Tasting Events

10 Top Reds from O’Briens

Ranging from €14 to €49, here are some of my favourite reds from the recent O’Briens Wine Fair:

Viña Chocálan Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (14.5%, €13.95 at O’Briens)

Cab Sauv

Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is usually pretty good, even when inexpensive, as Chile has enough sunshine to fully ripen the fruit but the temperatures aren’t so high that it becomes jammy and unbalanced.  This is full of juicy blackcurrant but also has a little bit of cedar wood and graphite which adds interest.

Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza 2013 (14.0%, €17.95 down to €15.95 for May at O’Briens)

Sierra-Cantabria-Rioja-Crianza

Particularly at Crianza level, Rioja is known for red fruit flavours (strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant, red cherry) with a good helping of vanilla from American oak.  Sierra Cantabria doesn’t follow this plan at all – it’s all about black fruit and intensity of flavour, much more akin to a good Ribera del Duero than most Riojas.  Why not try it back to back with the Reserva?

Urlar Gladstone Pinot Noir 2014 (14.5%, €23.95 at O’Briens)

Urlar-Pinot-Noir_1

At the bottom of New Zealand’s North Island is the Wairarapa wine region (not to be confused with Waipara near Christchurch).  The oldest part is probably Martinborough (not to be confused with Marlborough at the top of the South Island) but there are other notable areas within the Wairarapa such as Gladstone.  Urlar (from the Gaelic for “Earth”) is an organic and practicing biodynamic producer which makes fantastic Pinot Noir.  While full of fruit it has a savoury, umami edge, and will undoubtedly continue to develop complexity over the coming years.

Viña Chocálan Vitrum Blend 2013 (14.5%, €24.95 down to €22.95 for May at O’Briens)

Vitrium Blend

Sitting just below their icon wine Alexia, Vitrum is Chocalan’s premium range, so named as the owners Toro family have been in the glass bottle making business for over 80 years.  As stated it this wine is a blend, and the grapes aren’t named on the front label as there are so many of them! (for reference the 2013 is: 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Syrah, 8% Cabernet Franc, 8% Malbec, 4% Carmenère, 2% Petit Verdot).  All these different varieties make for an interesting wine – quite full bodied and with considerable structure, but balanced and drinkable.

Domaine Olivier Santenay Temps des C(e)rises 2014 (13.0%, €28.95 down to €23.16 for May at O’Briens)

Domaine-Olivier-Sant-Temps-des-Crises_1

If you don’t speak French then you’d be forgiven for missing the jeu de mot in the name of this wine: temps des crises is the time of crises and temps des cerises is the time of cherries – and also the name of a famous French revolutionary song.  Anyway, on to the wine itself: this is a mid weight Pinot Noir from Santenay in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune.  It has delightful red currant and red cherry with a touch of smokiness from barrel ageing.  It’s a food friendly wine which could also be drunk on its own.  While ready to drink now I would (try to!) keep this for a few more years before drinking.  Great Burgundy for the €€!

Château Fourcas Hosten Listrac-Médoc 2009 (13.0%, €29.95 down to €23.95 for May at O’Briens)

Ch_teau-Fourcas-Hosten-2009_1

Listrac is one of the two villages (with Moulis) in Bordeaux’s Médoc peninsula outside of the famous four that have their name on an appellation, but is rarely seen in Ireland. Château Fourcas Hosten was bought by the family behind the Hermès luxury goods group around a decade ago and they have invested significantly in quality since then.  As 2009 was an excellent vintage in Bordeaux this is a fairly ripe and accessible wine.

Unusually for a warm vintage it has quite a bias towards Merlot (65%) versus Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), even though they make up 45% each of the vineyard area (and Cabernet Franc being the final 10%).  This wine shows fresh and dried black fruit with some pencil shavings and tobacco – classy, accessible Bordeaux!

Cambria “Julia’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2012 (13.5%, €29.95 at O’Briens)

Cambria-Julias-Vineyard-P-Noir

The spotlight on US Pinot Noir mainly falls on Oregon and its Willamette Valley, but California shouldn’t be ignored – especially Santa Barbara County, which was of course the setting for Sideways.  The cool climate here, especially in Santa Mary Valley, helps Pinot Noir develop fully, keeping acidity and light to medium tannins to frame the fresh red fruit.   One of my favourite American Pinots!

Man O’War Waiheke Island Ironclad 2012 (14.5%, €34.45 at O’Briens)

Man-O_War-Ironclad-Bordeaux

I’m a big fan of Man O’War’s premium range, all nautically named and great examples of their type (I’m just gutted that demand for their Julia sparkling wine at their winery restaurant means that it won’t be exported anymore).  Ironclad is the Bordeaux blend; the blend changes from year to year depending on how each variety fared, with any fruit that doesn’t make the grade being declassified into the next tier down.

The current release is the 2012 which is 45% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, 13% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon – only Carménère misses out from Bordeaux’s black grapes, and hardly anyone grows that in Bordeaux nowadays anyway. It’s full of ripe blackberry, blackcurrant and blueberry fruit with some graphite.  It would pair well with red meat, but being a bit riper in style than most Bordeaux means it drinks well on its own.

Frank Phélan 2012 (13.0%, €34.95 down to €27.95 for May at O’Briens)

Frank-Phelan

Back to Bordeaux proper again with the second wine of Château Phélan Ségur, named after the son of the original Irish founder Bernard Phelan.  As a second wine it mainly uses younger fruit than the Grand Vin, a shorter time in barrel and a higher proportion of Merlot (this is 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon).  All these lead to it being a more supple wine, and more approachable in its youth.  For me this was quite similar to the Fourcas Hosten – dark black fruit in particular – but younger and with a little more tannin and graphite notes.  Steak anyone?

Torbreck The Struie 2014 (14.5%, €49.00 down to €42 for May at O’Briens)

Torbreck-Struie

It’s fair to say that Barossa Shiraz is one of Australia’s most well-recognised wine styles, but there are actually significant differences within the Barossa.  The most notable difference is that there are actually two distinct valleys – the Barossa Valley itself and the Eden Valley which is at a higher altitude and hence has a cooler climate (there’s some great Riesling grown in the latter but very little in the former!)

The Struie is a blend of fruit from both valleys: 77% Barossa (for power and richness) and 23% Eden (for acidity and elegance), all aged in a mix of old and new French oak barrels.  There’s intense blackberry and plum fruit with a twist of spice.

This is a fairly monumental wine which actually deserves a bit more time before drinking, so buy a few and lay them down…but if you can’t wait, decant!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tasting Events

Lidl French Reds for February

As well as their permanent range which has an emphasis on good value bottles for everyday drinking, discount supermarket Lidl also offer limited quantities of slightly more upmarket wines at different points during the year.

22nd February 2016 will see the Ireland launch of their special French wines, only available while stocks last – and some will be so limited that you’ll have to strike up a friendship with someone from Lidl Customer Services!

Here are 5 reds which impressed me, all from Bordeaux:

Château de Francs, Francs-Côtes de Bordeaux 2011 (€12.99)

Ch de Francs Francz-Côtes de Bordeaux 2011

Of the five I’ve chosen this is perhaps the most traditional in character, coming from a cooler year.  However, the producer has obviously gone to great lengths to make a fruit forward wine – blackcurrant, blackberry and plum compete for your palate’s attention, along with classic notes of pencil shavings and cedar wood.  Of the wines I’ve picked this has perhaps the most noticeable tannins, so it would shine with a steak!

The label shows 14.0% which is significantly higher than the vast majority of Bordeaux was when I cut my teeth on it in the early 90s – though that’s a story for another day.  It does give you an idea of the body and power this wine has – not for shrinking violets!

Fronsac Château de Carles 2008 (€17.99)

Ch de Carles 2008

Fronsac is close to St-Emilion and while it doesn’t have its neighbour’s cachet it is capable of producing some excellent wines, often priced favourably.  2008 was a good but not great year in general, but is often overlooked as the following 2009 and 2010 vintages were excellent.  Predominantly Merlot fruit gives big ripe plum and blackberry flavours; the tannins are very soft making this very drinkable indeed.  Would keep for several more years but at its peak now.

Château Cos Fontaine Francs-Côtes de Bordeaux 2010 (€12.99)

Ch Clos Fontaine Francs Cotes de Bordeaux 2010

Ripe fruit – mainly plum and blackberry – suggest a majority of Merlot in this right bank red.  At just over five years of age it is showing some development, so tannins have softened and fruit is settling in.  Being from the fantastic 2010 vintage helps to make it seriously drinkable, and a great bargain at that.

Josephine de Boyd Margaux 2009 (€24.99)

Josephine de Boyd Margaux 2009

Margaux is probably the most celebrated appellations of the Médoc, at its best producing silky feminine reds based on a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon but with a good proportion of Merlot and other minor players.  This is the second wine of Château Boyd Cantenac which was awarded Third Growth status in the 1855 Classification – obviously some time ago but still has some relevance today.  In a great year like 2009 it makes sense to go for a second wine as there is so much quality fruit on each estate that the second wine gets plenty rather than just whatever is left over after making the Grand Vin.

This is a great example of Margaux, silky and seductive, well structured and classy with a very long finish.

Fleur Quercus Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2010 (€24.99)

Fleur Quercus Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2010.jpg

Wow!  Another beauty from 2010, but this time a few rungs up the quality scale.  Saint-Emilion is a world famous part of Bordeaux (and a lovely little town to visit if you ever get the chance), which means some producers can cash in on the cachet.  Not here though, it is fully deserving of the appellation.

Intense black berry fruit is complemented by anise and other spices.  It’s soft, seductive and dangerously easy to drink – even at 14.0%.

Money no object, this was my favourite red of the whole tasting!

Also check out my Top 5 Whites from the same tasting.

Tasting Events

State Of The Nation (Part 2): The Annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in Dublin

Part 1 covered the big 3: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Now we turn our attention to the other varieties grown in the country of the Long White Cloud.

Riesling

As a self-confessed Riesling lover and fan of NZ wines, I find Kiwi Riesling a bit unsure of what it wants to be.  Acidity and flavour are never in doubt, but the residual sugar levels vary significantly from producer to producer – often without explanation on the front label – and don’t always result in a balanced wine.  For zing and purity stick to Clare Valley in South Australia, but there are some NZ gems out there.

Tohu Single Vineyard Riesling Awatere, Marlborough 2013

Zing!  Made in an Alsace, bone-dry style from the cooler Awatere part of Marlborough.  Very clean and linear on the palate, it might be a little too limey and intense for some on its own (though not for me!)  Would be fabulous with shellfish.

Yealands Estate Riesling Marlborough 2012

This is their slightly more premium Riesling, the junior range being “Peter Yealands”.  It tastes even drier than its 6g of Residual Sugar would suggest – that’s the acidity coming through.

Greywacke Riesling Marlborough 2011

This is made in an off-dry style not unlike Kabinett examples from Germany; it has 22g of residual sugar.  I got a strong flavour of chalk – more pleasant than it sounds – along with citrus and honey.

Siegfried Winemakers Collection Sweet Agnes Riesling Nelson 2012 

This full-on dessert style has nearly ten times the residual sugar of the Greywacke above.  It’s a heavenly liquor with luscious stone fruit, mandarin and buttered brioche – all balanced by ample acidity so it’s never cloying.  So moreish!

Syrah

Touted by some observers as the future of New Zealand red wine, Syrah grows best in the warmer parts of the country (Auckland, Waiheke, Hawke’s Bay) and is closer to the northern Rhone than the Barossa in style – very perfumed and elegant, restrained rather than powerful.  Although Syrah likes the heat is it more tolerant of different temperatures than Cabernet Sauvignon, for example.  Some producers are now experimenting with Syrah in Marlborough, watch this space!

Tinpot Hut Syrah Hawke’s Bay 2009

Fiona Turner hails from Hawke’s Bay, so it was natural that she would look to her home region for a source of Syrah.  The fruit is grown in the Dartmoor Valley and Gimblett Gravels sub-regions, vinified separately then blended together.  This is an elegant, supple and refined Syrah with plum and spice on the attack followed by notes of crisp bacon – very much Northern Rhône style.

Man O’ War Dreadnaught Syrah Waiheke 2010

This is the Waiheke outfit’s top Syrah, from the warmest and steepest slopes.  Fairly dense and intimidating at first, it gradually opens up to reveal plum, blueberry and pepper with a savoury edge.  This might benefit from food right now, but it will soften and develop over the next ten years – a keeper!

Trinity Hill Syrah Hawke’s Bay 2011

Trinity Hill’s winemaker John Hancock is a big fan of the Northern Rhône, Syrah’s spiritual home, after working under Gerard Jaboulet in Côte-Rôtie.  Following the practice of that region, a small amount of Viognier is often blended in to soft the palate and add more interest on the nose.  This is the entry level Trinity Hill Syrah, with Gimblett Gravels and “Homage” above it, but it acquits itself very well

Craggy Range “Le Sol” Syrah Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay 2011

This was the only wine I noticed that wasn’t available for the consumer tasting that followed the trade tasting, with a very good reason – the price!  Craggy Range are all single vineyard wines, but this is getting towards “super-premium” territory.  This does everything the other Syrahs above do, but more so.  The youngest vintage that Craggy Range recommend drinking now is 2002 – so although this Le Sol can be drunk now, it won’t do itself justice until at least 2021 – then it will sing.

Pinot Gris

Sometimes spelling makes a big difference.  Usually, a wine labelled as “Pinot Gris” will be similar to the Alsace style, intense and often off dry.  Those with “Pinot Grigio” are more likely to be light and almost neutral in flavour like the thin, acidic Italian wines which clog up pub winelists everywhere (did I just say that out loud?)  For the most part, New Zealand is closer to the Alsace style – even when called a Grigio as the first wine below.

Brancott Estate Pinot Grigio Marlborough 2013

This is round and supple, a very pleasant easy-drinking style.  Would partner well with lots of Asian dishes.

Ata Rangi Lismore Pinot Gris Martinborough 2013

As Craighall is to Chardonnay, Lismore is to Pinot Gris.  Both ripe pears and pear drop sweets feature on the round palate.  It’s very rich and just off-dry – both flavour and sweetness would stand up to Thai food.

Ostler Lakeside Pinot Gris Waitaki Valley 2012

The only wine (I noticed) at the tasting from the Waitaki Valley – a marginal (even for NZ) new wine making region by the South East coast of the South Island.  Marginal areas sometimes produce poor wines in bad vintages, but can excel in better vintages – it’s all about taking risks.  This wine is off-dry to medium-dry with 15g of RS; it’s not a dessert wine but would be fine with spicy food, or at a push fruit salad.  The 2012 is only the second vintage ever made, so vine age should lend even more complexity.

Grüner Veltliner

This variety has a lot of potential, in Marlborough (in particular), where nights are cool like its home in Austria.  Usually made dry, it is an aromatic alternative to Sauvignon and Riesling, and some (I’m looking at you, Tara!) even prefer it.  Grüner is generally medium-bodied and very food-friendly.

Tin Pot Hut McKee Vineyard Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2012

As the name suggests this is made from grapes grown in a single vineyard, located in the Blind River sub-region of Marlborough.  The acidity keeps it dry, clean and crisp, with a fabulous texture that makes you want to roll it round your mouth.  This is a subtle wine combining peach and pear with gentle peppery spice.

Siegfried Grüner Veltliner Nelson 2011

One of Nelson’s top producers (see their Sweet Agnes dessert Riesling in part 1) who also make New Zealand’s only Würzer, a white German wine grape variety that is a crossing of Gewürztraminer and Müller-Thurgau.  The winery’s founder Hermann Siegfried hails from Austria so he naturally looked to introduce Grüner to Nelson, after the regulation quarantine process.  This is a typical example of the grape, with white stone fruit and white pepper (better than it sounds, honestly) from a young vineyard.

The Best of the Rest

A selection of the other wines I found interesting…

Yealands Estate, Awatere Valley Single Vineyard PGR Marlborough 2013

Pinot Gris (50%) Gewurztraminer (15%) Riesling (35%) not unlike an Alsace Edelzwicker blend. It’s so new that it doesn’t even yet feature on the Yealand’s website or even in the tasting catalogue. The small proportion of Gewurz means that it doesn’t dominate – the nose isn’t overwhelmingly floral. If you like the sound of this then also consider Te Whare Re (TWR)’s Toru.

Brancott Estate Letter Series “R” Sauvignon Gris Marlborough 2013

This is the first Sauvignon Gris I have tasted from New Zealand; there are some reasonable examples of the variety from Chile and it sometimes finds its way into white Bordeaux (both dry and sweet). This is a powerful wine with 14.0% abv and the 6.9g/L residual sugar gives it extra body and a hint of sweetness on the finish. Stylistically this is closer to a Pinot Gris than a Sauvignon Blanc. Brancott are hoping that this will help them diversify away from reliance on the latter.  Interestingly, they have launched the variety with a premium rather than everyday version.

Hunters MiruMiru Reserve Sparkling Marlborough 2005

This has the traditional Champagne grape blend: Chardonnay (56%) and Pinots Noir and Meunier (44% together) and is made in the traditional method.  Apparently this only had eight months on the lees before disgorgement, but it tastes like it was more.  Obviously lots of bottle age which has allowed lots of complexity to develop – a class fizz.

Man O’ War Ironclad Waiheke 2010

This is a Bordeaux blend with virtually the full house of black grapes permitted in Bordeaux – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  The grapes are picked and sorted separately from 45 different parcels on the warmer hillside sites, then blended together.  As might be expected it tastes something akin to an Haut-Médoc from a warm year, blackcurrant and plum fruit dancing against a background of supple tannins.  This is lovely to drink now but will easily keep (and keep developing) until the end of the decade.

Craggy Range “Sophia” Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay 2004 & 2006

Finally, two different vintages of Hawke’s Bay Bordeaux blends from Craggy Range, and older than you might often see available.  The Gimblett Gravels sub-region lies over a former riverbed – hence the gravel – and so is very well drained (most quality grapes don’t produce quality wine if they have too much access to water).  The 2004 consists of 92% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the 2006 was made with 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec – a perfect example of adjusting the blend depending on the vintage, as is the norm in Bordeaux.  Both of these examples were maturing but not fully mature; there was still plenty of cassis and plum on the palate but cedar and tobacco notes starting to creep in – complex and very drinkable.

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