well-put-together, gastronomic wine. While it doesn’t offer anything particularly original and might seem similar in style to many other Loire Sauvignons, it is definitely a cut above most of them and well worth a try.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €29.95
  • Source: sample
  • Stockists: Deveneys Dundrum; Saltwater Grocery; SC Grocer, Monkstown
Wine Of The Week

Wine of the Week: Stonier Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2016

Kicking off my new Wine of the Week series, here’s a classy modern Aussie Chardonnay that doesn’t break the bank.

Stonier Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2016

Stonier Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay

The 2020 vintage of this wine was released recently, so I plucked this 2016 bottling out of my wine fridge to see how it was getting on. In fact I reviewed the 2016  Stonier Chardonnay almost three years ago.

As the climate continues to warm, the southern-most wine regions of Australia have moved into focus. The key places for Aussie Chardonnay are now South Australia’s Adelaide Hills, parts of Tasmania, Victoria’s Yarra Valley and Mornington Pensinsula. Coastal exposure is the key to their microclimates, along with any altitude that’s available.

As might be inferred from its name, the Mornington Peninsula is surrounded by water on three sides. Grapes for this wine are sourced from a variety of vineyards across the area. Those from the coolest sites are allowed to go through malolactic fermentation (MLF) to round out the acidity and the remainder have MLF blocked to provide freshness to the blend. Oak is used for maturing a good portion of the wine, but only a small fraction is new – it’s all about texture and body.

At close to six years of age this wine retains the struck-match reductive character on the nose that it had on release. It also has plenty of fruit on offer, largely pineapple with hints of grapefuit and lemon. The finish is long and fresh, with a keen mineral streak thoughout.

Although this wine has been on offer at O’Briens (it is exclusive to them in Ireland) it is well worth the normal full sticker price

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €27.95
  • Source: purchased
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie