Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2016

The turn of the year means a chance to look forward to some excellent tastings coming up, but also a chance to look back at some great wines tasted over the previous twelve months.  Here are ten of the many reds which caught my attention in 2016:

10. Cicero Alto Reben AOC Graubünden Pinot Noir 2012

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In Europe the country most well known for Pinot Noir is of course France, with examples from Burgundy still being among the most expensive wines in the world.  After that it’s probably Germany for Spätburgunder and then perhaps Italy for Pinot Nero, but don’t forget Switzerland – hillside vineyards can be perfect for Pinot, and although Swiss wines are never cheap they can offer good value for money.  See here for the full review.

9. Mas St Louis Châteauneuf du Pape 2012

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CNDP can often be a blockbuster wine with loads of mouthfeel and 15.0% or more alcohol. Wines which don’t measure up to this are often inferior lightweight versions not worthy of the appellation or the price tag – better to go for a Gigondas or Vacqueras instead.  But just occasionally you might come across a wine which is not typical of the area but transcends it – and this is the one.  A high proportion of Grenache and sandy soil are apparently the reason for its lightness – but you will have to try it yourself.

8. Paul Osicka Heathcote Shiraz 2004

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My favourite hotel in Ireland is The Twelve in Barna near Galway City, and luckily it’s also my wife’s favourite.  The rooms, the service and the food are all excellent – and so is the wine!  When last there some months ago for a weekend (kid-free) break I spied this mature Heathcote Shiraz on the wine list and had to give it a try with the côte de boeuf for two (and although I was tempted to have both to myself I did of course share them with my wife).  I will definitely look out for this wine again!

7. Atalon Napa Merlot 2004

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Quality Californian Merlot isn’t an oxymoron, though there is plenty mediocre Merlot made in the Central Valley.  When it’s good, it can be great, and this nicely mature 2004 is probably the best Merlot I’ve ever tasted from California, and definitely the best I’ve tasted from any region this year.  See here for the full review.

6. Niepoort Clos de Crappe Douro 2013

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“A wine that asks more questions than it answers” is a fair summary of this unusual Douro red – and perhaps that’s why it’s so interesting.  It’s not a wine for everyone, with higher than average acidity and body more akin to Burgundy than the Douro, but it brings the funk!  See here for the full review.

5. Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014

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Time and time again, the 20 Barrels Pinot has impressed me with its silky smooth berrytastic goodness.  It’s possibly the closest thing to a red wine for all men (and women) – without being a lowest common denominator compromise.  Most notably it shone in an all-star Pinot Noir tasting arranged by importers Findlaters, beating off competition from Burgundy, California, Marlborough and elsewhere – in fact the only real competition was the big brother Cono Sur Ocio, though that is around twice the price.

4. Wolf Blass Black Label 1998

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Wolfgang Blass is something of a legend in Australian wine, and while his eponymous wines range down to everyday drinking level, his multi-award winning Black Label has been one of the top Aussie wines since its creation in 1973 – it won the prestigious Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy for an amazing three consecutive years with the 73 – 74 – 75 vintages, and then an unprecedented fourth time with this 1998 release.  Tasting the 1998 was a real privilege!

3. Vajra Barolo Ravera 2011

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I’ve had some nice Barolos over the years but, to be honest, the tannin and acidity have often put me off – not to mention the price.  Many need a good decade to even start being drinkable, and, while I’m not advocating fruit bombs, Barolo can be somewhat lacking on the primary flavour side.   But, as Erasure said, it doesn’t have to be like that – this is a wonderful, complex, accessible Barolo.  See here for the full review.

2. Penfolds Grange 2010

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If Spinal Tap’s amps went up to 11, then wine critics should surely have awarded this wine 102 points, as it betters even the excellent 100-pointer from 2008.  It’s still tightly wound compared to the lighter 2011 and more easy-going 2009, but it will be a legendary vintage when it reaches its peak in another decade or two.

1. Cascina Garitina Nizza 900

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A wine to show that Barbera can make excellent wines, not just something to sup waiting for Barolos and Barbarescos to mature.  Made around the town of Nizza Montferrato in Piedmont, Nizza wine was a subregion of Barbera d’Asti until gaining full DOCG status in 2014.  Gianluca Morino of Cascina Garitina is an innovative producer who makes some very good Barbera d’Asti but an amazing Nizza – a truly excellent wine with more depth and poise than I’ve witnessed in any other Barbera.

 

 

SuperValu Christmas Wine Selection Reds

One of the best things about wine retail – from the customer’s point of view – is that the bargains are available before rather than after Xmas, so if you want to choose a few nice bottles for yourself, buy a few gifts or just stock up in anticipation of thirsty visitors, now is a great time to do it.

Here are some of the SuperValu reds which I’d be very happy to sup this yuletide.

Disclosure: samples were provided for review

André Goichot Mercurey 2013 (12.5%, €22.99 down to €15.00)

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I’m a fan of the André Goichot range, which is predominantly white Burgundy, but also includes this Pinot Noir from Mercurey in the Côte Chalonnaise.  It’s a light wine (for NZ fans think Marlborough rather than Central Otago) than needs a bit of air to come out of its shell, but once it does the aromas are stunning.  Relatively high acidity and moderate tannins mean that this might well be the crowd pleaser to go with most dishes at the Xmas table.

Castellani Arbos Sangiovese 2013 (13.5%, €12.99 down to €10.00)

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Cheap Chianti is rarely a bargain as it tends to have the tannin and acidity typical of the area without its usual bright cherry fruit and hence being unbalanced or even unpleasant. If you’re on a budget and like the flavour of Chianti’s Sangiovese grape then far better to avoid paying a premium for the Chianti label and go for a less fancy one with lots of tasty wine behind it!

Nugan Estate Alfredo Dry Grape Shiraz 2013 (15.0%, €19.99 down to €15.00)

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Drying grapes before pressing to increase flavour and sugar concentration isn’t a new technique (it’s the secret behind Amarone afterall) but it is still less than common in Australia.  Here it’s used to add extra berry-tastic richness to supercharge this Shiraz named after the winery’s founder, Spanish emigré Alfredo Nugan.  Like many Amarone wines there is a hint of sweetness on the finish but it works well with the rich character of the wine.  For those of you who like blue cheese I reckon this would be a real treat!

Lady de Mour Margaux 2012 (13.0%, €34.99 down to €20.00)

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Margaux is one of the most famous parts of Bordeaux, helped by having one of the top ranked producers with the same name (Château Margaux) and being easy for English speakers to pronounce (I’m only half-joking there).  Margaux wines are typical left bank blends but with generally a bit less Cabernet Sauvignon than the other famous villages such as St-Estephe and Pauillac.  They are considered to be somewhat feminine and elegant, so a wine called “Lady” is definitely on the right track!  This is a refined, classy wine with dark berry fruit and complex layers of graphite, tobacco and cedar – and a steal at €20!

 

 

Top M&S Whites

Last month I picked out six super sparklers from Marks and Spencer.  Now it’s time for some of my favourite M&S whites:

Domaine de la Pinte Arbois Chardonnay 2014 (12.5%, €23.50)

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The region of eastern France is gradually gaining significant recognition for its wide variety of grapes and styles, many of which are particular to the area.  This is something more conventional, being a Chardonnay made in the “ouillé” style whereby evaporation losses are topped up to prevent too much oxygen in the barrel.  This has far more texture and flavour than you’d expect from a “Chardonnay” – it’s different but well worth a try.

Chapel Down Lamberhurst Estate Bacchus Reserve 2015 (11.5%, €19.50)

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I have been a keen supporter of English sparkling wine for over a decade, but I haven’t shared the same enthusiasm about English still wines.  However, there are a growing number of very good still wines that deserve your attention.  Bacchus was created in 1930s Germany – and is still grown there – but has found a second home in the cool English climate.  Chapel Down’s Reserve bottling is full of stone, tropical and citrus fruit. It’s well balanced and has a touch of residual sugar to counterpoint the mouth watering acidity.

Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay 2014 (13.0%, €15.50)

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The Central Coast on the front label is of course the Central Coast of California, which includes Santa Barbara of Sideways fame and Monterey County, where the majority of the Chardonnay grapes were sourced from.

Part of the fermented juice was matured in (mainly old, I reckon) oak barrels and part underwent softening malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks, followed by lees stirring.  When recombined this wine gives the best of both world – it has some oak, but not too much, and some creamy lees flavours. Great value for money – just don’t drink it too cold.

Atlantis Santorini 2015 (13.0%, €15.50)

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Santorini is my favourite wine region of Greece for whites, especially those made wholly or predominantly from Assyrtiko as this is.  Due to its latitude the island receives lots of sun but this is somewhat tempered by sea breezes.  It sees no oak nor malolactic fermentation so remains clean and linear.

Earth’s End Central Otago Riesling 2015 (12.5%, €20.50)

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Central Otago in the deep south of New Zealand is primarily known for its Pinot Noirs – and rightly so – but its long cool growing season is also suitable for Chardonnay and Riesling.  This has lovely lime notes, and an off dry finish perfectly balances the vibrant acidity.  With Haka instructions on the front, surely this would be a great present for a rugby fan?

Terre di Chieti Pecorino 2015 (12.5%, €15.00)

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Another recent favourite of mine is Pecorino, an everyday Italian white wine with far more character than the lakes of uninteresting Pinot Grigio that clog up most supermarket shelves.  Both oranges and lemons feature on the palate – it’s a great drop at a keen price.

Villiera Traditional Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2016 (14.0%, €18.50)

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Modest packaging belies a sublime wine, one of the most enjoyable South African Chenins I’ve had for a long time.  The complexity is due to the variety of choices made by winemaker Jeff Grier – a small amount of botrytised grapes was used, part of the wine went through malolactic and part did not, both new and second-use French oak barrels were used.  The end result is a marvel of honey and vanilla – amazingly complex for such a young wine.

Stepp Riesling *S* Kallstadter Saumagen 2015 (13.0%, €22.00)

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Germany’s Pfalz region is beloved of the Wine Hunter himself, Jim Dunlop, and of course makes some great Riesling.  The alcohol of 13.0% is much higher than an average Mosel Riesling, for example, which indicates that this is likely to be significantly drier and more full bodied.  Apricot, lemon, lime and orange make an appearance – just such a lovely wine!

Red Claw Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2015 (13.0%, €27.00)

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From one of Australia’s premium cool climate regions, this is a Chardonnay to make Burgundy lovers weep – or convert!  The fermented wines are matured on their lees in 500L barrels (over double the standard barrique of 225L) with no malolactic fermentation allowed, so freshness is maintained.  This is a grown up wine with lots of lees character and reductive notes.

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #8

Rhône Wine Week is the fourth such celebration of the wines of the Rhône Valley and runs in Ireland from 29th October to 5th November 2016.  Events and promotions will be held at good independent wine shops and restaurants throughout the country.

Each day during this year’s celebration will have its own wine to try:

Château Pesquié “Terraces” Ventoux 2012 (13.5%, €18 – 19, Donnybrook Fair; 64 Wine; Jus de Vine)

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Happily, I am quite familiar with Château Pesquié wines, including sampling the range at a tasting meal at Belleek Castle.  Further up the range, Quintessence then Artemia are amazingly concentrated.

This bottle is an estate blend named after the terraces cut into the hillsides of Mont Ventoux.  Although it has (just) a majority Grenache, which tends to produce generous amounts of alcohol, it’s not a huge blockbuster. 35 % of this vintage is aged in oak barrels (2 to 4 years old) or in oak tanks for about one year.  The key to Terrasses is drinkability without dumbing down – accessibility but still with some complexity.  It’s one of the best value Rhônes on the market!

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #7

Rhône Wine Week is the fourth such celebration of the wines of the Rhône Valley and runs in Ireland from 29th October to 5th November 2016.  Events and promotions will be held at good independent wine shops and restaurants throughout the country.

Each day during this year’s celebration will have its own wine to try:

Les Deux Cols “Cuvée d’Alizé” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (14.0%, €16 – €17 at 64 Wine, Glasthule ; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Drink Store, Manor St, D7; Donnybrook Fair, Morehampton Rd)

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“The Two Hills” is made by Rhône maestro Simon Tyrrell himself in the region of Estezargues, near Avignon. (Les Vignerons D’ Estézargues is a co-operative producer from the same village that Tyrrells also import). A little known fact is that Simon and his wine partner Charles Derain (owner of Nomad Wine importers) both have the middle name Colin, hence the double meaning of the winery – imagine that!*

The 2012 bottling consists of 55% Grenache, 35% Syrah and 10% Cinsault, so it has both power and elegance.  Balance is the key here with plenty of acidity keeping the black fruit fresh and appealing.

*this might not actually be true

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #6

Rhône Wine Week is the fourth such celebration of the wines of the Rhône Valley and runs in Ireland from 29th October to 5th November 2016.  Events and promotions will be held at good independent wine shops and restaurants throughout the country.

Each day during this year’s celebration will have its own wine to try:

Fondrèche “Cuvée Nadal” Ventoux 2012 (14.5%, €23 – 24 at Donnybrook Fair; 64 Wine; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock)

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This wine is a  multi-faceted blend:

  • It’s a GSM assemblage (45% old vine Grenache, 45% Syrah & 10% Mourvèdre) with the Grenache vines in particular being old;
  • Also, the wine is aged in a mix of foudres (600L large vats), concrete eggs (for softness and a bit of a hippy touch) and barrels (228L, more traditional);
  • Finally, the wine is the labour of love of two people, Nanou Barthélemy & Sebastien Vincenti

It’s full of blackberry fruit with a liquorice – or is it black olive? – tang.  The different methods of ageing each add something a little different to the whole, and the age of the vines shows in the intensity of flavours.

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #5

Rhône Wine Week is the fourth such celebration of the wines of the Rhône Valley and runs in Ireland from 29th October to 5th November 2016.  Events and promotions will be held at good independent wine shops and restaurants throughout the country.

Each day during this year’s celebration will have its own wine to try:

Domaine des Remizières Crozes Hermitage 2013 (13.0%, €22.95 at Wines Direct)

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Crozes Hermitage reds are always predominantly Syrah-based, but can be made with up to 15% Marsanne and / or Roussanne added (the same varieties grapes are also used in white Crozes Hermitage).  The use of white grapes to soften the wine is less common nowadays and 100% Syrah Crozes (such as this one) is more usual.

Being a couple of years younger than the Cave de Tain, this 2013 has both more black fruit and more tannin. This would definitely improve with another year or two laid down in a good cellar, but if you can’t wait then decant and serve with steak!

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #4

Rhône Wine Week is the fourth such celebration of the wines of the Rhône Valley and runs in Ireland from 29th October to 5th November 2016.  Events and promotions will be held at good independent wine shops and restaurants throughout the country.

Each day during this year’s celebration will have its own wine to try:

Domaine de la Janasse “Tradition” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (13.5%, €18 – €19 at 64 Wine, Glasthule)

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(Monsieur) Aimé Sabon took over his family’s vineyard on returning from military service in 1967.  He decided to make wine from his own grapes, building a winery in 1973 and gradually expanding his landholdings.  Domaine de la Janasse was named after the family’s farm in Courthézon.

Janasse Châteauneuf du Pape has been a firm favourite of mine since the first Rhône Wine Week some years ago, and of course is the Twitter pic of DNS Wine Club of which I am a member! The Côtes du Rhône is made from organically grown vines just outside Châteauneuf, and is the first real southern-Rhône blend in this series: 50% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, 15% Carignan (60+ years old) and 5% Cinsault.

It would be unfair to compare it with its big brother, as it’s a lighter wine and considerably cheaper, but it is one of the better CDRs around and would embarrass some other producers’ Châteauneufs!  Think strawberries, but not the ones grown in poly tunnels in Ireland ot Holland, think smaller alpine strawberries with much more intense flavours.

 

 

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #3

Rhône Wine Week is the fourth such celebration of the wines of the Rhône Valley and runs in Ireland from 29th October to 5th November 2016.  Events and promotions will be held at good independent wine shops and restaurants throughout the country.

Each day during this year’s celebration will have its own wine to try:

Mas Oncle Ernest “Patience et longeur du temps” Côtes du Rhône 2011 (13.5%, €19.20 at Wines Direct)

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Alex Roux is a young winemaker (only 30 years old) transforming his family’s vineyard and making organic wines in the increasingly sought-after Ventoux A/C in the Southern Rhône. The mountainside property is named after his great grandfather, Ernest, who was the first to plant vines here. The cooling breezes of Mont Ventoux enable Alex to make a lighter style of wine than the southerly location would otherwise suggest.

This blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Grenache has typical black fruit and pepper on the nose followed by blackberry and strawberry on the palate, with just a lick of vanilla.

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #2

Rhône Wine Week is the fourth such celebration of the wines of the Rhône Valley and runs in Ireland from 29th October to 5th November 2016.  Events and promotions will be held at good independent wine shops and restaurants throughout the country.

Each day during this year’s celebration will have its own wine to try:

E.Guigal “Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph” Saint-Joseph 2005 (13.5%, 2009 is €49.00 at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)

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St Joseph was allegedly the saint of scorned husbands, a fact on which I make no comment! A vineyard was named after him centuries ago, becoming a small appellation in 1956, expanded to its current size in 1971.

This wine is 100% Syrah from the original Saint Joseph vineyard (“lieu-dit”), with vines between 20 – 75 years old giving great concentration. It gets more oak than Rhône master Guigal’s regular St Joe, with 50% new and 50% second use French oak. The result? Amazing! There is still sweet oak on the nose but it has integrated beautifully in the ten years since harvest. Tasted blind this might be guessed as coming from the new world, it’s so smooth and drinkable.