Tag: Cabernet Sauvignon

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2016

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

10. Cicero Alto Reben AOC Graubünden Pinot Noir 2012

403273506

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

9. Mas St Louis Châteauneuf du Pape 2012

01003460

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

8. Paul Osicka Heathcote Shiraz 2004

paul-osicka-shiraz-500x500-cropped

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

7. Atalon Napa Merlot 2004

2016-09-21-20-57-48

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

6. Niepoort Clos de Crappe Douro 2013

clos-de-crappe

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

5. Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014

20-barrels-cropped

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

4. Wolf Blass Black Label 1998

wolfblass-black-1998

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

3. Vajra Barolo Ravera 2011

2016-06-08 22.42.39

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

2. Penfolds Grange 2010

2016-08-17-11-58-05

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

1. Cascina Garitina Nizza 900

900

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

 

 

SuperValu Christmas Wine Selection Reds

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

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

Disclosure: samples were provided for review

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

mercurey

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)

castellani-arbos-sangiovese

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)

nugan-estate-alfredo-dried-grape-shiraz-2013-coa

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)

lady

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!

 

 

O’Briens Fine Wines Sale – My Selection

Leading Irish off licence chain O’Briens have some excellent premium wines and some are on sale (in store only) for a short time.  Here is a selection of my favourites:

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Viognier 2012 (14.5%, €31.95 down to €25.56)

 

viognier

I had tried this wine previously and, although it was pretty good, I wasn’t overly impressed.  Tasting is such a subjective pastime that I’m always ready to give a wine another try – and I’m so glad I did!  I didn’t find this as oily as some Rhône Viogniers but it was peachy and rich – the abv of 14.5% should be a hint that it’s on the dry side.  More of a food wine than a quaffing wine, but very well crafted.

Henri Bourgeois Sancerre d’Antan 2014 (13.5%, €45.00 down to €36.00)

antan

This upmarket Sancerre is not for the casual drinker; it’s pricey but excellent.  If I bought it I’d stick it away for a few years at least – it’s still fairly tight and closed up, but undoubtedly has fabulous potential.

La Comtesse de Pazo Barrantes Albariño 2013 (13.5%, €42.00 down to €33.60)

comtesse

This is a fine wine to sit and sip, and to reflect upon the world.  It has lees work and some oak, so it’s unlike most Albariños on the market, but it’s no Chardonnay clone either. Probably my favourite Albariño ever tasted!

Chanson Puligny-Montrachet 2013 (13.5%, €55.00 down to €44.00)

puligny

Top class Burgundy isn’t cheap, so why not try it when it’s on offer?  This is another youngster that really needs putting away for a while, or at least decanting for a few hours if drinking now.  Oak is noticeable on the nose (which I like, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) and adds depth to the palate.  Don’t drink it too cold, and only share with friends who appreciate good wine!

Caro 2013 (14.5%, €50.00 down to €40.00)

caro

This is a serious Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon blend which is the result of collaboration between Bordeaux’s Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite and the Catena family.  At this young age it still has lots of oak and tannin and primary plum and blackcurrant fruit characters, but also cedar and sandalwood notes.  Far better value than most posh Bordeaux reds, keep it for as long as you can bare!

Marqués de Murrietta Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €34.95 down to €24.95)

marques

When it comes to Rioja I normally go for a Crianza or Reserva style where the fruit is more prominent than the longer aged Gran Reservas.  They can be too dry and “woody” (for me “oaky” can be good but “woody” rarely is).  Marqués de Murrietta have a beauty on their hands with the 2007 – it’s exactly how Gran Reservas should be: lots of fruit (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry) with vanilla,  all in a soft and cosseting package.  Get in!

Delheim Grand Reserve 2013 (14.0%, €36.95 down to €29.56)

delheim

This is of course a South African wine but – tasted blind – does a great impression of a classy left bank Bordeaux.  The main difference is that it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape which never ripens sufficiently to be used as a varietal in Bordeaux (though can be a very high percentage of some Pauillacs).  It’s definitely a dry wine, with pencil shavings and cedar notes that you’d associate with a more mature wine – so treat yourself to a bottle and a big steak!  More info here.

Gérard Bertrand Cigalus 2014 (14.5%, €38.95 down to €29.95)

cigalus

Probably the best wine in Gérard Bertrand’s portfolio, this is a biodynamically produced blend using both Bordeaux and Languedoc varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Caladoc (a cross between Grenache and Malbec). Interestingly, the Syrah and Carignan undergo whole berry carbonic maceration (similar to Gamay in Beaujolais) which adds a little approachability – it’s a big wine, but not too intimidating.

SuperValu French Wine Sale

flag_of_france-svg

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)

chateau-moulin-lafitte-neutreThis 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)

chateau-lacombe-cadiot-avec-blason

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)

chateau-baronnerie-grand-vin-rouge-2010

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)

St Auriol Chatelaine Corbieres small

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)

Coteaux du Giennois Blanc Alchimie 2014

I tasted the 2014 of this wine last year and was blown away by its freshness and intensity of flavour for the price.  It is absolutely a Loire style Savvy, but a very approachable and enjoyable one.

 

 

 

Nugan Estate Personality Wine Range

The Nugan Group was founded by Spanish emigré Alfredo Nugan in Griffith, New South Wales, in 1940.  Initially it was in the fruit packing business and then moved into premium fruit juice production in the 1970s.  A further expansion in 1993 involved the planting of vineyards and selling the grapes – just another fruit, at that time.  The natural progression was then into making wine, and now Nugan Estate has 590 hectares of vineyards in Riverina (NSW), King Valley (Victoria) and McLaren Vale (South Australia).

Nugan recently introduced the “Personality Range” – four single varietal wines that have been named after some of the larger-than-life people working at Nugan Estate.  I think it’s a great idea, most people love a story and a bit of history behind a wine – even if they just have a glance at the bottle while having a glass on a Wednesday evening.

Nugan Estate King Valley “Bossy Boots” Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (12.5%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Nugan Personality Bossy Boots Sauv Blanc

“Dedicated to my grandmother – I learned early on never to judge a book by its cover and never underestimate the women in my family! Take Bossy Boots, she might look soft and feminine but don’t be fooled! After the world wars, Australia became home to many immigrants from Europe. They settled in the rugged outback where our vineyards are today. My grandmother was one of them. She was strong and spoke her mind, determined to build a new life for her family no matter what it took. She was a determined woman – so much admired by everyone.”

The King Valley is in North-East Victoria – and when looking up its location I found I have actually been there when dropping into Brown Brothers in Milawa!  It’s a fairly hilly area which makes it a good location for cooler climate wines.  Australia isn’t known for varietal Savvy – it’s more commonly seen in a blend with Semillon or even Chardonnay – so I was very interested to find out how this tasted.

This would never be mistaken for a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, but then why should it? On tasting there’s a tropical fruit explosion in the mouth – pineapple, mango and passionfruit.  The wine still has plenty of acidity but it’s not tart or sharp.  In fact, if Kiwi SB isn’t for you then I would recommend giving this a try.

Nugan Estate Riverina “Dreamers” Chardonnay 2013 (13.5%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Nugan Personality Dreamers Chardonnay

“My mother has this uncanny knack of dreaming big then making her dreams come true. Like when she decided she wanted to start our winery over twenty five years ago. She came in one day and said we are going to plant vineyards. Large ones, all over Australia! We all thought the old girl is really going too far this time. But turns out she was spot on. We planted our vineyards from scratch and you’re drinking the fruits of our hard yakka right now. I always hated that saying ‘your mother’s always right’ but perhaps there’s something in it.”

It’s very rare to see “Riverina” on a wine label – a lot of bulk wine is made there so producers often prefer to use the more generic “South-Eastern Australia” instead (and that also lets them include fruit from other states as well).  Of course Nugan are based in Griffith which is the capital of the Riverina agricultural area, so they proudly declare their origins on the label.  Wine fans should note that Australia’s most celebrated sweet wine – De Bortoli’s Noble One – is made just round the corner!

The Dreamers Chardonnay sees no new oak – as is the current vogue for Chardonnay in Australia – just two and three year old barrels which provide added roundness and texture. It does spend six to eight weeks on the lees, with daily stirring to give some yeasty characters and interesting texture.  It’s fresh and tangy – and far more moreish than Aussie Chardonnays of old!

Nugan Estate Riverina “Scruffy’s” Shiraz 2014 (14.0%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Nugan Personality Scruffy Shiraz

Scruffy is our Shiraz vineyard manager – he’s a mountain of a man and always looks like he’s been wrestling the local wildlife. Despite constantly looking untidy and in desperate need of a shave, he’s a real charmer with the ladies. We excuse him for being so rough around the edges as that’s his style and the world would be so boring if everyone was the same and he really knows what he’s doing in our vineyards.”

Another Riverina wine, this is partially matured in oak – both French and American – 25% of which is new.  Winemaker Daren Owens keeps vineyard yields low to help intensify flavours and insists on careful fruit selection to maintain quality.

Scruffy by name, but not by nature – this wine is full of juicy berries, blackberry and blackcurrant in particular.  There’s just a lick of vanilla from the oak which adds complexity.  Probably the most drinkable wine at this price point!

Nugan Estate Riverina “Stompers” Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (14.0%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Nugan Personality Stompers Cab Sauv

“My mother can be an intimidating person and there’s a few blokes that still wish they’d never given her a hard time. That said, our one vineyard manager named Stomper seems to have found a way to sidestep her wrath with his seemingly carefree attitude. We call him Stomper because the whole building shakes when he walks in – a gentle giant!”

Whereas the Shiraz has both American and French oak, the Cabernet Sauvignon’s more reserved character is better suited to just French oak – though again only a quarter of it is new.

Stomper’s wine is more about cassis and chocolate, with some noticeable Cabernet graphite and cedarwood characters.  It’s a little more serious, but would pair very well with red meat.

Choices, Choices

To be honest I’d be very happy to pay €12.99 for each of these wines, but at €10.00 they are an absolute steal.  The choice between the whites depends on whether you prefer a little more subtlety (the Chardonnay) or a little more expressiveness (the Sauvignon).  I’d probably pick the former two out of three times.  Between the reds I’d have a preference for the Shiraz (as does my wife!).

 

Disclosure: wines were kindly provided for review

 

Make Mine a Double #17 – Achaval Ferrer Mendoza

Provincia_de_Mendoza,_Argentina
Credit: Dbenbenn

If Argentina’s wine producers can be said to have a certain nobility about them, then Bodega Achaval Ferrer is royalty.

To my shame I hadn’t tasted their wines before the Wines of Argentina event earlier this year, but they made a big impression. More precisely, they didn’t make an impression by just being *big* (though there are very few 12% light-bodied Malbecs made in Argentina), but rather due to their elegance – probably the most elegant wines I tasted at the whole event.

Elegance doesn’t come without a cost, of course; apart from the pair featured below the range includes more expensive wines such as:

  • Quimera, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (RRP around €35)
  • The Finca series, three single vineyard expressions of Malbec with a RRP of €85 – €90

The Mendoza series are blends from different vineyards across the Mendoza wine region.  Based on the idea that blends can be more than the sum of their parts, they are designed to highlight the qualities and characters of their varieties rather than be a transparent window onto the terroir where they are grown.  Though to be honest, given the strength and power of Malbec, wouldn’t translucent be more appropriate?

Bodega Achaval Ferrer Malbec Mendoza 2014 (14.5%, RRP €24 – €25, jnwine.com)

AF MM 14 small

This is a 100% Malbec wine made from 60 hectares of vines in the Perdriel (3,150 ft), Medrano (2,790 ft) and Uco Valley (3,608 ft) subregions.  Close to opaque in the glass, it has a highly perfumed nose, with a range of red and black fruits and a twist of spice.  The fruit is also present and correct on the palate, but elegantly presented rather than the punch in the gob which most Malbecs give you.  It’s hard to describe accurately, but this is a classy wine.

Bodega Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza 2013 (14.5%, RRP €24 – €25, jnwine.com)

AF CS 14 small

The companion Cabernet Sauvignon is also a 100% varietal, but made from just 15 hectares in the Agrelo (3,215 ft) and Medrano (2,790 ft) subregions of Mendoza.  It also has a beguiling nose, outrageous amounts of elegant fruit coming through.  On the palate it could almost be mistaken for a serious Pauillac, with black and red fruit plus hints of cedar and tobacco – though I don’t think a Pauillac of this class could be drunk so young! Fine grained tannins also add a bit backbone against which the fruit is framed.

Conclusion: Yes, this pair do showcase their respective varieties as intended – but I think far more than that, they showcase the care and attention taken in the vineyard, low yields and high altitude setting.  These are wines fit for a king!

Full index of Make Mine a Double

 

Moving On Up – Argentinian Reds

Moving On Up – Argentinian Reds

rio_calchaqui_web

Altitude is even more important than latitude in Argentina – in terms of the weather patterns in the vineyard and the perceived quality of the wine.  The search for good vineyard sites continues in Argentina, with new parts of the wine heartland Mendoza Valley being tried, plus further north in Salta such as in the Colchaqui Valley (pictured above).

The DNS Wine Club met to examine both whites and reds from Argentina, both varietals and blends.  The whites were published on The Taste here: Hi Ho Silver (I wonder how many people got the pun in the title?)  Now it’s the turn of the reds:

Susana Balbo Crios Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (Mendoza) (€16.25 down to €14.65, Wines Direct – Arnotts & online)

Crios label

14.0%, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon

Susana Balbo is the most recognised and celebrated oenologist in Argentina and has been at the forefront of innovation and quality improvements for decades. Key notes are plum and redcurrant (surprisingly more than blackcurrant), joined by a touch of vanilla from oak barrels. The soft tannins and silky smooth texture make this a delicious wine to enjoy in front of a roaring fire, or perhaps with a big juicy steak. Great value.

Bodega Amalaya Red 2013 (Valle Calchaqui, Salta) (€18.00, Mitchell’s – ISFC)

12_AMAL_MB_Front

14.0%, 75% Malbec, 15% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, dash of Tannat

Amalaya produce a fantastic range of wines (also check out their Torrontés Riesling blend) of which this is a fairly modest member. Based in the highlands of Salta, the vineyards start at a mile high (1,600m) and keep climbing. Warm days and cool nights promote thicker skins than in lower vineyards (giving more intense flavours) and help maintain acidity (making the wines taste fresher).

This blend is more than the sum of its parts – ripe plum from the Malbec, pepper and spice from the Syrah plus a savoury edge from the Cabernet. Narrowly missed out on the best red of the tasting.

Bodegas Norton Barrel Select Malbec 2014 (Mendoza) (€14.99, O’Briens)

 

Norton label

14.0%, 100% Malbec

At “only” 850m – 1,100m the vineyards for this wine are considered to be in the foothills (for reference, Croagh Patrick’s summit is 764m). Although located in what is usually referred to as the New World, the Estate dates back to 1895 which makes it fairly old in my book. The vines for this bottle are 15 years of age or older giving classic Malbec characters.

Hess Family Colomé Estate Malbec 2012 (Valle Calchaqui, Salta) (€25.00, Mitchells)

colomé

14.5% 100% Malbec

If anybody, anywhere, tells you that “all Malbecs taste the same, there’s no point spending more than xx Euros on one” then you have my permission to shoot them (not that I think it would be a valid defence in a court of law). The Colomé winery dates back to 1831 – older than many Rioja Bodegas, for example. There are actually four separate estates at altitudes between 1,700m and 3,111m, each adding something to the blend of the Estate Malbec.

For such a big, alcoholic wine it is remarkably refined, delicate and long. Blackberry, blackcurrant and black cherry characters are the key, with supple tannins supplying the structure. A fantastic wine!

 

 

A Dozen Valentine’s Treats

A Dozen Valentine’s Treats

Valentine’s Day is associated with romance, and hence the colour pink.  This often means that rosé wines are promoted at this time of year, but as they aren’t generally my thing I thought I would recommend a dozen wines of differing hues from O’Briens, who are offering 10% back on their loyalty card (or wine savings account as I call it).

These wines are mainly higher priced for which I make no excuse – these are treats for yourself and / or your significant other!  Of course, they would make a nice treat for Mother’s Day or at any time of year…

Chateau Kirwan Margaux Troisième Cru 2010 (€95.00)

Chateau-Kirwan-2010

The last of Bordeaux’s fantastic four vintages within eleven years (2000, 2005 2009, 2010) allows this Margaux to show its class but be more approachable than in leaner years.  You could keep this for another decade or two if you didn’t want to drink it yet.  Decant for several hours after opening if you can, and serve with beef.

Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (€62.00)

Penfolds-Bin-407-Cabernet-Sauv

One of Penfolds’ top Cabernet Sauvignons which combines power, fruit and elegance. 2010 happened to be a great vintage in South Australia as well, so if you’re climbing the quality tree it’s a good time to do it.  Being a Cab means it’s all about cassis, intense blackcurrant aromas and flavours, with some vanilla to go with it.

1757 Bordeaux 2012 (€49.99)

1757-Bordeaux

This is a very interesting wine for the geeks out there as it is a custom blend of parcels from well known appellations from around Bordeaux including Paulliac, Graves and Canon-Fronsac.  It was created by JM Cazes group winemaker Daniel Llose and O’Briens Head of Wine Buying Lynne Coyle MW.  Oh, and it tastes wonderful as well!

Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2013 (€27.95)

Ata-Rangi-Crimson-Pinot-Noir

Ata Rangi is one of stars of Martinbrough, an hour or so drive from Wellington in the south of New Zealand’s North Island.  Crimson is their second wine intended to be drunk while young rather than laid down, but it is first rate in quality.  Beats any Pinot from France at this price point.

Lanson Rose Label NV (€57.95 down to €45.00)

 

Lanson-Rose-Label-NV

This isn’t a token rosé, it’s a proper Champagne which happens to be pink.  Lanson’s house style is based on preventing / not encouraging malolactic fermentation in the base wines, meaning they remain fresh and zippy even after the secondary alcoholic fermentation which produces the fizz.  Texture is key here as well, and the lovely red fruits have a savoury edge.  You could even drink this with pork or veal.  Great value when on offer.

Beaumont des Crayeres Grande Réserve NV Champagne (€36.95 down to €30.00)

Beaumont-des-Crayeres-GR

Another Champagne which is even less expensive, but still a few steps above most Prosecco and Cava on the market.  The regulations for non vintage Champagne stipulate a minimum of 15 months ageing on the lees, but the lovely toasty notes from this show it has significantly more than that.  Punches well above its price.

L’Extra par Langlois NV (€19.99)

L_extra-par-Langlois

The Loire Valley is home to a multitude of wine styles, including Crémant (traditional method sparkling) such as this.  Made from internationally famous Chardonnay and local speciality Chenin, it doesn’t taste the same as Champagne – but then why should it?  The quality makes it a valid alternative, not surprising when you learn that it’s owned by Bollinger!

Graham’s Port LBV 2009 (€22.99)

Grahams

Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) is a great way to get into serious quality Port without paying the full price for Vintage Port.  Whereas the latter is bottled quickly after fermentation and laid down for many years, LBV spends time maturing in casks.  There it slowly loses colour and tannin but gains complexity.  Graham’s is one of the most celebrated Port Houses and their LBV is one of the benchmarks for the category.

Chanson Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2010 (€60.49)

Chanson-Chab-GrandCru-Les-Clos

Grand Cru Chablis is a very different beast from ordinary Chablis.  It’s often oaked, though sympathetically rather than overpoweringly, and can develop astounding complexity.  Among the seven (or eight, depending on who you ask) Grand Crus, Les Clos is often regarded as the best of the best.  At just over five years from vintage this is still a baby – it would be even better in another five years but it might be impossible to resist!

Château-Fuissé les Brûlés 2012 (€42.00)

Ch-Fuisse-les-Brules

Pouilly-Fuissé is probably the best appellation of the Maconnais, Burgundy proper’s most southerly subregion which borders the north of Beaujolais.  The white wines here are still Chardonnay, of course, but the southerly latitude gives it more weight and power than elsewhere in Burgundy.  Oak is often used in generous proportions as the wine has the fruit to stand up to it.  This Château-Fuissé is one of my favourites from the area!

Greywacke Wild Ferment Sauvignon 2013 (29.95)

Greywacke-Wild-Ferment-Sauvignon

It’s a Sauvignon Blanc, but then it’s not just a Sauvignon Blanc.  Kevin Judd was the long time winemaker of Cloudy Bay, finally branching out on his own a few years ago.  The wild yeast and partially oaking give this a very different sensibility from ordinary Sauvignons.  It’s not for everybody, but those that like it, love it!

Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2011 (€29.45)

Man-O_War-Valhalla-Chardonnay

One of my favourite New Zealand wines, full stop.  I have mentioned this wine several times over the past few years…mainly as I just can’t get enough of it!  It’s made in Waiheke Island in Auckland Bay so has more weight than, say, a Marlborough Chardonnay, but still enough acidity to keep it from being flabby.  Tropical fruit abounds here – just make sure you don’t drink it too cold!

 

 

 

 

 

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2015

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2015

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)

2015-10-28 16.10.47

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:

2015-11-07 12.38.56

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)

2015-10-13 21.56.17

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)

Condado de Haza

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.  

See this article for more details.

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)

2015-10-01 20.01.57

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.

See this article for more details.

6. Domaine L’Ostal Cazes Grand Vin Minervois La Livinère 2011 (€23.49, O’Briens)

2015-09-03 13.44.49

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)

2015-09-02 19.23.59

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.

4. Uno de Mil Tempranillo & Petit Verdot (€23.95, Cases Wine Warehouse)

2015-08-26 14.46.23

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!

3. E.Guigal “Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph” Saint-Joseph 2005 (2009: €46, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)

Saint Joseph

 

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)

Dead Arm

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)

Bin707

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!

 

Also check out the Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites, Top 10 Fizz and Top 10 Sweet wines of 2015.

 

 

Lidl French Reds for February

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.