For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two. This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while. I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.
Richie Magnier blogs under the alias of The Motley Cru and is the longest serving wine writer for thetaste.ie.
Fear is the reason I’ll be drinking this wine this Christmas.
I received this unusual-looking Hungarian red as a birthday present four years ago, and even at that time this 2002 vintage was mature. It was stashed away to be enjoyed on a special occasion and – as is often the case with special wines – soon forgotten.
I only remembered it again last month, and in a blind panic I Coravined a glass of it in full expectation that it was by now dead and gone. Thankfully, my fears were misjudged. What I experienced in the small glass I poured myself was a wine only now entering the tertiary stage, and still brimming with blowsy, big fruit.
It just screams ‘winter wine’: it’s big, full and round, with lush black and red fruit; lots of smoke, clove and tobacco, with some leather creeping in; concentrated and long with baking spice, pepper and much more going on. I can see it opening up over the course of a night, ideally in front of a fire, turning tricks and metamorphosing in the glass.
The Gere Attila winery endearingly calls Kopar its “emblematic top wine” that is “made only in the best years”. Grapes are sourced from vineyard around the town of Villány in southern Hungary, near the Croatian border.
It’s a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon – what many will call a “Bordeaux Blend” – and is aged for 16-18 months in barriques. So this is essentially a “Hungarian Super Tuscan”. However you want to label it, it’s damn good stuff. It will be enjoyed slowly over the course of an evening, ideally on Christmas Day, where its Christmas cake flavours will feel right at home.
Gere Kopar 2002 (14.5%):RSP €50 from The Corkscrew
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)
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)
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)
At the bottom of New Zealand’s North Island is the Wairarapawine 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)
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)
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 smokinessfrom 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)
Listracis 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)
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 acidityand 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)
I’m a big fan of Man O’War’s premium range, all nautically namedand great examples of their type (I’m just gutted that demand for their Juliasparkling 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 2012which is 45% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, 13% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon – only Carménèremisses 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)
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)
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!
Here are a couple of fab reds from Top Selection, an interesting UK-based boutique wine merchant:
Habla de la Tierra Vino de la Tierra de Extremadura 2014 (13.5%, £14 from Top Selection)
This is a modern Spanish wine made from a blend of Cab Franc and Tempranillo.
Unlike its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon (see here), Cabernet Franc is far less celebrated. In its home of the Loire Valley it can make some fantastic mid-weight reds, but as that region is often overlooked Cab Franc is rarely shouted about. In Bordeaux it’s a useful blending grape on both banks, but very rarely makes up the majority of a cuvee. Perhaps its route to fame will be in Argentina where it has been the Next Big Thing for some time.
Extremadurais a Spanish province which has Andalucia to the south and Portugal to the west, with the Douro dipping into its northern reaches. The only (exclusive*) Denominacion de Origen here is DO Ribera del Guadiana around the banks of the River Guardiana; the Vino de la Tierra Extremadura covers the whole province.
*DO Cava can also be made in Extremadura, but production is very small.
So how does this unusual blend work? Very well, actually! It has the bright, fresh raspberry character of Cab Franc on the attack, with the supple roundness of Tempranillo on the finish – a thoroughly delicious wine!
Harwood Hall Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012 (13.5% £19 from Top Selection)
Most people know where New Zealand is but even seasoned NZ wine fans might not know where the different Kiwi wine regions are in the country. Central Otago is the most southerly of NZ’s wine regions – and in fact the most southerly place where wine is produced on a commercial basis in any country. It’s relatively dry, and semi-continental which gives it hot summer days but cool nights and cold winters.
All these factors give Central Otago wines a great intensity of flavour while preserving acidity and freshness. Although relatively new as a wine region – even by NZ standards – it is among the top places to grow Pinot Noir in the country.
Harwood Hall is a joint venture between two New Zealanders who have worked in the industry for 20 years. The simple instructions to accompany this wine should be: open, pour, lock the doors, enjoy the wine! It’s super smooth, pure velvet in the glass. There are red and black cherries and red berries with a touch of spice, a heavenly combination.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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!
Irish supermarket chain SuperValu has an extensive range of French wines at keen prices, which are even keener during their French Wine Sale. Here are a few which will make their way into my shopping trolley:
Château Moulin Lafitte Bordeaux 2012 (12.5%, €18.99 down to €14.00 or 2 for €20.00 at SuperValu)
This is much how Bordeaux wines tasted before Robert “Bob” Parker started leading vignerons astray with his flattery. A blend of 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc, it has both red and black fruit characters, with a touch of spice. It’s lighter and fresher than many, and would go well with BBQ pork / blue cheese or raspberry tart – whichever takes your fancy!
Château Lacombe Cadiot Bordeaux Superieur 2011 (13.5%, €16.99 down to €13.00 or 2 for €20.00 at SuperValu)
A blend of classic Bordeaux varieties, with Merlot providing the plum and Cabernet Sauvignon the blackberry. There’s also a savoury note, whether it’s black olive or black liquorice I can’t decide, plus pencil shavings which mark it out as a proper Claret.
Château La Baronnerie Grand Vin Bordeaux 2010 (14.0%, €15.99 down to €12.00, 2 for €20.00 at SuperValu)
When I began my adventure into wine it was in France where Bordeaux reds were freely available. At that time it was not unusual to see Claret at 12.0% or even 11.5% – so this 14.0% is a far cry from the weedy reds of 20 years ago. Like most wine made in France, Bordeaux shines best at the table, but this doesn’t need food – it has voluptuous, but powerful fruit with a lick of vanilla. If I could only buy one wine from this selection then Château La Baronnerie takes the prize!
Saint Auriol Chatelaine Corbières Blanc 2015 (12.5%, €14.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)
I tried this wine for the first time recently and was very impressed – not just by how nice it tasted but also by its potential for ageing, a rare trait in inexpensive white wines. See here for my full review.
Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux du Giennois AOC 2015 (12.5%, €14.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)
Inspired by a comment from Mr Richie Magnier of The Motley Cru, here are 10 wines / grapes / regions / producers with some connection – however tenuous – to the name FRANKIE! If this seems somewhat vain, well maybe it is, but hopefully also a bit of fun…
1. Cabernet Franc (Loire & Bordeaux)
So we kick off with one of the classiest Francs around, a stalwart black grape of Loire and Bordeaux that’s also becoming quite trendy in Argentina.
In Bordeaux it’s a useful blending component on both Left and Right banks, especially as it ripens before its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, in Bourg, Saint-Emilion and Pomerol it’s not usual for “Cabernets” plural to indicate a mix of the two without giving their relative proportions.
In the Loire Cab Franc is important in Saumur, Chinon, Anjou and Bourgueil. It’s often a single varietal here, whether as a red or a rosé such as Cabernet d’Anjou.
2. Blaufränkisch / Kékfrankos
In case you weren’t aware, these two names are the same grape in different languages – German and Hungarian respectively. The origin stems from the colour – blue – and the supposed more noble Frankish(well I’m hardly going to disagree with that!) origins of Charlemagne’s Franks.
Blaufränkisch is grown across central Europe including Austria, the Czech Republic and many parts of former Yugoslavia, with just a few brave pioneers trying it in Adelaide Hills and Washington State.
3. Frank Phélan
Château Phélan Ségur of Saint-Estèphe in the Médoc was founded by Irishman Bernard Phelan who acquired and joined two existing estates in the early 1800s. On his death the Château passed to his son Frank who spent a total of thirty years as the Mayor of the town.
The second wine of Phélan Ségur is named after Frank, and is both cheaper and more approachable than the Grand Vin. It often receives accolades for quality v price (well this is Bordeaux) and its big and bold fruit shouldn’t be a surprise when you find out that Michel Rolland is the consulting oenologist here.
What? Who? Where? According to St Jancis of Robinson this is apparently a white Hungarian wine grape grown primarily in the Mór region which is mainly used for dessert wines. And?? In the listings of the Vitis International Variety Catalogue (essential reading, I’m sure you’ll agree) Ezerjó is also known by the synonyms Biella, Budai Feher, Budicsin, Budicsina, Cirfondli, Ezer Jo, Feher Bakator, Feher Budai, Feher Sajgo, Feher Szagos, Frank, Kerekes, Kolmreifer, Kolmreifler, Konreifler, Korpavai, Korponai, Korponoi, Matyok, Predobre, Refosco, Refosco Weiss, Romandi, Satoki, Scheinkern, Scheinkernweiss, Shaikern, Staloci, Szadocsina, Szadoki, Szatoki, Szatoky, Tausendfachgute, Tausendgerte, Tausendgut, Tausendgute, and Trummertraube.
Wake up, you missed it! I put it in boldand you fell asleep! Shame on you!
5. Dr Frank Wine Cellars (Finger Lakes)
Dr Konstantin Frank emigrated to New York State from the Ukraine in 1951. After years of research he became convinced that Vitis Vinifera (proper vines) could flourish in the cool climate of upstate New York if they were grafted onto the right rootstock.
He founded Vinifera Wine Cellars in 1962 and his Rieslings soon became successful. The company is now run by the third generation with the fourth in training! Rumours that Dr Frank used to gig with Dr John could not be confirmed.
Known as Franken in German or Franconia in English, this is one of Germany’s quality wine regions, and is the only wine region within Bavaria (I understand they make beer there as well).
The wines made are nearly always single varietals rather than blends and tend to be dry – even more dry than they have to be under German labelling laws.
The tasty-but-unfashionable Sylvaner is reputed to hit its heights here, though there is still more of the workhorse Müller-Thurgau at the moment.
Franconian wines are often easy to spot by their round, flattened flask shaped bottle known as a Bocksbeutel.
7. Frank Family Vineyards
In the heart of Napa Valley is the winery belonging to former Disney big cheese Rich Frank (I presume short for Richard, or perhaps he is just very wealthy).
Established as the Larkmead Winery in 1884, the building is now on the National Register of Historical Places and is listed as a Point of Historical Interest in the state of California. Wines made here include the usual Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Petite Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon but also Sangiovese.
8. Bleasdale Frank Potts
Bleasdale winery was founded in 1850 by English-born Frank Potts in Langhorne Creek, South Australia. The firm remains in family hands – now onto the 6th generation – and so their flagship Cabernet blend is named after the founder.
This wine actually ticks five out of the six permitted black varieties in Bordeaux – Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Bravo, Frank!
9. Francis Ford Coppola Winery
When The Godfather was a critical and financial success for director Francis Ford Coppola he splashed out on a winery in Sonoma County, and quietly made wines there without ever referring to his film career.
Okay that last bit is a lie! Among the many levels of Mr Coppola’s portfolio you can find both the Director’s and Director’s Cut ranges – including the limited release “Cinema” blend – alongside the quotation: “Winemaking and filmmaking are two great art forms” stated by….Francis Ford Coppola of course!
No, this isn’t my blog, it’s another Frankly Wines – it’s a wine shop in New York City run by Christy Frank, previously of LVMH’s US operation (which is where Kevin Judd (of Greywacke and formerly Cloudy Bay) knows her from – and he once thought my Frankly Wines t-shirt referred to her shop!). Ok, no more brackets.
As I said at the beginning of my review pieces, for me 2015 was an excellent year for wine. If one region really stood out for me in 2015 it would be Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France; already well known for bulk wine and subsequently good value bottles, it has a growing reputation for excellence in the hands of dedicated producers.
Here are ten of the reds which most impressed me in the year:
10. Château de Rousselet Côtes de Bourg 2009 (€12.99, Lidl)
For about 17 years my parents lived close to La Rochelle in the Charente Maritime department – much better known for Cognac than wine. But happily it was close enough to Bordeaux that day trips were quite easy, and so at least once a summer I would head down in the car for some tasting and buying.
Heading south, the first subregions encountered are the Côtes de Blaye (now renamed) and Côtes de Bourg. Touring around with a visitors booklet I would try new vineyards every year, plus return to a chosen few of the best. Château de Rousselet was one I returned to year after year, as Francis Sou and son Emmanuel continued to gradually improve the quality of their wines. Here are a few of the older bottles I still have:
So I was surprised and delighted to see a fairly recent vintage being sold through Lidl! The 2009 vintage was outstanding in Bordeaux, and even modest areas such as the Côtes de Bourg produced some crackers – classic claret, still great for food, but also round and fruity enough to be drunk by itself. Sadly the Lidl stores close to me didn’t have any stock when I visited!
9. Château Paul Mas Clos de Mures Coteaux du Languedoc 2013 (€16.99, Molloys)
Paul Mas is one of the star estates of the Languedoc. There are several different quality levels of which Château Paul Mas is around the top – “Everyday luxury”. The equivalent white also featured in my Top 10 whites of 2015.
As it common in the Languedoc this is a blend, comprising 83% Syrah, 12% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre – so it’s a GSM blend of sorts, though showing more black than red fruit due to the higher Syrah content. This wine was one of the surprise stars of the (as yet unpublished) DNS tastings on Syrah and Shiraz – both for the absolute quality and the value for money at €16.99.
8. Condado De Haza Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2011 (€23, JN Wine and others)
Pesquera’s sister property in a warmer part of the Ribero del Duero shares much in terms of ethos and quality but has a different sensibility – it’s more fun and accessible, with an emphasis on fruit and pleasure rather than refinement. Plum, blackcurrant and black cherry are rounded off by vanilla from 18 months in American oak.
There’s no doubt that Tinta Pesquera is the senior sibling but this crowd-pleaser is a lot of wine for sensible money, and is the one I would chose to drink on its own.
7. Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block 21 “Viento Mar” Pinot Noir 2012 (€19.99 from O’Brien’s Wines, Mitchell & Sons, Redmonds of Ranelagh, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin, Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Bradley’s and O’Driscoll’s of Cork)
Cono Sur do a great range of Pinot Noirs from the everyday Bicicleta up to the prestigious Ocio. This is a single vineyard release Pinot which sits roughly in the middle of the range; there are also seven other varietal single vineyard releases including Riesling, Carmenère and Syrah – I’d like to try them at some point as well!
The vineyard itself is nicknamed the Spanish for “Sea Wind”, invoking the coastal breezes which help keep the temperature relatively cool in San Antonio Valley – ideal for Pinot Noir.
Luscious black and red fruits combine with a hint of vanilla – it’s got lots of fruit but fresh rather than confected fruit. Amazingly drinkable, and knocks spots off Burgundy (and most other regions’) Pinot at this price.
6. Domaine L’Ostal Cazes Grand Vin Minervois La Livinère 2011 (€23.49, O’Briens)
The general Minervois appellation has around 800ha planted to vines and the smaller, more prestigious, Minervois La Livinière appellation is around a quarter of that, with lower yields and a higher proportion of better-regarded grapes such as Syrah.
The JM Cazes group of Château Lynch-Bages fame first ventured outside of Bordeaux when they acquired this property in 2002. The Grand Vin composes 70% Syrah, 15% Carignan, 10% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre and weighs in at 14.0%, so in weight terms it’s somewhere in between northern and southern Rhône.
Although it doesn’t have the stature of its more well-known stablemates, it’s more accessible than most of them – especially those from Paulliac and Saint-Estèphe – and would be the one I reached for most often given the choice of all of them.
5. Alpha Zeta Amarone della Valpolicella 2011 (€35, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)
Amarone is one of the first Italian wines that people fall in love with, enjoying its big rich flavours and textures, though they come at a premium price. It’s a wine that’s easy to love. Sometimes it can get a bit too much, with jammy fruit and high alcohol making too much of a mouthful for a second glass.
This example from Alpha Zeta is one of the most well-balanced I’ve come across, and while it might still be too fruit forward for Barolo loving masochists it doesn’t intimidate. Also, compared to many it is (relatively) inexpensive at €35 a bottle (many others go far north of €40).
This was the bottle I took along to a meal with fellow wine blogger friends at Dada Moroccan restaurant in Dublin. The touch of sweetness and richness turned out to be a perfect match for the lamb and apricot tagine I ordered – probably the favourite wine of the evening.
A pretty label and a stunning wine, which happens to be organic and biodynamic. Such is the explosion of fresh fruit and vanilla in the mouth that it instantly made me think of a blueberry muffin! Made from a blend of Tempranillo (from Rioja and Ribero del Duero) and Petit Verdot (a small part of some Bordeaux reds), it’s from the less well-known region of La Mancha – but knocks spots of plenty of Rioja that I’ve had!
Saint-Joseph has become my go-to Rhône appellation, with its lovely blackberry, black olive and sour black cherry flavours. What I hadn’t appreciated was that the appellation was named after an actual vineyard, itself named after Holy Joe himself who was reputed to have lived there.
Now in the hands of famed Rhône producer Guigal, the “lieu-dit” Saint-Joseph produces both red and white wines of superlative quality. 2005 was an exceptional year in the northern Rhône (10/10 according to The Wine Society) and this wine was at its peak. It showed all the trademark Saint-Joseph notes but with a polish and complexity that stood out.
2. D’Arenberg The Dead Arm McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005 (2008: €54.99 from O’Briens and independent merchants)
D’Arenberg are one of the standout producers of McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide in Australia. Led by the colourful (in several senses) Chester Osbourne, they have a wide portfolio of wines with different quality levels and varieties. The Dead Arm is one of their three Icon bottlings, along with The Coppermine Road (which I once realised I was driving on!) Cabernet Sauvignon and Ironstone Pressings Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre.
And the unusual name? From the d’Arenberg website:
Dead Arm is a vine disease caused by the fungus Eutypa Lata that randomly affects vineyards all over the world. Often affected vines are severely pruned or replanted. One half, or an ‘arm’ of the vine slowly becomes reduced to dead wood. That side may be lifeless and brittle, but the grapes on the other side, while low yielding, display amazing intensity
The 2005 is beautifully mature, though far from over the hill. It has the blackberry and plum fruit, pepper and spice plus vanilla notes as you’d expect from an Aussie Shiraz, but these flavours are all now interwoven and settled in; they are speaking in harmony rather than shouting individually. I just wish I’d bought more than one bottle!
1. Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1996 (~€115, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin and other independents)
And so for the third year running my favourite wine of the year is a Penfolds red! In 2013 it was the 1998 Bin 707, then in 2014 I was lucky enough to try the Grange 2008. The former would have has a good shout again in 2015 but the bottle of 1998 I had planned to open with Christmas dinner didn’t actually get opened until 2016. I did, however, open both 1996 and 1997 and it was narrowly the former which I favoured.
The biggest surprise was that although it showed signs of maturity in the brick red rim, the nose and palate still showed lots of fruit – overwhelmingly blackcurrant, of course, given that this is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. There were some touches of cedar and pencil shavings that pointed to its age, but they were knitted in.
Bin 707 stands second to Grange in the Penfolds hierarchy, but for my tastes it runs it very close or even beats it sometimes!
Honest 2 Goodness (H2G for short) are a small family wine importers based in Glasnevin, Dublin. They specialise in family owned wineries throughout Europe, and in particular those with an organic, sustainable or biodynamic philosophy.
Here are a few of their wines that I enjoyed at their most recent Organic & Low Sulphite Tasting:
Domaine de Maubet Côtes de Gascogne 2014 (€14.95, 11.5%)
Typical South West France blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard, Ugni Blanc and Gros Manseng. Ripe green and red apples, fresh pears. Crisp acidity, light and fruity – so easy to drink on its own, but versatile with food.
Borgo Paglianetto Verdicchio di Matelica 2014 (€18.45, 12.5%)
Restrained nose; soft but textured on the palate, lemon and grapefruit combined. Tangy, don’t drink too chilled. Marche wines are really coming to the fore at the moment.
A favourite producer that I’ve covered several times. Grapefruit again, though not as juicy. A grown up wine that would excel with food.
Château Canet Minervois Blanc 2014 (€17.95, 13.0%)
50% barrel fermented; blend of Roussanne and Bourboulenc, both well known in the Rhône. Tangy, textured, pleasantly sour (Haribo Tangfastics). Plenty of mouthfeel and soft stone fruit. Moreish.
Casa Benasal by Pago Casa Gran Valencia 2012 (€18.95, 14.0%)
The Spanish equivalent of a GSM blend: Monstrell, Syrah and Garnacha Tintorera. Plum, blackberry, and blueberry on the nose, following through onto the palate. A full-bodied winter wine; lots of fruit with a light dusting of tannins on the finish. Perfect with stew or casserole (depending on where you heat the pot, apparently).
Château Segue Longue Monnier Cru Bourgeois Médoc 2010 (€25.95, 13.5%)
A trad Médoc blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Very perfumed on the nose, showing black fruits, spice and parma violets. Soft and voluptuous in the mouth – definitely from a warmer vintage. Classy.
Better than Moët for half the price! Do I have your attention now? Read on…
If you’re in a happy mood and fancy a glass of fizz sat on the patio, this might just be your thing.
Langlois-Château Crémant de Loire Brut NV (€23.99, O’Briens)
Crémant de Loire is one of the many traditional method sparkling wines made in France in addition to Champagne. The Loire Valley is home to the second by volume after Alsace; Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Jura also make good examples. The method for Crémant is the same as for Champagne, but the grape varieties differ depending on the area, and the minimum time ageing on the lees is shorter than Champagne’s 15 months (for non-vintage).
Langlois-Chateau is actually owned by Champagne House Bollinger, who know a few things about quality sparkling wine. The blend for this bottling is :
Chenin Blanc (a Loire white grape)
Chardonnay (the ultimate white grape for sparkling wine)
Cabernet Franc (a versatile black Loire grape used for red, rosé and sparkling wine)
As soon as you pour a glass the fine mousse and persistent fine bubbles show the wine’s class. On the nose there’s rich citrus and red fruit, wrapped in lovely pastry – the sign of significant lees ageing. It’s heavenly to drink, as the aromas flow through to the palate, with acidity and sweetness beautifully poised.
People who know good Crémants often mention how good value they are; while this fact is true, bottles such as this deserve to be assessed purely on quality grounds – it’s a damn fine drop!
Lionel Richie’s Commodores were easy on Sunday morning, but when it’s a bank holiday weekend it means Sunday evenings are even better than the mornings.
This Sunday evening I was invited to my brother-in-law Andrew’s for take out and wine – what a relaxing way to spend a Sunday evening – with the rider that his wine-loving friend Noel and family would also be there. Andrew sorted the food, and Noel provided most of the wine, with a bit chipped in from Andrew and myself.
Although it was easy, it was also a very enjoyable evening, with some cracking wines noted below. Where there is an Irish stockist listed on Wine Searcher I have added it, otherwise a UK stockist.
A good rule of thumb for Austrian Grüners is that the alcohol level is an indicator of the wine’s style, and so the 12.0% of this Birgit Eichinger proved true to be a light, summer-quaffing style. Fresh and light, it doesn’t scream its grape variety, but is remarkably easy to drink.
Pauillac is probably the most prestigious appellation on the Médoc peninsula, Bordeaux’s left bank with grand names and grander buildings. Three of the five First growths are in the commune – Châteaux Lafite, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild – with world famous reputations and prices to match.
The small village of Saint-Lambert within the Commune of Pauillac is home to the much more modestly priced Château Gaudin. Its wines are very much true to the general Pauillac style, being dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (85%) with support from Merlot (10%) and Carménère (5%) plus tiny dashes of Petit Verdot and Malbec.
2009 was the middle year of three fantastic vintages within six years (2005 – 2009 – 2010) and was perfect for Cab Sauv. With such a high percentage of that grape one might think that five or six years from harvest is too short a time for a wine to be approachable, but this is already drinking fantastically now. The fruit is still dense and the evidence of 18 months ageing in new oak barrels is still apparent, but there’s no reason to wait!
Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé 2010 (€55, O’Briens)
Made by widely admired superstar Bernard Magrez of Pessac’s Pape-Clement, La Tour Carnet was officially classed as a Fourth Growth in 1855. Debate as to the relevancy of that classification continues, but it is useful as a general indicator of quality.
Average vine-age is 30 years. The precise blend changes from year to year, but it is usually led by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with small contributions from Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. After fermentation, 70% of the blend was aged on the lees in French oak barrels for 18 months (30% of which new) and the balance in stainless steel.
Although from a very good year, in comparison with the Ch. Gaudin above it was perhaps a little awkward and not quite sure what it wanted to be. A very nice drop which, with a bit of patience, might integrate more fully and blossom in a few years.
Castellare I Sodi Di San Niccolo IGT Toscana 2010 (GBP 40.42, Exel, €61.67 (2011) Millesima)
I have to confess I hadn’t heard of this wine before, but after asking the google it seems as though I really should have! Widely decorated, it’s a blend of 85% Sangioveto (the local name for Sangiovese) with 15% Malvasia Nera. The name “I Sodi” refers to land so steep and uneven that it has to be worked manually, not even using horses.
Castellare di Castellina was born in 1968 from the consolidation of five farms in the Chianti Classico region, and became solely owned by Paolo Panerai around ten years later. At that point he carried out a detailed survey of all the vines on the property so that the best genetic material could be selected.
Subsequently Paolo engaged in partnership with the University of Milan, the University of Florence and the Institute of San Michele all’Adige to carry out ongoing research on the best clones as well as the production of grapevines selected for the renovation of the vineyards.
On pouring I thought it very pleasant, but not amazing; very smooth and drinkable without bring special. However, after a bit of time in the glass it really started to open up, herbs and liquorice layers on top of cherries and blackberries. This is a fine wine that I will definitely be trying again.
An interjection between the reds, something sweet to go with dessert. From the pride of Ribeauvillé, this is a late harvest (that’s exactly what Vendanges Tardives means in French, or Spätlese in German) Gewurztraminer from 2001.
Probably not overly sweet in its youth, it is still sweeter than a normal Gewurz but is not at all “sticky”. The ageing process reduces the wine’s sweetness (though I have not yet found the mechanism) and there is still some acidity to offer balance. As you expect from Gewurz there’s a real floral aspect to it on the nose, with stone / white fruit such as peach and lychee on the palate.
It was actually a little too restrained for the chocolate brownie and ice cream dessert, but off itself was delicious. It’s showing no sign of slowing down at the moment so it might well make it as far as its 20th birthday.
Château Giscours Margaux 3ème Cru Classé 2009 (€100, McHugh’s)
Giscours was a Third Growth in the 1855 Classification, but its fortunes have waxed and waned several times since, mainly as ownership has changed and more or less was put into the vineyards. Margaux is the most feminine of the Médoc’s big four appellations, often with a higher percentage of Merlot than the others and a certain silkiness to the wines.
For the whole Giscours estate’s 94 hectares under vine, the split of grape varieties is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and the balance Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Of course the Grand Vin receives a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon than the second and third wines, particularly in a good year such as 2009. The estate matures the Grand Vin in 100 % French oak barrels (fine grain and medium toast) for 15 to 18 months, 50% of which are new and 50% have had one previous use.
Although still relatively young, this was not dumb, tight or closed – it was already singing. Modern Claret is sometimes overdone in the search for Parker points and so needs a decade before approaching, but it wasn’t the case here. Perhaps this was infanticide on a wine that will go on to greatness, only time will tell.
Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1998 (GBP 180, WinePro)
Grange occupies the sole spot at the top of the Penfolds pyramid, but Bin 707 isn’t too far behind. Whereas Grange is virtually all Shiraz based, the 707 is the King of Cabernet., allegedly named after the fancy new Boeing airliner of the time.
Grange’s first (though non-commercial) release was in 1951 and the 707’s inaugural vintage was 1964. It hasn’t been made every year since; between 1970 and 1975 there was a conscious decision to put the best Cabernet fruit in other wines, then in the years 1981, 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2011 winemakers didn’t have access to the appropriate style and quality of fruit.
Both Grange and Bin 707 are both multi-regional blends, that is, the fruit comes from several different vineyards in several different regions within South Australia. For the 707 these are Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, Robe and Wrattonbully. Maturation is for 18 months in 100% new American oak hogsheads (300 litres).
So 17 years on, how did it fare? To the eye the age was apparent on the rim which was quite red brick in hue, though the core was still opaque black. The nose showed spearmint, menthol & eucalyptus with dried black fruit and just a tiny hint of oxidisation.
To taste there was a touch of mint and lots of fresh blackcurrant, with some raisins in the background. It was really smooth and still monumental in mouthfeel, despite an abv of 13.5% which is quite modest by today’s standards. Above all it had an amazing length, a small sip lingered in the mouth for several minutes. A stunning wine.
Château Dereszla Tokaji Azsú 5 Puttonyos 2006
To cap it all off was a sweet – sweet wine. As I’ve mentioned before I reckon 5 putts is probably the *ahem* sweet spot for Tokaji, the perfect balance between flavour, sugar and acidity. Château Dereszla also produce 3 and 6 puttonyos wines, plus the legendary Aszú Eszencia
This showed typical apricot, honey and marmalade notes, quite sweet but not at all cloying. This is a wine to get up in the night to drink!