As most regular readers will know, I’m very lucky to receive sample wine bottles on a regular basis, in addition to invitations to trade and press tastings. While spitting at tastings is de rigueur (and, quite frankly, necessary if you want to maintain both your palate and the ability to walk unaided), sample bottles are drunk without spitting chez moi.
So what do you do when you have a good few samples that you need to try, but you’re cutting back on the booze for a bit? Share them with wine friends is the obvious answer! Thus, at an informal dinner with friends from the DNS Wine Club I produced four bottles of relatively inexpensive red wine all wrapped in foil – for a mini blind tasting.
The objective of the blind tasting wasn’t to see which was the best wine, but rather to see how good we were at guessing the vintage, main grape(s), country of origin etc. And we were painfully average at that! However, one wine was agreed to be the tastiest – and happened to be the go-to bottle of one of the tasters:
Finca Las Moras Dadá Art Series 1 2016 (12.5%, €10.00, widely available at SuperValu, Dunnes Stores and all good independent off licences)
There are actually lots of different wines in the Dadá Art Series, but this Bonarda / Malbec blend is the most widely available. It’s actually quite an unusual blend, as Bonarda in Argentina is the same grape as the obscure Deuce Noir from Savoie in France (and formerly part of Italy) rather than the slightly better known Bonarda Piemontese. Malbec is of course Argentina’s signature black grape.
Obscure or unusual don’t matter in the end, it’s what’s in the glass that counts – and this is lovely! Blackberry crumble with lashings of custard, it’s that kind of lovely – black fruit from the grapes with plenty of vanilla from the American oak. And for a tenner in Ireland, this is great value for money!
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:
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)
Apart from a few exceptions I rarely enjoy varietal Torrontésas 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 freshenedby 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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
Leading Irish off licence chain O’Briens have some excellent premium wines and some are on sale (in store only) for a short time. Here is a selection of my favourites:
Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Viognier 2012 (14.5%, €31.95 down to €25.56)
I had tried this wine previously and, although it was pretty good, I wasn’t overly impressed. Tasting is such a subjective pastime that I’m always ready to give a wine another try – and I’m so glad I did! I didn’t find this as oily as some Rhône Viogniers but it was peachy and rich – the abv of 14.5% should be a hint that it’s on the dry side. More of a food wine than a quaffing wine, but very well crafted.
Henri Bourgeois Sancerre d’Antan 2014 (13.5%, €45.00 down to €36.00)
This upmarket Sancerre is not for the casual drinker; it’s pricey but excellent. If I bought it I’d stick it away for a few years at least – it’s still fairly tight and closed up, but undoubtedly has fabulous potential.
La Comtesse de Pazo Barrantes Albariño 2013 (13.5%, €42.00 down to €33.60)
This is a fine wine to sit and sip, and to reflect upon the world. It has lees work and some oak, so it’s unlike most Albariños on the market, but it’s no Chardonnay clone either. Probably my favourite Albariño ever tasted!
Chanson Puligny-Montrachet 2013 (13.5%, €55.00 down to €44.00)
Top class Burgundy isn’t cheap, so why not try it when it’s on offer? This is another youngster that really needs putting away for a while, or at least decanting for a few hours if drinking now. Oak is noticeable on the nose (which I like, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) and adds depth to the palate. Don’t drink it too cold, and only share with friends who appreciate good wine!
Caro 2013 (14.5%, €50.00 down to €40.00)
This is a serious Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon blend which is the result of collaboration between Bordeaux’s Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite and the Catena family. At this young age it still has lots of oak and tannin and primary plum and blackcurrant fruit characters, but also cedar and sandalwood notes. Far better value than most posh Bordeaux reds, keep it for as long as you can bare!
Marqués de Murrietta Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €34.95 down to €24.95)
When it comes to Rioja I normally go for a Crianza or Reserva style where the fruit is more prominent than the longer aged Gran Reservas. They can be too dry and “woody” (for me “oaky” can be good but “woody” rarely is). Marqués de Murrietta have a beauty on their hands with the 2007 – it’s exactly how Gran Reservas should be: lots of fruit (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry) with vanilla, all in a soft and cosseting package. Get in!
Delheim Grand Reserve 2013 (14.0%, €36.95 down to €29.56)
This is of course a South African wine but – tasted blind – does a great impression of a classy left bank Bordeaux. The main difference is that it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape which never ripens sufficiently to be used as a varietal in Bordeaux (though can be a very high percentage of some Pauillacs). It’s definitely a dry wine, with pencil shavings and cedar notes that you’d associate with a more mature wine – so treat yourself to a bottle and a big steak! More info here.
Gérard Bertrand Cigalus 2014 (14.5%, €38.95 down to €29.95)
Probably the best wine in Gérard Bertrand’s portfolio, this is a biodynamically produced blend using both Bordeaux and Languedoc varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Caladoc (a cross between Grenache and Malbec). Interestingly, the Syrah and Carignan undergo whole berry carbonic maceration (similar to Gamay in Beaujolais) which adds a little approachability – it’s a big wine, but not too intimidating.
If Argentina’s wine producers can be said to have a certain nobilityabout them, then Bodega Achaval Ferrer is royalty.
To my shame I hadn’t tasted their wines before the Wines of Argentina event earlier this year, but they made a big impression. More precisely, they didn’t make an impression by just being *big* (though there are very few 12% light-bodied Malbecs made in Argentina), but rather due to their elegance – probably the most elegant wines I tasted at the whole event.
Elegance doesn’t come without a cost, of course; apart from the pair featured below the range includes more expensive wines such as:
Quimera, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (RRP around €35)
The Fincaseries, three single vineyard expressions of Malbec with a RRP of €85 – €90
The Mendoza series are blends from different vineyards across the Mendoza wine region. Based on the idea that blends can be more than the sum of their parts, they are designed to highlight the qualities and characters of their varieties rather than be a transparent window onto the terroir where they are grown. Though to be honest, given the strength and power of Malbec, wouldn’t translucent be more appropriate?
This is a 100% Malbec wine made from 60 hectares of vines in the Perdriel (3,150 ft), Medrano(2,790 ft) and Uco Valley (3,608 ft) subregions. Close to opaque in the glass, it has a highly perfumed nose, with a range of red and black fruits and a twist of spice. The fruit is also present and correct on the palate, but elegantly presented rather than the punch in the gob which most Malbecs give you. It’s hard to describe accurately, but this is a classy wine.
The companion Cabernet Sauvignon is also a 100% varietal, but made from just 15 hectares in the Agrelo (3,215 ft) and Medrano(2,790 ft) subregions of Mendoza. It also has a beguiling nose, outrageous amounts of elegant fruit coming through. On the palate it could almost be mistaken for a serious Pauillac, with black and red fruit plus hints of cedar and tobacco – though I don’t think a Pauillac of this class could be drunk so young! Fine grained tannins also add a bit backbone against which the fruit is framed.
Conclusion:Yes, this pair do showcase their respective varieties as intended – but I think far more than that, they showcase the care and attention taken in the vineyard, low yields and high altitude setting. These are wines fit for a king!
Altitude is even more important than latitude in Argentina – in terms of the weather patterns in the vineyard and the perceived quality of the wine. The search for good vineyard sites continues in Argentina, with new parts of the wine heartland Mendoza Valley being tried, plus further north in Salta such as in the Colchaqui Valley (pictured above).
The DNS Wine Club met to examine both whites and reds from Argentina, both varietals and blends. The whites were published on The Taste here: Hi Ho Silver(I wonder how many people got the pun in the title?) Now it’s the turn of the reds:
Susana Balbo Crios Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (Mendoza) (€16.25 down to €14.65, Wines Direct – Arnotts & online)
14.0%, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Susana Balbo is the most recognised and celebrated oenologist in Argentina and has been at the forefront of innovation and quality improvements for decades. Key notes are plum and redcurrant (surprisingly more than blackcurrant), joined by a touch of vanilla from oak barrels. The soft tannins and silky smooth texture make this a delicious wine to enjoy in front of a roaring fire, or perhaps with a big juicy steak. Great value.
Amalaya produce a fantastic range of wines (also check out their Torrontés Riesling blend) of which this is a fairly modest member. Based in the highlands of Salta, the vineyards start at a mile high (1,600m) and keep climbing. Warm days and cool nights promote thicker skins than in lower vineyards (giving more intense flavours) and help maintain acidity (making the wines taste fresher).
This blend is more than the sum of its parts – ripe plum from the Malbec, pepper and spice from the Syrah plus a savoury edge from the Cabernet. Narrowly missed out on the best red of the tasting.
At “only” 850m – 1,100m the vineyards for this wine are considered to be in the foothills (for reference, Croagh Patrick’s summit is 764m). Although located in what is usually referred to as the New World, the Estate dates back to 1895 which makes it fairly old in my book. The vines for this bottle are 15 years of age or older giving classic Malbec characters.
If anybody, anywhere, tells you that “all Malbecs taste the same, there’s no point spending more than xx Euros on one” then you have my permission to shoot them (not that I think it would be a valid defence in a court of law). The Colomé winery dates back to 1831 – older than many Rioja Bodegas, for example. There are actually four separate estates at altitudes between 1,700m and 3,111m, each adding something to the blend of the Estate Malbec.
For such a big, alcoholic wine it is remarkably refined, delicate and long. Blackberry, blackcurrant and black cherry characters are the key, with supple tannins supplying the structure. A fantastic wine!
The first grape that many people (especially my friend Ciaran) suggest for a barbecue red is Malbec, particularly the fruit-driven style Malbecs that come out of Argentina. Others take a different view and insist that Cabernet is King, and the extra tannin of Cabernet Sauvignon is required to tame a protein feast.
Well of course neither are wrong – it’s personal preference after all – but there is a way to keep both parties happy – a Malbec Cabernet blend, the best of both worlds:
Lot #01 Mendoza Malbec Cabernet 2013 (€12.99, Aldi Wine)
This is a foray upmarket for Aldi, the discount Supermarket chain. Now that we are gradually emerging from the depths of despair recession, wine drinkers are gradually willing to spend a little more, but still keeping an eye on value for money.
Aldi recently launched their Lot Wines collection, premium wines with a limited production of 25,000 – 35,000 bottles per wine. That might still sound a lot, but in the context of the number of outlets they have in Ireland and the UK (at least) then it’s actually not that many. Each wine in the series has its own label designed by artists local to the producing region and a tag with information about the consulting winemaker for each one. Each bottle is individually numbered which adds to the premium look and feel.
For Lot #01 the man with the plan was José ‘Pepe’ Galante, head winemaker at Bodégas Salentein. Most of the grapes are sourced from higher altitude sites in the Uco Valley subregion of Mendoza – the altitude gives cooler growing conditions enabling the vines to produce grapes with ripe flavours and a balance of acidity and sugar (sites further east at lower altitude might be too warm and produce jammy wines). The grapes are hand-picked from selected parcels and matured after fermentation for twelve months in oak.
As well as the two hero grapes, there’s also a dash of Petit Verdot in here (less than 15% otherwise it would be on the front label). As in Bordeaux, it’s added for seasoning and a bit of extra backbone – as a grape it’s very high in tannin.
So how does the wine taste?
This wine has lots and lots of fruit, plum and damson from the Malbec intertwined with blackcurrant and blackberry from the Cabernet. But it’s no fruit bomb, the tannin and acidity keep it well balanced. It’s smooth to drink, but not so smooth that the taste jades after a glass or two. The oak is there but accompanies rather than dominates the fruit, adding vanilla and spice notes.
I shared this bottle with French and Irish friends at a barbecue and it was very well received – one French lady almost falling off her chair in delight!
Disclosure: Sample was provided, but opinions are entirely my own (and Sabrina’s)
The Wine Society is a mutually-owned wine buying club based in Stevenage in England. Since its inception in 1874 as The International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society Limitedits aim has been to buy wines direct from growers to ensure their authenticity and quality and to offer them to members at fair prices.
The Society has over 120,000 active members in the UK and Ireland which gives it great purchasing power and a licence to list more unusual bottles. They run various tasting events throughout the UK and one in Dublin most years. The most recent one focused on wines from the Americas, and below are my personal highlights. Our hosts were the charming Simon Mason and the lovely Isobel Cooper.
Viña Litoral Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley, Chile 2013
Leyda is situated close to the Pacific coast (as you might guess from “Litoral”) with its cooling sea breezes and thus is well suited to Sauvignon Blanc. This example has ripe grapefruit and gooseberry balanced by refreshing acidity. The 13.5% abv gives it a generous roundness in the mouth.
Concha y Toro Corte Ignacio Casablanca Riesling (Chile) 2013
From a very cool, top vineyard in western Casablanca, this is a
medium-dry riesling with about a third of the harvest affected by
noble rot, overlaying a lovely light honeyed aroma and flavour
over a bright, fresh palate. Drink now to 2018. 12%
Primus Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile) 2011
A textbook example of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, not terribly complex but bursting with fruit and the beginnings of cedar and tabacco notes. Drinkable on its own mid week or with a medium rare steak.
Faldeos Nevados Torrontés (Argentina) 2013
Torrontés is Argentina’s signature white grape, with aromas and flavours somewhere between Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Viognier. At 14% abv it has plenty of body to match the bold grape and stone fruit flavours.
Norman Hardie Chardonnay Unfiltered, Ontario (Canada) 2011
The first Canadian wine I have tasted that wasn’t an Ice Wine. The aim here is more Burgundy than California – it has a modest 12.5% abv and a streak of minerality through the middle. It reminded me most of Premier Cru Chablis. In my view a little less oak would let the fruit shine more.
Weinert Carrascal (Argentina) 2008
This is a blend of 40% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot, all Bordeaux varieties, although of course Malbec is mainly reduced to a minor supporting role in Bordeaux nowadays. No shrinking violet, this is a big, rich, in-your-face wine with a velvety finish. Great for cold nights or with red meat.
Ravenswood Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel (USA) 2011
Ravenswood make some fantastic Zin; big, bold and very gluggable. Their Lodi Old-Vine is slightly more expensive but more concentrated, higher in alcohol and will live for longer. It’s a world away from “blush” white Zinfandel.
Ridge Geyserville (USA) 2011
Ridge is almost legendary among Californian producers. This is a Zinfandel-Carignan(e) blend based on some of California’s oldest vines; the youngest are 10 years old, the oldest over 120 years, with 60% 40 years old or more. It is very dense at first – takes a while to open up in the glass – then the powerful dark black fruit comes through, wrapped in vanilla. This will surely continue to develop over the next 10 years.
Quartet Anderson Valley Brut Roederer Estates (USA) NV
For me this was the star of the whole event. It is a traditional method sparkling wine from Mendocino County in California. The grapes are sourced from four separate vineyards (hence the name) in the northern Anderson Valley, cooled by the proximity of the Pacific Ocean. On the palette the 30% Pinot Noir initially gives lots of soft strawberry flavours and then the 70% Chardonnay comes through as bright citrus. The finish has classic brioche richness from ageing on the lees. Wonderfully balanced and put together.
Now I like fine food, just as I like fine wine, but sometimes I just want something a bit more straightforward, basic… gourmand rather than gourmet. And being a carnivorous male of the species that means a big eff-off steak! Vegetarians should look away now…
Francis Xavier Buckley opened a butcher’s in Dublin in 1930, and the group still maintains FX Buckley butchers along with five steakhouses and pubs. They pride themselves on the quality of their meat which they source directly and dry-age wherever possible. For my birthday we chose to visit their Steakhouse on Crow Street in Temple Bar in the heart of Dublin.
We were shown to our table shortly after arrival; but the cramped layout of the place was such that several other diners had to brush past the back of both our chairs to and from their table – quite irritating to be honest!
As the menus are available to browse online I already had a good idea what my food order was going to be, so I glanced at the specials board and checked out the wine list. The Amaretto Sour cocktail caught my eye as I love almond and amaretto flavours – and it was delicious.
However, when we gave our food orders the waiter almost walked away without asking what wine or other drinks we would like with our meal – what sort of place is this? The wine by the glass selection was fairly limited, but at least it appeared appropriate to the food being served. My wife Jess chose Argentinian Malbec (we have both converted from anti- to pro-Malbec!) and I selected a slightly more modest Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.
As an admitted carnivore I chose Baby Back Pork Ribs, done in a sweet barbecue sauce. Thankfully the sweetness of the Amaretto Sour could handle the sauce as my red wine tasted quite bitter with the ribs.
Jess chose Castlintownbere Mussels – despite having some sort of fish and seafood allergy she seems able to tolerate mussels (and when I say “tolerate” I mean “devour with relish”).
So what does a steak fan order on his birthday? A 22oz Bone-in Rib-Eye, that’s what!
It was amazingly tender and succulent, even better than I’d hoped! And finally the Chilean Cabernet came into its own, a good match for a perfectly medium-rare steak.
My wife is not as greedy as me so she ordered the 10oz 28 day Dry-aged Rib eye, and again it was juicy and flavoursome. She did the taste test against mine (which had the bone in) and narrowly preferred it, but both were excellent. The Malbec was still going well, as you’d expect of a big red wine made in a beef-producing country like Argentina.
After a suitable pause we moved onto the sweet stuff. There didn’t appear to be any dessert wine so I finished my red wine and just drank water with the Double Chocolate Tart. This was fairly, but not overly, sweet and mainly dark chocolate – I find milk chocolate too sickly and don’t even ask me about white “chocolate”.
Jess chose her perennial favourite – Créme Brûlée. This was a success and had a satisfyingly crunchy sugar layer on top.
Once our spoons were down we paid the bill and left – it didn’t seem a venue to linger over coffee.
Great steaks but poor layout and lacking in atmosphere. Not ideal if you are a wine lover.