Whereas Chianti has a long and storied history of making wine, its neighbour in Tuscany Montalcino is a more recent newcomer, at least at any scale. The soil around Montalcino is generally poor so few crops were grown and the land mainly given over to woodland and sheep pasture. While some grapes were planted and vinified for local consumption, it was Ferruccio Biondi-Santi who created the first “modern” Brunello and founded the house that still carries his name.
Despite the renown of his Brunello wines the area remained under-utilised. A lawyer from Rome, Gabriele Mastrojanni, bought the San Pio and Loreto estates in 1975 and turned them into vineyards. Mastrojanni followed Biondi-Santi’s lead and planted Sangiovese Grosso grapes, aka Brunello. He planted them in such a way that tractors could be used in the vineyards when desired, but still at a high enough planting density that competition between vines forced them to send down deep roots and not produce too much foliage.
Mastrojanni currently make eight wines:
the Brunello is made most years apart from poor harvests such as 1992 and 2002
a Rosso is made with similar care but with shorter ageing for earlier drinking
a well-established single cru Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Schiena d’Asino, a single hectare vineyard
a new single cru Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Loreto, also made only in exceptional years
a new wine made with the rare variety Ciliegiolo
another new bottling Costa Colonne from the new DOC Sant’Antimo
a Super-Tuscan Cabernet Sauvignon-Sangiovese blend, San Pio
a botrytised dessert wine
Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino 2015
2015 was a renowned vintage in much of Italy, so I had high hopes for this wine. On pouring – from a half bottle – it was just above medium intensity, with a ruby, somewhat watery rim. Dense black fruits dominate the nose, with black cherry and blackberry to the fore, with notes of exotic spice at the periphery. The palate is powerful and viscous, almost thick in the mouth. Voluptuous black fruits are joined with more savoury notes of black olive, leather and black liquorice. The tannins are ripe so it’s down to the acidity to provide structure and keep everything fresh.
This is a succulent, tasty wine. I hear the 2016 is even more highly regarded, so that would be a special treat to enjoy this winter.
RRP: €37.95 (375 ml) / €69.50 (750 ml)
Stockists (2016 750 ml): Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellar; The Corkscrew; Clontarf Wines; Deveneys, Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Grapevine, Dalkey; Lotts and Co, Terenure; Martins Off Licence, Fairview; Michael’s Sutton; Nectar Wines; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Pembroke wines @ Roly’s Bistro; Saltwater Grocery; Sweeney’s D3; The Winehouse – Trim
Members of the ABC club can look away now; if either Anything But Chardonnay or Anything But Cabernet are a motto of yours then this is not the article for you. However, for the rest of us – great, right-minded people – read on!
Bread & Butter Wines
Based in the Napa Valley, Bread & Butter’s philosophy is encapsulated by their winemaker Linda Trotta’s motto “A good wine is a wine you like“. Thus, pleasure is the aim for the majority of their wines rather than following a particular trend, matching with special food or expressing the nuances of a certain terroir. “These wines pair well with a glass” is another gem they espouse. I think you’re beginning to get the picture.
The Bread & Butter portfolio is in three distinct ranges:
Classically-styled Everyday Wines: Italian Prosecco (!), California Rosé, California Sauvignon Blanc, California Chardonnay, California Pinot Noir, California Cabernet Sauvignon, California Merlot
“To-go” Wines: Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley Merlot, Napa Valley Red Blend, Napa Valley Petite Sirah, Napa Valley Zinfandel, Napa Valley Pinot Noir, Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley Chardonnay, Napa Valley Rosé
The wines in blue and bold are available in Ireland. Quality and price increases as you move down the list. So how do the wines actually taste? Here are two from the Classically-styled Everyday Wines range:
Bread & Butter California Chardonnay 2019
As its counterpart below, this is a California wine rather than any smaller AVA, so the grapes were probably sourced from several regions and blended together.
It pours a light gold in the glass, giving an indication that this is going to be a dessert wine (highly unlikely), an aged wine (nope, it’s a 2019) or an oaked wine (bingo!) And so the nose reveals: layers of vanilla and buttery toast with hints of lemon and orange. The palate is exactly how you would expect a California Chardonnay to be: lemon curd, pineapple cubes and lots of creamy texture, though not the full on butter churn experience.
While it’s far from subtle, I really like this wine. At this price point many Chardonnays are unoaked for both cost and stylistic reasons, and those that have seen some oak can be disjointed or seem confected. And I’m not alone – I have heard several wine drinkers make a beeline for this wine and declare it their new favourite.
RRP: €20 – €25
Source: purchased from Baggot Street Wines
Stockists: Fresh Smithfield and Grand Canal; Whelehans Loughlinstown, Deveney’s of Dundrum; Wine Centre Kilkenny; Morton’s of Ranelagh; Redmonds of Ranelagh; O’Donovans Cork; Robbie’s Drummartin; LaHoya Greens Terenure; Barnhill Stores; Baggot Street Wines; Martin’s of Fairview; Morton’s of Galway; Thomas’s of Foxrock; Parting Glass Enniskerry; McGuinness Dundalk; Next Door Ennis
Bread & Butter California Cabernet Sauvignon 2020
The Cabernet Sauvignon actually poured a little lighter than I expected, though we’re still not talking Poulsard here. The nose is heady, with ripe cassis and blackcurrant*, blueberry, vanilla and toast oak notes. The palate is rich and velvety, with blackcurrant and cocoa to the fore. Tannins are very restrained indeed – this is no Pauillac facsimile. The finish has some residual sugar – I couldn’t find a tech sheet but I noted that Decanter included it within the Medium – Dry, 5 – 18 g/L category. The sugar comes through as richness more than sweetness, especially to the untrained palate. This is the type of red than many drinkers go mad for at the moment; it’s not a wine I would choose for myself unless I was eating barbecue with a sweet marinade, and then it would be quaffed with extreme prejudice.
RRP: €20 – €25
Source: purchased from Baggot Street Wines
Stockists: Fresh Smithfield and Grand Canal; Whelehans Loughlinstown, Deveney’s of Dundrum; Wine Centre Kilkenny; Morton’s of Ranelagh; Redmonds of Ranelagh; O’Donovans Cork; Robbies Drumartin; LaHoya Greens Terenure; Barnhill Stores; Baggot Street Wines; Martin’s of Fairview; Morton’s of Galway; Thomas’s of Foxrock; Parting Glass Enniskerry; MacGuiness’s Dundalk; Next Door Ennis
These are both unabashed commercial wines which give (a good proportion of) wine drinkers exactly what they are looking for. I can imagine than some won’t like either wine, but that’s not important – they really deliver drinking pleasure to those that do. I’d be happy to share a bottle of the Cab Sauv with my wife but it’s the Chardonnay I’d order for myself.
* Yes, I know they are the same thing – for most of us at least. Just checking that you’re paying attention.
Pepe Mendoza makes fascinating wines in his home region of Alicante. To understand the wines we must first understand the region and the man himself. We will look at the range of wines he makes followed by tasting notes of one of them.
Where is Alicante? I wouldn’t have been able to place it accurately on a (blank) map, so here’s an annotated map:
Alicante wine comes from the province of the same name in south eastern Spain. As you can see on the outline map above (Credit: Té y kriptonita), there are two separate and distinct sub-regions:
Vinalopó which follows the banks of the river of the same name
La Marina which is a newer, smaller region by the coast
Monastrell is the major grape planted in Alicante – especially in the more developed and warmer Vinalopó – as it is in other wine regions in this part of Spain. A long-standing speciality of the area is Fondillón wine, a late-harvest red wine which is left in barrel for extended periods – similar to the way that Tawny Port is matured, though Fondillón is not fortified.
La Marina is cooler and has more rainfall, and so is more suitable for white grapes – Moscatel is prevalent.
Another historical wine style which was once more common is Brisat wines, i.e. skin-contact wines made using amphoras.
Señor Pepe Mendoza
José (Pepe) Mendoza grew up learning about vines and winemaking in his father’s eponymous firm Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, founded in 1989. Pepe was closely involved in the vineyard and the winery, then the overall running of the family firm with his younger brother Julian. In addition to this large concern – it covers 500 hectares and produces 250,000 bottles annually – Pepe and his wife Pepa Agulló also founded their own boutique operation Casa Agrícola.
From the beginning of 2021 Pepe stepped away from the family firm to concentrate on Casa Agrícola and a new consultancy business – Uva Destino – aimed at helping “vineyards that strive to express themselves”.
Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola Wine Range
There are four distinct wine ranges within the Casa Agricola portfolio:
These are Pepe’s entry level wines which blend local varieties and are designed to be fresh but easy drinking:
Paisaje Mediterraneo Blanco: Moscatel 40%, Macabeo 40%, Airén 20%
Paisaje Mediterraneo Tinto: Monastrell 70%, Giró 25%, Alicante Bouschet 5%
Single Varietal wines
There is currently just one wine in this range:
Pureza Moscatel Anfora:100% Moscatel (see below)
These are also single varietal wines but made with grapes sourced from a single terroir, one which allows the variety to thrive:
Giró de Abargues:100% Giró from Marina Alta
El Veneno Monastrell:100% Monastrell from Alto Vinalopó
Small Production wines
These are experimental wines which act as an R&D lab for Pepe to try out new styles:
Mares de Luz Coupaje: a blend of Monastrell from Vinalopo and Giró from Marina Alta
Giró-Gironet Ánfora Velo Flor: 2 different Giró clones fermented under a veil of flor
Blanc Brisat Moscatel “La Solana”: a 100% Moscatel skin contact wine aged in amphoras
Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola Pureza Moscatel Anfora 2019
The vineyard where the grapes for this wine are sourced from is only two hectares in area and was planted in 1943. It is farmed without irrigation and according to organic principles but is uncertified. Wine making takes an additive-free approach: yeast is indigenous and there are no enzymes, acid, sugar or other additives used.
The grape variety used is 100% Moscatel de Alejandría (Muscat of Alexandria) which is common all across the Mediterranean. It is sometimes regarded as inferior to other Muscats – principally Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains – but in the right setting it can deliver very good wines.
The juice is fermented on skins in amphoras of 220, 250 and 350 litres, with macerations two to three times a day. After alcoholic fermentation of around ten days, the wine is matured in the same amphoras for six months, without lees stirring, then in bottle for a further five.
Although classed by some as an “orange” or “amber” wine, this is more of a deep lemon colour. The nose shows grapes as expected from a Muscat, but also orange blossom and citrus peel. When tasted, at first it shows delicacy and poise, dancing on the tongue. There’s a fleshy sweetness to the mid palate, but this is followed up by some grippy tannins and an oh-so-dry finish.
This is a highly individual and unusual wine, completely out of the mainstream. It’s not one I would drink regularly on its own – it would surely blossom even more with food – but it’s very well done and deserves consideration for a wine which activates your senses and stimulates your brain.
Stockists: The Wine Pair; Higgins Off-Licence; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The Corkscrew; Sweeney’s D3; Deveney’s Dundrum; SC Grocer Monkstown
Source: media sample
Other Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola wines available in Ireland
In addition to the Pureza Moscatel Anfora, the following Pepe Mendoza wines are available in Ireland:
Paisaje Mediterraneo Blanco 2019 (RRP €24.95) Stockists: Avoca; Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Deveney’s Dundrum; Sweeney’s D3; McHughs; SC Grocer Monkstown; The Wine Pair; Thomas’s Foxrock.
Paisaje Mediterraneo Tinto 2019 (RRP €24.95) Stockists: Avoca; Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Deveney’s Dundrum; Sweeney’s D3; McHughs; Mitchell and Son.
El Veneno Monastrell 2018 (RRP €43.95) Stockists: Avoca; D-Six Off-Licence; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The Corkscrew; Sweeney’s D3; Deveney’s Dundrum
When particular wines become a commodity it can be hard for quality producers to sell their wines for a price that reflects their efforts and costs. One rule of thumb is that, if there is a “Tesco Finest” example of a wine then it’s already close to a commodity. Two principal ways of overcoming this barrier are:
Brand marketing is expensive and really only worthwhile to large scale producers. These producers will often have distinct quality levels among their wines. Brancott Estate and Villa Maria of New Zealand spring to mind.
By “stand-out quality” I mean that a producer who focuses on improving quality year on year may – eventually – be sought out as one of the best examples of their particular wine. One example is Villa des Crois Picpoul de Pinet. Before tasting this I couldn’t have imagined that premium Picpoul could exist. In fairness, it is still modestly priced for a quality white wine, but it does command a premium over other Picpouls.
So now we move onto the questions: What is Pecorino like? Where is Pecorino grown?
According to Jancis, Julia and José’s book Wine Grapes1, Pecorino is a very old grape from the Marche in central Italy, possibly even domesticated from wild grapes of the area. The wine has no connection with Pecorino cheese; the cheese is just made from sheep’s milk and the grapes are said to have been popular with grazing sheep (Pecora)2. It was widespread up to the end of the 19th century but fell out of favour.
The story of the rediscovery of Pecorino in the last quarter of the 20th century has a few different versions. Luigi Cataldi Madonna (see below) claims that his friend Vincenzo Aquilano found some 80 year old vines in 1983 and that he (Luigi) was bowled over by an experimental wine made from it in 1990. Wine Grapes credits Guido Cocci Grifoni as resurrecting the grape in the 1980s, though that producer’s website gives 1975 as their first year of making Pecorino wines.
One of the main characteristics of Pecorino is its high, sometimes bracing, acidity. It naturally produces low yields (which is a likely reason it fell out of favour) but is strongly resistant to both downy and powdery mildew.
Cataldi Madonna is located on the “Forno d’Abruzzo” plateau, a hot subregion which receives cooling downdrafts from the most southerly glacier in the northern hemisphere. The vines cover 30 hectares and are situated between 320 and 440 metres above sealevel.
The business was founded in 1920 by Baron Luigi Cataldi Madonna, but didn’t bottle wine until 1975 under the founder’s son Antonio. Antonio totally modernised the vineyards and production facilities, bringing it right up to date. The next generation saw Antonio’s nephew Luigi take over the business in 1990. He transformed the house even further and made it one of the best respected wineries of Abruzzo.
As mentioned above, Luigi first tasted Pecorino in 1990 and immediately planted his own vines. The variety became a calling card of Cataldi Madonna and is currently available in three versions. Luigi’s daughter Giulia became the fourth generation of the family to run the business when she recently took over the reins.
Cataldi Madonna Pecorino Giulia 2019
This is the middle Pecorino of Cataldi Madonna, with a bag-in-box base wine and the SuperGiulia premium wine. They are all Pecorino IGT Terre Aquilane. Giulia was created by Luigi to celebrate the 18th birthday of his daughter Giulia. The wine is 100% Pecorino from vines planted in 2001 at 380 metres on clay loam soil.
Opened young and straight from the fridge, this wine is somewhat muted on the nose, with light citrus notes to be found. The palate is dominated by bright, I mean BRIGHT citrus notes and a real zap of acidity. But then, if you’re not a complete amateur like me, given some time and air it opens up a little on the nose and especially on the palate. The acidity settles down, remaining fresh but not jarring. The citrus notes unfurl into lime, lemon and grapefruit, and are accompanied by some pear and tropical fruits.
This wine loves to take you on a journey, and the delicious destination is worth the price of the ticket!
Stockists: Deveneys, Dundrum; McHughs, Kilbarrack; D-Six Off Licence; Baggot Street Wines
Source: media sample
1Wine Grapes: A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties, including their origins and flavours – Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, José Vouillamoz
Before the arrival of this wine into Dublin I have to confess that I was only distantly aware of Wente Vineyards and their home of Livermore Valley in California’s Central Coast. The two are inextricably linked, but first here’s a map for us to get our bearings:
Livermore Valley in California
As you can see, Livermore Valley is at the top of the Central Coast region, across the Bay from San Francisco. Cooling sea breezes and fogs from San Francisco Bay give the valley more significant diurnal temperature variation, helpful for producing quality wine.
Although not that well known today – in Europe at least – grapes were first planted in Livermore in the 1840s, before the Bordeaux Classification of 1855 and well before phylloxera devastated European vineyards.
There was a flurry of winery openings in the 1880s, with Cresta Blanca Winery in 1882 followed by Concannon Vineyard and Wente Vineyards in 1883. Colcannon and Wente are still in operation today, with Wente being the biggest. In fact, it was Wente who ended up buying the land that Cresta Blanca had used and replanted it after decades of being barren.
Livermore Valley’s influence on Californian wine extended beyond its immediate borders:
Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grown there originated from vine cuttings taken from Château d’Yquem
Livermore was the first area in California that labelled wines by their variety
As one of the oldest places planted to Chardonnay, it is the genetic source of 80% of Californian Chardonnay
Wente Vineyards are proud of their status as “the country’s longest, continuously operated family-owned winery”. They have now reached five generations of family winegrowers:
Carl H. Wente founded the vineyard with the purchase of 47 acres in 1883
Ernest Wente imported Chardonnay cuttings from Montpellier in 1912 and established the Wente Clone. His brother Herman Wente helped to found the California Wine Institute in 1936
Karl L. Wente joined the business in 1949 and greatly expanded US and international distribution. He also expanded the family’s holdings into Arroyo Secco (Monterey)
Eric, Philip and Carolyn Wente took over management of the business in 1977
Christine, Karl, Jordan, Niki and Aly Wente hold various positions in the business
Not content to simply fall back on with their long history, Wente are also embracing the future with the first ever virtual wine tasting accessed through Alexa or Google.
In addition to producing wine the estate also features a restaurant, 18 hole golf course and concert venue. But it’s the wine that matters most to us! The Wente wine portfolio consists of several ranges. In approximate order of most to least expensive they are:
The Nth Degree
Wente Winemakers Studio
It’s not unusual for Estate wines to be the top range in a producer’s portfolio, so this indicates a high quality level. To evaluate this theory we now turn to a specific wine from the Estate Grown range.
Disclosure: This bottle was kindly provided as a sample
Wente Morning Fog Livermore Valley Chardonnay 2018
The Wente Vineyards “Morning Fog” Livermore Valley Chardonnay is made by fifth generation Karl Wente. Its name evokes the fogs that roll across San Francisco Bay and into the east-west trained vines of Livermore Valley. Various Wente Chardonnay clones are used, including “Old Wente” which have been propagated without going though heat treatment at UC Davis. Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately.
After the grapes are pressed the must is split into two parts: 50% is fermented in old American oak and 50% is fermented in stainless steel tanks. The barrel fermented portion remains in those containers for five months and undergoes monthly lees stirring. The Inox portion is split further; half remains on its lees and receives bâtonnage while half is racked into clean tanks. All vessels are then blended together before bottling.
When poured the wine is lemon, not as deep as some other (more oaky) Chardonnays. It’s highly aromatic on the nose – helped by 2% Gewürztraminer – full of toasty, leesy notes and fresh citrus. The palate is fresh and clean, but with lovely texture. Unlike some Cali Chardonnays, the texture doesn’t get in the way of the wine or stand out awkwardly, but rather comes along for the journey. There’s a fine mineral streak through the wine and a fresh finish.
Overall this is a very well put together wine, rising above many confected and manufactured rivals at this price point.
Stockists: Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Jus de Vine; Lotts and Co; Martins Off Licence; McHughs Kilbarrack and Malahide; Mitchell and Son Glasthule and CHQ; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; Power & Co Fine Wines; Sweeney’s D3; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The GrapeVine, Glasnevin; The Wine Pair; Thomas’s Foxrock
Port wine is world famous, known wherever wine is drunk. It’s a powerful, sweet, fortified wine that has become the name of a style – just like Champagne – even though it should only be used for geographically demarcated wines from Portugal. Although the Port Houses are innovating, with a multitude of styles and colours being marketed, demand for their fortified wines isn’t as strong as it could be, considering their quality.
Table wines from the Douro have therefore increased in importance. The style of Douro wines is evolving as well; initially they were often “dry Ports”, made from the same varieties and full of alcohol, flavour and body. Although popular, some of them were a little rustic and lacked elegance. Enter Casa Ferreirinha, taken from the Liberty Wines Ireland website:
Founded in 1952, with the production of the first ever vintage of Barca Velha, Casa Ferreirinha pioneered the quality revolution in Douro still wines and was the first producer in the region dedicated entirely to producing wine, rather than port. Named after the legendary Porto matriarch Dona Antónia Ferreira, Casa Ferreirinha, pays homage to the memory of this visionary woman. Today, the winemaking is headed up by Luís Sottomayor, who restrains the Douro’s natural exuberance to produce wines that have a vibrant freshness allied to a lovely texture and depth.
Earlier this year I joined a zoom masterclass presented by Luís Sottomayor himself and got to taste some of the wines (disclosure: which were samples, obvs):
Casa Ferreirinha “Vinha Grande” Douro Branco 2019
Although there are white Port grapes grown in the Douro (white Port and tonic is the “in” summer drink these days) we don’t tend to think of dry white Douro wines. The Vinha Grande Branco has been made since 2005 since the acquisition of 25 hectares of suitable vineyards at high altitude. The precise blend changes from year to year, but for 2019 it is:
40% Viosinho – a well balanced and highly aromatic local variety
35% Arinto (aka Pedernã) – a high acidity grape, better known in Bucelas
15% Rabigato – a high acidity grape almost solely grown in the Douro
10% Gouveio (aka Godello) – which gives roundness and complexity
Vinification took place in stainless steel tank and then the wine was split into two; 50% was aged in 500 litre barrels and 50% in steel tanks. Both halves received regular lees stirring and then were recombined after six months. Per Luis, the aim of using oak is to add complexity and capacity for ageing, but only 50% as they don’t want oak to dominate the fruit.
Initially it shows white fruits and flowers on the nose, then citrus and passionfruit, rounding off with some oak notes. The high altitude of the vineyard shows up on the palate which is very fresh and has good acidity. There’s some body to this wine and beautiful ripe fruit notes in the mid palate. Overall this is an excellent wine, and one that I suspect will continue to improve for several years.
This is the daddy, one of the first Douro reds, and originally was made with grapes sourced from a specific vineyard called Vinha Grande; nowadays the wine includes grapes from Cima Corgo and Douro Superior subregions. I don’t have the exact varietal composition for 2017 but for 2018 the blend was:
40% Touriga Franca – the most widely planted black grape in the Douro
30% Touriga Nacional – perfumed and powerful king of the Douro
25% Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo) – for suppleness, the second most important black grape
5% Tinta Barroca – early ripening Douro grape which adds colour and alcohol
Alcoholic fermentation is carried out – separately in each subregion – in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, with some maceration to extract colour, flavours and tannins. The two are then blended together and matured in used (two to four year old) French barrels. Luis stated that French oak is regarded as more neutral, less aromatic than American oak. Portuguese oak was used until 2001 when supplies dried up – it gave more tannins and was more aromatically neutral still, but was a little rustic.
The nose of the Vinha Grande Tinto exudes rich black and red fruits, spice, freshly made coffee and hints of cedar. The palate is lovely and supple, with blueberry, blackberry and plum plus smoky notes. The body is generous but not too thick; with its soft tannins this is a refined and elegant wine.
Stockists: Avoca Handweavers, Ballsbridge; Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Martins Off Licence, Fairview; McHughs, Kilbarrack Road; Terroirs, Donnybrook; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; The Parting Glass, Enniskerry; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; wineonline.ie
I’m in the very lucky position where I get to try lots of good and great wines on a regular basis, many of them sent as samples (especially in 2020!) Sometimes, even among these wines, a few shine even brighter than the rest. It’s often hard to put into words what makes them so special, though I do try. Here are a couple of (unrelated) wines which stood out even in good company:
Disclosure: both bottles were kindly given as samples, opinions remain my own
Elgin Ridge 282 Elgin Chardonnay 2018
Elgin is South Africa’s coolest climate wine region, located about an hour’s drive south east of Cape Town. Although now an exciting area for grapes, for many years it was known almost exclusively for its orchards, particularly apples and pears1; as a rule of thumb, agricultural land which is suitable for orchards is generally suitable for grapes. Elgin is even cool enough for Riesling, with Paul Cluver’s wines leading the charge.
Elgin Ridge is the only winery in Elgin to be both certified organic and certified biodynamic (there is one other which is solely biodynamic). It was founded by Brian and Marion Smith on the site of a former small (ten hectare) apple farm in 2007 and has remained in family hands since. Their aim is to be self sufficient in terms of inputs (biodynamic preparations and cow manure) using sheep to control weeds and ducks to control insects and snails.
The figure 282 in the name of this wine, their flagship Chardonnay, refers to the vineyard’s altitude of 282 metres above sea level. It pours lemon in the glass and initial aromas are predominantly of toasted coconut, indicating a fair bit of oak ageing. Absolutely heavenly, if you like that sort of thing – which I do! The coconut gives way to fabulous orchard fruits(!), smoke and spices. On the palate this is a rich wine, with integrated oak and stone fruits and a touch of butterscotch. There’s plenty of body and flavour, but this is no big butter bomb as there is a certain elegance and lightness to the finish. In terms of style this brought to mind excellent southern hemisphere Chardonnays such as Smith + Shaw’s Adelaide Hills M3 and Man O’War’s Waiheke Island Valhalla.
For some reason 2020 has been the year of Sancerre for me, with lots of very enjoyable bottles showing that the average standard in the region is very high. Even among those, this baby stood out. But first a bit of background.
The maison mère2(!) is Fournier Père et Fils – to give it its full name – under which there are four Domaines:
Domaine Fournier (Sancerre &c.)
Domaine de Saint Romble (Sancerre)
Domaine des Berthiers (Pouilly-Fumé)
Domaine Paul Corneau (Pouilly-Fumé)
The full range of Domaine Fournier is detailed below. As you might expect from one of the “Cuvées Appellations”, this wine is made from vines planted on the three key soil types of Sancerre: Silex, Caillottes and Terres Blanches. The nose opens with ripe peach but also peach stone, sweet fruit reined in by acidity and a pleasant tartness. On the palate there’s more fruit but on the citrus side of the spectrum, along with a touch of mown grass and green bell pepper. Don’t mistake this for a Touraine Sauvignon plus, though; this is a smooth and gentle wine which showcases its different flavours on a long journey through your mouth. A superior Sancerre.
Adega de Penalva is one of the leading cooperatives in the Portuguese Dão region (I gave an overview of the Dão in a previous article here, but in summary it is in the centre of northern Portugal close to the Douro.) The coop was formed in the ’60s and has around a thousand members – that’s a lot of coordination – but with an average of only around 1.2 hectares of vines per member the volume crushed is manageable.
Their extensive main range can be spilt into four categories:
Red: Adega de Penalva Reserva, Encostas de Penalva, Flor De Penalva, Flor De Penalva Reserva, Jaen, O Penalva, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Pinheira, Touriga-Nacional, Milénio
White: Cerceal – Branco, Encostas De Penalva, Encruzado, Flor De Penalva, Bical
As you might be able to parse from the wine names, some are made to be drunk young while others will reward some cellaring. Not featured in the main list are a red and white fun and drinkable pair made (for Portuguese Story) from blends of indigenous grapes: Adega de Penalva Indigena Blend
Disclosure: both bottles were kindly given as samples, opinions remain my own
Adega de Penalva Indigena Blend Dão Branco 2019
This white blend is composed of:
40% Encruzado (a speciality of the Dão)
30% Malvasia (grown all over southern Europe; the particular variant is not specified)
30% Cerceal (aka Esgana Cão (“Dog Strangler”!,) or Sercial in Madeira)
According to Wine Enthusiast, “Encruzado is, arguably, Portugal’s greatest white grape” – and having enjoyed Quinta dos Carvalhais’s Dão Colheita Branco I think it is a fair statement. Here, of course, it is not on its own and has a supporting cast of Malvasia (which adds body) and Cerceal (which adds freshness).
All grapes are hand-picked and winemaking is fairly straightforward; after destemming and pressing, the must is fermented with selected yeasts in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. Maturation is also in INOX – with no wood to be seen – all to preserve the wine’s inherent fruit aromas and flavours.
On the nose it shows a variety of stone fruits and quince, plus almonds and a whiff of the forest (pine? cedar?) Ripe stone fruit return on the palate – peach, nectarine, apricot – but with a zippy fresh finish that literally makes your mouth water. This Branco shows why the Portuguese are so keen on blending – it really is more than the sum of its parts!
Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; McHugh’s Off-Licence Kilbarrack Rd; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; The GrapeVine, Glasnevin; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil St.; Baggot Street Wines
Adega de Penalva Indigena Blend Dão Tinto 2017
The blend for the Tinto is:
40% Touriga Nacional (the Douro’s (and Portugal’s?) key black grape
30% Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo, and many other names),
30% Jaen (aka Mencia in NW Spain)
The order of the varieties above is from heavier to lighter; Touriga Nacional has the most structure and weight – which is why it is so important in the Douro – with Tinta Roriz being medium bodied and more accessible, and finally Jaen being quite light and fresh. Winemaking is similar to the Branco above apart from the use of lined concrete tanks – in addition to stainless steel – for maturation.
Unsurprisingly, given the above, the wine is a medium intensity cherry red in the glass. The nose has vibrant red fruits – cherry, strawberry, raspberry and cranberry. On the palate these fruits are even more vibrant and juicy, seeming to jump out of the glass. There are also notes of blackberry, chocolate and smoke, all wrapping up in a dry but fresh finish.
Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; Martins Off-Licence, Fairview; McHugh’s Off-Licence Kilbarrack Rd; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; The GrapeVine, Glasnevin; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil St.; Clontarf Wines
DrinkStore, Stoneybatter; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock
Yes, these wines are easy to drink. Yes, they are quite affordable. And yes, they have relatively modest alcohol %.
So they definitely qualify as “lunchtime wines” or “house wines”, but they are far more than that.
Such poise, balance and deliciousness has them punching well above their weight!
Wine drinkers’ thirst for rosé appears to be boundless, with pink wines from all major wine producing nations experiencing growth. In French supermarkets there are far more rosé wines than whites on the shelves, and rosé is even the category driving growth in Champagne.
The increase in rosé volume has also been accompanied by an increase in the number of premium rosés on the market. Some are made with a firm eye on quality, some are marketing-led trendy wines with celebrity producers getting in on the game. Provence rosé is the most fashionable style at present: pale in colour, lightly fruity and dry, with mineral and / or herbal notes. Producers from other areas are emulating this style; of course they can’t call it “Provence rosé” but they can mention it is similar in style.
I’m a rosé skeptic; I’m very hard to please when it comes to rosé and I am suspicious of wines with a hefty advertising budget behind them. There are two styles I have found myself enjoying in the past:
simple, fruit forward (though still dry) rosés, especially Pinot Noir rosés
serious styles which are made to age and come close to a light red, such as Bandol’s Domaine Tempier.
Among many that I’ve been luck to try recently, two in particular stood out for me. One is from Provence and the home of the very trendy Whispering Angel – Château d’Esclans – and the other is from further west in the Languedoc, south west of Monpellier. Below is a map showing their respective locations on the French coast.
Disclosure: both bottles were kindly given as samples, opinions remain my own
Domaine Morin-Langaran IGP Pays d’Oc Rosé Prestige 2018
Domaine Morin-Langaran is in Picpoul de Pinet country, right by the Étang de Thau between Béziers and Montpelier. In fact, the vineyard’s borders are entirely within the Picpoul de Pinet AOC limits, with 36 hectares of the total 58 being planted to white grapes and the remaining 22 black. The vineyard was created right back in 1330 by a religious order who eventually lost it during the wars of religion. After changing hands several times over the centuries, it was bought by the Morin family in 1966. They themselves had been making wine down the generations since 1830.
The vines for the Rosé Prestige are mainly Syrah plus a few Cinsault, all on limestone-clay soils. Harvesting takes place in the cool of night and the must is cold-settled after pressing. Bâtonnage is used to add creaminess and body to the wine without the need for excessive extraction in the press.
On pouring, the wine is a little darker than the ultra pale rosés which are so en vogue at the moment, but all the better for it. The nose shows strawberry and redcurrant plus some brioche notes from the bâtonnage. The palate is full of sweet red fruits, but finishes crisp and clean. This is an unpretentious wine which goes down well on its own or perhaps with lightly spiced food.
Stockists:Boutique Wines; Barnhill stores Killaney/Dalkey; Mortons, Ranalagh; Listons, Camden street; The Wine House Trim; Emilie’s, Glenbeigh Co. Kerry; Pat Fitzgerald’s (Centra), Dingle Co. Kerry; Grape and Bean, Portlaois; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil Street; Blackrock Cellars; Gleeson’s, Booterstown Ave
Château d’Esclans Rock Angel Côtes de Provence 2018
Sacha Lichine was born into Bordeaux royalty – his family owned the Margaux Châteaux Prieuré Lichine and Lascombes – but also became an entrepreneur in the USA where he studied at university. His big move into rosé was the purchase of Château d’Esclans in 2006, which he transformed with the help of the late Patrick Léon (a consultant winemaker and formerly the Technical Director of Mouton Rothschild).
By pricing its top wine “Garrus”at £60 in 2008, Château d’Esclans essentially created the super-premium rosé category – and prices have obviously risen since then. From the top down, the range is:
Château d’Esclans Garrus
Château d’Esclans Les Clans
Château d’Esclans (ROI RRP €45)
Caves d’Esclans Rock Angel (ROI RRP €40)
Caves d’Esclans Whispering Angel (ROI RRP €25)
My presumption is that the Caves wines are from bought in fruit whereas the Château bottlings are from estate grapes.
Over the past decade Whispering Angel has become one of the trendiest rosés around, one that some people are very happy to flash in front of their friends: wine as a luxury or fashion statement. A change of gear kicked in from the late 2019 acquisition of a 55% stake in Château d’Esclans by Moët Hennessy – part of LVMH, one of the leading luxury groups in the world (and with some amazing wines in their portfolio).
But enough about the image, what about the wine? The 2018 Rock Angel is a blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Rolle (the local name for Vermentino). The vines are 20 to 25 years old and are planted on clay and limestone soils. Vinification and maturation take place in stainless steel (60%) and 600 litre French oak demi-muids, with bâtonnage of both formats then blending before bottling.
This is a very pale rosé, so the juice has had very little contact with the skins. The nose has soft red fruits, flowers and spicy vanilla from the oak. Red fruit comes to the fore on the palate, which is rich yet racy; fresh acidity is paired with mineral notes and even a kiss of tannin on the finish. This is a serious, grown-up wine that belongs more at the table than on its own.
Stockists: The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Morton’s; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Eldons, Clonmel; Dicey Reillys, Donegal; Baggot Street Wines
There’s obviously a huge price difference between these two rosés, and this is after the price reductions brought on by the LVMH purchase and change in distribution. I find both of them have more character than the junior Whispering Angel, which is around half way between the two prices. The Domaine Morin-Langaran is excellent value for money so I heartily recommend it. The Rock Angel isn’t quite as good value – premium wine rarely is – but it exceeded my expectations so I think it’s definitely worth splashing out on if you’re a rosé fan.
The Farnesi Vini group – itself a part of the Fantini Group – has three separate wineries in Puglia: Cantina Sava, Luccarelli and Vigneti del Salento. The Salento crowd have different labels within their range, including the “I Muri” for the less-well-heeled (sorry!) and “Zolla” ranges.
The I Muri Primitivo is a long-standing favourite of mine since I first tried it at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin. It is widely available in Ireland, though of course in these difficult times not many wine retailers are open. Still, if you like the sound of this wine then put it on your list to buy when things return closer to normality.
Vigneti del Salento”I Muri” Puglia Primitivo 2018
Consultant winemaker Filippo Baccalaro is not a native of the area – he is from Piedmont – but has spent several decades in the area which make it a second home for him now. The grapes are bought in but from growers with whom Filippo has a long term relationship and don’t dilute concentration in the hunt for maximum yields.
Winemaking is modern, with inoculated yeasts, temperature controlled fermentation and maturation in stainless steel tanks.
Primitivo is of course one of the key grapes of Puglia, along with Negroamaro, and it’s a real sun-worshipper. Ripeness is a key feature of the wines down here and this shows immediately on the nose; intense black and red berries vie for attention, along with exotic spices. Those berries continue through to the palate, which is soft and generous. There’s a rich, luxurious feel to this wine which belies its modest price. Yes, this is still a winner!