Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Wine Review: Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay

Before the arrival of this wine into Dublin I have to confess that I was only distantly aware of Wente Vineyards and their home of Livermore Valley in California’s Central Coast.  The two are inextricably linked, but first here’s a map for us to get our bearings:

Livermore Valley in California

 

As you can see, Livermore Valley is at the top of the Central Coast region, across the Bay from San Francisco.  Cooling sea breezes and fogs from San Francisco Bay give the valley more significant diurnal temperature variation, helpful for producing quality wine.

Although not that well known today – in Europe at least – grapes were first planted in Livermore in the 1840s, before the Bordeaux Classification of 1855 and well before phylloxera devastated European vineyards.

There was a flurry of winery openings in the 1880s, with Cresta Blanca Winery in 1882 followed by Concannon Vineyard and Wente Vineyards in 1883.  Colcannon and Wente are still in operation today, with Wente being the biggest.  In fact, it was Wente who ended up buying the land that Cresta Blanca had used and replanted it after decades of being barren.

Livermore Valley’s influence on Californian wine extended beyond its immediate borders:

  1. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grown there originated from vine cuttings taken from Château d’Yquem
  2. Livermore was the first area in California that labelled wines by their variety
  3. As one of the oldest places planted to Chardonnay, it is the genetic source of 80% of Californian Chardonnay

Wente Vineyards

Wente Vineyards are proud of their status as “the country’s longest, continuously operated family-owned winery”.  They have now reached five generations of family winegrowers:

  1. Carl H. Wente founded the vineyard with the purchase of 47 acres in 1883
  2. Ernest Wente imported Chardonnay cuttings from Montpellier in 1912 and established the Wente Clone.  His brother Herman Wente helped to found the California Wine Institute in 1936
  3. Karl L. Wente joined the business in 1949 and greatly expanded US and international distribution.  He also expanded the family’s holdings into Arroyo Secco (Monterey)
  4. Eric, Philip and Carolyn Wente took over management of the business in 1977
  5. Christine, Karl, Jordan, Niki and Aly Wente hold various positions in the business

Not content to simply fall back on with their long history, Wente are also embracing the future with the first ever virtual wine tasting accessed through Alexa or Google.

In addition to producing wine the estate also features a restaurant, 18 hole golf course and concert venue.  But it’s the wine that matters most to us!  The Wente wine portfolio consists of several ranges.  In approximate order of most to least expensive they are:

  • The Nth Degree
  • Small Lot
  • Single Vineyard
  • Wente Winemakers Studio
  • Estate Grown

It’s not unusual for Estate wines to be the top range in a producer’s portfolio, so this indicates a high quality level.  To evaluate this theory we now turn to a specific wine from the Estate Grown range.

Disclosure: This bottle was kindly provided as a sample

Wente Morning Fog Livermore Valley Chardonnay 2018

Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay from Livermore Valley

The Wente Vineyards “Morning Fog” Livermore Valley Chardonnay is made by fifth generation Karl Wente.  Its name evokes the fogs that roll across San Francisco Bay and into the east-west trained vines of Livermore Valley.  Various Wente Chardonnay clones are used, including “Old Wente” which have been propagated without going though heat treatment at UC Davis.  Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately.

After the grapes are pressed the must is split into two parts: 50% is fermented in old American oak and 50% is fermented in stainless steel tanks.  The barrel fermented portion remains in those containers for five months and undergoes monthly lees stirring.  The Inox portion is split further; half remains on its lees and receives bâtonnage while half is racked into clean tanks.  All vessels are then blended together before bottling.

When poured the wine is lemon, not as deep as some other (more oaky) Chardonnays.  It’s highly aromatic on the nose – helped by 2% Gewürztraminer – full of toasty, leesy notes and fresh citrus.  The palate is fresh and clean, but with lovely texture.  Unlike some Cali Chardonnays, the texture doesn’t get in the way of the wine or stand out awkwardly, but rather comes along for the journey.  There’s a fine mineral streak through the wine and a fresh finish.

Overall this is a very well put together wine, rising above many confected and manufactured rivals at this price point.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €27
  • Stockists: Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Jus de Vine; Lotts and Co; Martins Off Licence; McHughs Kilbarrack and Malahide; Mitchell and Son Glasthule and CHQ; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; Power & Co Fine Wines; Sweeney’s D3; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The GrapeVine, Glasnevin; The Wine Pair; Thomas’s Foxrock
Wine + Music

The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series #12 – Tim Milford

In these unusual times, we all need a lift from time to time. As a change to my usual wine reviews I’ve decided to start a fun and irreverent series on matching wine and music. The basic idea is that I give participants:

  • A piece of music –> they suggest a wine to go with it, with an explanation
  • A wine –> they suggest a piece of music to go with it

It’s all for fun, so please don’t slag off anybody’s taste music (or wine!) Thanks to Michelle Williams for the inspiration – she has been matching songs to wine for years on her Rockin Red Blog.

The twelfth installment of The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series is hosted by  Germanophile Englishman Tim Milford.  If I said that he likes to “blow his own trumpet” and dubs himself “The King of Wine” I would be correct; however, this would be in a literal sense only, as he is an orchestral trumpet player(!) and a total gentleman with a well developed sense of humour to boot. 

I am something of a philistine when it comes to classical / orchestral music – I know a few tunes that I like but that’s about it.  However, when choosing a piece for Tim there was one that immediately came to mind as it featured trumpets: Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. When I was young living at home with my parents this was a favourite of my dad’s so I heard it many times.

The easy option for the wine pick would have been German Riesling, but I side-stepped that and chose an English sparkling wine that I know Tim and I both hold in high estimation: Nyetimber’s Classic Cuvée MV.  It’s a wine that I have been following for many years, with each successive vintage getting better.  Now that it is a multi-vintage it has stepped up even more.


I was delighted when Frankie asked me to contribute to his wine and music blog series, but also a little nervous as all of the other posts have been so good!

Frankie has chosen a classical theme for me, which I was really pleased about. I have been a trumpet player since I was eight years old and have been fortunate enough to play in some excellent bands and orchestras over the years. Music, just like wine, has been an amazing way for me to make friends and also to get to know more about the world that we live in.

My music taste is pretty eclectic, but I have always enjoyed classical music particularly. I think a good symphony is like test cricket (another one of my passions!) – the time that you have in this format allows you to appreciate the waxing and waning of the music, the development of intricate sub-plots within pieces. Whereas your average three minute rock or pop song is more like T20 cricket – it starts: crash, bang, wallop, it ends.

My favourite music in the classical space tends to be the bigger, grander, darker, more evocative music from the German and Russian masters: Mahler, Bruckner, Beethoven, Shostakovich and Prokofiev; but in truth there is so much variety out there that you just feel blessed that all of these incredible people have created such beauty – exactly how I feel about wine!

So, on to my pairings!

Nyetimber’s Classic Cuvée MV

Nyetimber-Our-Wines-Homepage-ClassicCuvee
Credit: Nyetimber

For the wine, Frankie selected for me Nyetimber’s Multi Vintage (MV) Classic Cuvée – a wine that I know very well and I knew straight away exactly where I was going to go for my music selection: Glenn Gould’s famous recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Why did I choose this? The Goldberg variations are a masterpiece of composition – combining moments of pure beauty, with complicated, intricate melodies and counter-melodies. But how does it make me feel when I listen to it? I often listen to this recording when I need to concentrate on something at work; it feels serene, it feels sophisticated, it feels masterly.

These are the kinds of feelings that I get when I think of Nyetimber’s Classic Cuvée; it’s a wine of breathtaking refinement, with layers of texture to it that are all perfectly balanced to give an immensely pleasurable drinking experience. It is pretty well known now that good English sparkling wine is giving Champagne a proper run for its money – and Nyetimber is absolutely one of those producers that I would point to. That’s before we start looking at their vintage BdBs, which are simply spectacular.

There’s another reason that I wanted to choose Glenn Gould’s version of the Goldberg Variations – Gould was Canadian and I wanted to give a little nod to Nyetimber’s head wine makers, Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix, Canadians themselves. Cherie and Brad have done wonderful things during their tenure at Nyetimber and I thought this would be a nice tribute to them.

Aaron Copland – Fanfare for the Common Man

For my musical selection, Frankie gave me Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” – a selection that I was delighted with! As a trumpet player, fanfares are always a fun experience to play, but the opening of this piece isn’t a fanfare in the sense that we might think of; it is altogether more refined. A lot of fanfares are designed to be regal and triumphal, this though seems to be a little less bombastic – which I guess is borne out in the piece’s name. This isn’t a piece celebrating the crowning of a king or a queen, but a celebration of the common man (and woman!).

I also like the structure of the piece, which builds layers as it goes through, starting with the timpani, followed by the trumpets; but then augmented by the rest of the brass section and more percussion players. When I listen to this piece there is something Olympic about it in the soaring notes for the trumpet, which sounds so powerful, so graceful, so majestic. Something that says: we have mastered this, we are in control and we know what we are doing.

The Milf
Credit: Tim Milford

So, what wine could I choose that gives you the same sentiment? I decided to pair this piece with a 2016 Santa Barbara Pinot Noir from the legends at Au Bon Climat in California. The wine is an absolute classic, coming from a coastal region in California it benefits from those sea breezes, which gives it a delicious freshness. It is fairly commonly observed that this is a wine made in a Burgundian style, which I think in this instance means that it has a poise and refinement, an elegance and class. It tantalises the tastebuds and excites the nostrils, but it does it all in a controlled and self-confident way. It is not over-the-top and showy, instead it sits there quietly exuding its grace and majesty.

This is a celebration of the majesty of Pinot Noir, one of the most loved and most temperamental grapes in the wine world. But it is a celebration held in a booth in a classy restaurant with fine food and fine wine, not a party held in some gaudy Mayfair nightclub favoured by those with too much money and too little class. The wines of Au Bon Climat are rightly revered for being right at the top of their game and this is no exception. A superb wine to match with a superb piece of music!

Tim Milford

Tim Milford is a project manager by day and an enthusiastic wine enthusiast by night! He is no expert when it comes to wine, but likes learning about the wine world one bottle at a time and has a particular penchant for German wine. Tim writes about wine (not as often as he would like) at www.vinspireuk.com and sometimes writes restaurant reviews (even less often, particularly recently) on his own website www.timmilford.com. You can find Tim on Twitter (@timmilford) and Instagram (@tjmilford), should you like to do those kinds of thing.


The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series
No. Guest Name Music to pair Wine to pair
14 Lee Isaacs The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter Domaine Jones Fitou
13 Sharon L Souls Of Mischief –  93 ‘Til Infinity Penfolds RWT
12 Tim Milford Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man Nyetimber Classic Cuvée
11 Mags McKee U2 with BB King –  When Love Comes to Town Pittnauer Zweigelt Heideboden
10 Cara Rutherford The Cure – Just Like Heaven Suertes del Marqués ‘7 Fuentes’
9 Melanie May The Cult –  She Sells Sanctuary Sipp Mack GC Rosacker Riesling
8 James Hubbard Gary Moore – Parisienne Walkways Penfolds Bin 707 Cab Sauv
7 Paul Moran Underworld – Rez Suertes del Marqués Trenzado
6 Nirina Plunkett Jamiroquai – Space Cowboy Club Remix Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace
5 Penny Sadler Fleetwood Mac – Dreams Bollinger Special Cuvée
4 Jim Dunlop The Beatles – The Long And Winding Road Man O’ War Valhalla Chardonnay
3 Avril Kirrane McMorrough Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why Joseph Cattin Riesling Reserve
2 Tim of Soliciting Flavours Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings Viña Tondonia Blanco
1 Sinéad Smyth Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You Mullineux Syrah
Wine + Music

The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series #8 – James Hubbard

In these unusual times, we all need a lift from time to time. As a change to my usual wine reviews I’ve decided to start a fun and irreverent series on matching wine and music. The basic idea is that I give participants:

  • A piece of music –> they suggest a wine to go with it, with an explanation
  • A wine –> they suggest a piece of music to go with it

It’s all for fun, so please don’t slag off anybody’s taste music (or wine!) Thanks to Michelle Williams for the inspiration – she has been matching songs to wine for years on her Rockin Red Blog.

Part 8 of this series is in the capable hands of James Hubbard, a fellow wine tweeter who also wrote a guest piece for me in 2017.  The track I chose for him is a modern blues-rock classic from the onetime Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore (who I saw “support” BB King in 2006).  Parisienne Walkways contains the lines:

I remember Paris in ’49
The Champs Elysee, Saint Michel
And old Beaujolais wine

which was a chance for James to run with a Beaujolais, but he resisted the easy score as you will see below. 

James posts up some cracking Australian wines on Twitter and Instagram so I though I’d go with a real big-hitter: Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, one of their very top red wines and named after the Boeing 707.  The 1998 707 is still the best red wine I have ever tasted.

Gary Moore – Parisienne Walkways

So when Frankie contacted me to ask if I would like to take part in his Wine and music series, I jumped at the chance. What fun! I’ll get a piece of Italian opera, maybe. Easy, right?

Then Frankie sent me the song: Parisienne Walkways, by Gary Moore. Mind. Blown. What on earth can I pair with this?? A 9-minute opus (well, live anyway) full of ridiculously long guitar notes. I mean it’s iconic, it’s brilliant but at the same time rather self-indulgent (or at least that’s how I remembered it).

However, as I listened to it several times, it all fell into place. I could easily have gone with a Beaujolais – Paris, steak frites and some bojo, right? I mean he even mentions it in the song, for goodness’ sake! And my goodness I love Beaujolais. Gamay rocks, as apparently does Gary Moore. But that would be too easy. Come on, James. Work a bit harder than that. As I delved deeper, I realised that what I used to think of as self-indulgence is actually self-knowing. Yes it’s a serious piece of music but it’s actually not taking itself too seriously. Then the penny dropped.

Bonny Doon ‘Le Cigare Volant’, from the amazing Randall Grahm.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant

Just like the song, there’s a bit of everything in there (usually about 5 different grapes, a real Rhône Ranger) but the blend is just spot-on. It opens up so early and so well and it hits all the right notes throughout (unlike Morecambe and Wise, in the right order as well). This is an incredible wine. It’s earthy, rich yet playful, full-bodied yet perfectly balanced. Above all, it’s a wine that demands your attention but ultimately doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon

For my music choice, I was invited to find an appropriate accompaniment to Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon. Wow. This is a wine that can live forever and is somewhat in the shadows of its more-famous sibling, but sorry Oasis you’re not coming in on this occasion. I need something more refined. Bin 707 is Tom Finney to Stanley Matthews’ Grange. Less lauded but the professionals always knew who was the greater.

Step forward the one, the only Bob Dylan. ‘One More Cup of Coffee’.

A song about unrequited love, taken from one of Dylan’s lesser-known albums. As with wine tastings, this is best enjoyed live and the version from Dylan’s Bootleg Series 5, The Rolling Thunder Revue is my personal favourite. Just like the 707, this has such a rich tapestry. It’s long and hauntingly beautiful. Once heard, never forgotten yet rarely spoken about in the same breath of some of Dylan’s other work.

Oh and whilst you’re at it, come for one more cup of coffee and stay for the entirety of the Bootleg live album. Just like delving into Penfolds’ catalogue and discovering other incredible wines you’d never realised were there, you’ll discover genius that truly will live forever.

James Hubbard

James Hubbard is a passionate wine amateur with an eclectic collection and a vastly inferior palate to that of his wife. A Europhile, he works for a major FMCG company as their EMEA Head of Talent Acquisition (a fancy way of saying ‘recruitment’). Lover of virtually all sports (particularly cricket, rugby union and American Football). You can follow him under @jameshubbard113 on both Twitter and Instagram.


The Frankly Wines & Friends Wine & Music Series
No. Guest Name Music to pair Wine to pair
14 Lee Isaacs The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter Domaine Jones Fitou
13 Sharon L Souls Of Mischief –  93 ‘Til Infinity Penfolds RWT
12 Tim Milford Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man Nyetimber Classic Cuvée
11 Mags McKee U2 with BB King –  When Love Comes to Town Pittnauer Zweigelt Heideboden
10 Cara Rutherford The Cure – Just Like Heaven Suertes del Marqués ‘7 Fuentes’
9 Melanie May The Cult –  She Sells Sanctuary Sipp Mack GC Rosacker Riesling
8 James Hubbard Gary Moore – Parisienne Walkways Penfolds Bin 707 Cab Sauv
7 Paul Moran Underworld – Rez Suertes del Marqués Trenzado
6 Nirina Plunkett Jamiroquai – Space Cowboy Club Remix Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace
5 Penny Sadler Fleetwood Mac – Dreams Bollinger Special Cuvée
4 Jim Dunlop The Beatles – The Long And Winding Road Man O’ War Valhalla Chardonnay
3 Avril Kirrane McMorrough Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why Joseph Cattin Riesling Reserve
2 Tim of Soliciting Flavours Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings Viña Tondonia Blanco
1 Sinéad Smyth Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You Mullineux Syrah
Opinion, Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Spearmint Rhino [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #26]

Cabernet from Napa and Sonoma is a key part of California wine’s reputation – big, bold, ripe, and not for the faint hearted.  Some wines have almost become parodies of the style, with too much oak, too much extraction and too much alcohol.  Thankfully, they aren’t all like that, and balance is becoming more fashionable again.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (14.2%, RRP €80 at O’Briens)

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 3

 

The Alexander Valley AVA is part of Sonoma County and was purportedly named after the first man to introduce vines to the area in 1843, Cyrus Alexander.  After prohibition it remained a bulk wine area until the late ’60s when innovative, quality winemaking returned to the area.  For all my talk of balance above, the wines here are still powerful and voluptuous.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the leading black varieties and Chardonnay for white.

Silver Oak was set up in 1972 by business partners Raymond Twomey Duncan and Justin Meyer.  They originally set out to make just top notch Cabernet Sauvignon, matured in American Oak and able to repay decades of cellaring.  Napa Valley Cabernet and this Alexander Valley Cabernet are the twin kings of the winery, with other varieties released under the related Twomey label.

The 2012 vintage of this wine consists of 98% Cabernet Sauvignon with just a 2% splash of Merlot.  Seven years after vintage it is settling down nicely and ready to drink, but should develop for a further 15 years if kept well.  The nose has powerful blackcurrant and red fruit aromas with vanilla from two years in oak.  Cassis is also present on the muscular palate, along with a distinct spearmint streak and cocoa powder.  Fine grained tannins seal the deal.

This is a very well made, enjoyable wine.  It may look expensive without context, but for this quality in the Médoc even more money would be exchanged.  Due to its heft this should be saved for a treat (who drinks €80 bottles on a weekday, anyway?) to be shared with fellow wine lovers.  And what a treat!

Disclaimer: there is no link between this wine and the Spearmint Rhino clubs

Tasting Events

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019 (part 4 – New World Reds)

“New World” is not a great term as it basically means “outside Europe”, so it includes many different countries which are different in style.  Just for convenience, it allows us to look at a selection wines from California, Central Otago, Southern Australia and Ningxia, all available from Liberty Wines.

Pine Ridge Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (15.0%, RRP €72.99 at Blackrock Cellar; The Corkscrew; La Touche Wines, Greystones; McHugh’s; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Terroirs)

Pine Ridge Vineyards CabSauv NapaValley

I’ve been a fan of the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc / Viognier blend for some time (see review here) but as this is Napa then the Cabernet is the real deal.  Pine Ridge Vineyards was first established in Stags Leap District in the late 70s with a single vineyard next to a – you guessed it – pine ridge.  Their vineyards now number 12 and total 80 hectares over five Napa sub-zones: Stags Leap District, Rutherford, Carneros, Howell Mountain and Oakville.  Pine Ridge produce a number of different wines, including several from individual sub-zones, but this is a blend across the five.

This bottle is labelled as a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon but that is 91% of the blend, with the balance made up by 6% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc.  35% of the 2016 was aged in new American oak for 18 months, giving creamy vanilla to go with the blackcurrant, cherry and blackberry notes.  This is a big, lush, heady wine that is not light and shouldn’t be taken lightly.  It’s not for those who like racy reds but it’s imposing and delicious.

New Kanaan Pretty Pony 2013 (14.0%, €52.99 at Cinnamon Cottage, Cork; The Corkscrew; The Malt House; Mitchell & Son; Terroirs)

Kanaan Winery, `Pretty Pony` FS

Ningxia is of course the most important Chinese region for wine.  Some years ago I reviewed Château Changyu Moser XV 2008 which had an abv of 12.5% and was reminiscent of old school Bordeaux (think mid ’90s).  The Pretty Pony is a very good wine, regardless of origin. It has oak, lovely black fruit and is already showing a nice bit of development.  This is not like old school Bordeaux – this is like modern Bordeaux!

Akarua “Rua” Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017 (14.0%, RRP €29.99 at Avoca; Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Mitchell & Son; Red Nose Wine; 1601, Kinsale; www.wineonline.ie)

Akarua Rua Pinot Noir

When Central Otago Pinot Noir began to enter into the consciousness of wine drinkers it was almost the opposite of Marlborough Pinot – big, bold and powerful – with alcohol to match.  It was almost a Pinot Noir for Cabernet drinkers – no bad thing in my eyes as Cab is my favourite black grape – but times, and the wines, have changed.  Now elegance and balance are to the fore, without losing the intensity that made them such a hit in the first place.  This is a great example of Central Pinot – especially for the relatively modest price.  It has a core of ripe red fruit and a slight smoky, savoury edge that gives it some seriousness.

Burn Cottage Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016 (13.5%, RRP €69.99 at The Corkscrew; www.wineonline.ie and good independents nationwide)

Burn Cottage Central Otago Pinot Noir

Another Central Pinot, but totally different in style.  Burn Cottage has been practising biodynamic since the first vines were planted in 2003, and there is a low intervention approach to winemaking.  Whole bunch fermentation allows the wine’s aromas to develop fully – it smells…special, for want of a better term.  This is a fine, fine wine which delights all the senses but the mind too.

Mitolo “G.A.M.” McLaren Vale Shiraz 2015 (14.5%, RRP €39.99 at Blackrock Cellar; www.wineonline.ie and good independents nationwide)

Mitolo GAM Shiraz

Like many McLaren Vale vineyards, Mitolo has Italian roots through its founder Frank Mitolo.  It also has an influx of German genes through winemaker and business partner Ben Glaetzer, scion of the Barossa producer Glaetzer wines.  The Mitolo portfolio is split into three ranges: Jester, Small Batch and Single Vineyard.

The G.A.M. Shiraz was the first wine produced by Mitolo; it’s not an alternative to GSM which is prevalent in the Vale, but actually stands for the initials of Frank’s three children, Gemma, Alex and Marco.  The fruit is sourced from a vineyard belonging to family friends and fellow Italian immigrants the Lopresti vineyards, in particular their “Chinese Block”.  As it’s located at the bottom end of McLaren Vale, the block benefits from cooling sea breezes.  The vines are over 40 years old and are planted on a type of clay.  Fermentation is kept on the cool side to preserve fruit flavours and then fermentation is in French oak (30% new, 70% used) for 15 months.  Only at that point are barrels given final selection for inclusion in the G.A.M. Shiraz.

Aussie Shiraz is a great crowd-pleaser but this is way above that – it has phenomenal structure and intense, opulent-but-not-jammy black fruit.  The Jester Shiraz is a great introduction to the style at a little over half the price of the G.A.M., but I’d argue that the latter is more than twice as good and represents great value at this price point.

Grosset Gaia Clare Valley 2014 (14.0%, RRP €66.99 at good independents nationwide)

Grosset Gaia

Grosset are best known for their Rieslings, especially the Polish Hill and Springvale bottlings, but they also make some great reds too, including a Pinot Noir and this “Gaia” Bordeaux blend.  I say Bordeaux blend though its precise proportions of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc would rarely be found in the Gironde.  At five years old this 2014 still has bright berry, blackcurrant and plum fruit.  It does have a dry leathery side, with grippy tannins and good acidity.  As this is Clare there is of course a screwcap closure; a challenge to the Bordelais to catch up?  This will be drinking well for years and years.

 

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019

Tasting Events

DNS taste North America

One of the recent themes we explored at DNS WineClub was North American wines.  Barefoot and Blossom Hill represent the very commercial face of North American wine, manufactured in huge facilities in accordance with simple, fruity, easy-drinking recipes.  At the top end, Cult Cabernets can be spectacular.  However, there is fairly thin coverage in Europe of the wines in between these two extremes – and they’re the ones which offer most interest to winelovers.

California is the powerhouse of the USA and therefore the whole of North America; even though wines are made in the other 49 states, together they make up just 10% of the USA total.  In these parts the most available outside of the Golden State are probably the wines of Oregon and Washington State – we see very little from elsewhere, not even the hip wines of New York State’s Finger Lakes region.

Here are the five wines which shone the most at our tasting:

Pine Ridge Napa Valley Chenin Viognier 2014 (12.5%, RRP €24.95 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

pine ridge chenin viognier

If you ask a fairly knowledgeable wine drinker what grapes they associate with the Napa Valley, Cabernet would undoubtedly come first, followed by Merlot and Zinfandel, with possibly Chardonnay thrown in as a token white.  So here we have something quite unexpected in Napa – a blend of the Loire’s Chenin Blanc and the Rhône’s Viognier.  The blend is consistent from year to year at 80% Chenin and 20% Viognier, and a little residual sugar is left in to round off the acidity.  Most importantly, it really works as a wine – fresh green apple with a little rich apricot as a counterpoint.

Ovum Wines Oregon “Big Salt” 2017 (12.9%, @RRP €33.95 at Baggot Street Wines, Le Caveau and other good independents)

ovum big salt

Ovum are named after the concrete egg fermenters they use, reflected in the shape of the label of this Alsace-style blend from Oregon.  The grapes used are Riesling, Muscat & Gewurztraminer; the relative proportions are not stated, but the fact that spicy Gewurz doesn’t dominate the nose makes me think that it is probably 10% or less of the blend, with fresh Riesling taking the lead at around 55% and the aromatic Muscat being the balance of around 35% (all my own guesswork, happy to be proved wrong!) 

Again referring to my beloved Alsace, a blend of this quality would be from a Grand Cru vineyard, with the fascinating interplay of three fantastic varieties.  The name of the wine also rings true, with lovely saline elements.  This is an unusual wine which is in fairly short supply in Ireland, but it is worth seeking out.

Au Bon Climat “Wild Boy” Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2017 (13.5%, RRP €39.95 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

au bon climat wild boy chardonnay

Jim Clendenen is the star winemaker and owner of Au Bon Climat, one of the best producers in Santa Barbara County.  ABC is famous for its Pinot Noirs And Chardonnays – Jim is a Burgundy devotee – which come from a variety of different vineyards in the area.  The “Wild Boy” is less subtle than the regular wines, with lots of funk and noticeable oak, spicy pears and citrus.  Whatever magic he uses, this is a highly impressive wine!

The Four Graces Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2014 (13.1%, RRP €40.00 at Sweeney’s and other good independents)

the four graces pinot noir

Perhaps because I’d only tried a couple of lesser quality examples, my preconception of Oregon Pinot Noir was that it could be a bit thin and weedy, rarely living up to its price tag.  While this is no Central Otago clone, it nevertheless has plenty of body and an amazing velvety smoothness to it.  Dundee Hills are one of the best subregions of the Willamette Valley – on this evidence I will be looking out for it again.

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Sparkling Ice Wine 2015 (9.5%, RRP €56 (375 ml) at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin and other good independents)

inniskillen sparkling ice wine

And now for something completely different – something I didn’t even know existed before I put together the wines for this tasting.  Yes, Niagara is famous for its Icewine, often made with the hybrid grape Vidal (which has a very complicated heritage that I’m going to skip over), but a sparkling version?  I didn’t know there was such a thing!  Once pressed, with the ice removed from the juice, specific yeast is added to the juice in a charmat tank so that the CO2 produced from fermentation is dissolved into the wine.  This is such a treat of a wine, with amazing tropical mango, guava and peach notes.  For many tasters, this was the wine of the night.  I really liked it but would probably prefer the still version for myself.

 

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #3 – Carol Smaul [Guest post]

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.

Carol Smaul is the talented lady behind Gin & Griddle, a food and drink blog which won Food Review Blog of the Year 2017 in the Irish Blog Awards. 


This Christmas we will be in California – LA, Santa Barbara, Palm Springs – before finishing in Seattle.  So there’s no doubt the wines we will be drinking and enjoying over Christmas and New Year will be from the US.  We both love Californian wines, the big Cabernet Sauvignons, bold and smoky Zinfandels, lighter Pinot Noirs and buttery Chardonnays, all typical of the region.

Cali Wines SB at CaliWineFair
Californian wines at the California Wine Fair in Dublin

As we’ll be in Southern California we hope to try homegrown wines from Santa Barbara wine country as much as possible. In Santa Barbara, we plan to do the Urban Wine Trail, sampling wines from local wineries in the town.  We’re excited to discover new wines from this region and will certainly be buying a few bottles to enjoy over the rest of our holiday.

Au Bon Climate Pinot NoirCalifornian wine can be a little more challenging to locate in Ireland than its European counterparts, but it is definitely possible, once you’re willing to pay a little more (excise and tax have not been kind to US wine in Ireland).  Places such as Searsons, Baggot Street Wines, Blackrock Cellars and O’Briens have reasonable selections and always ask in your local off licence or wine shop, particularly if they import their wine.

One of our favourite wines from the Southern California region is from Au Bon Climat, Pinot Noir. It would be a great choice for Christmas, an intense yet light red, with lots of character, earthy and fruity; an ideal accompaniment to the Turkey & Ham.  The Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara Pinot Noir is currently in stock in Baggot Street Wines, priced at €37 (abv 13.5%).

 

 

 


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opinion, Tasting Events

Top M&S Whites

Last month I picked out six super sparklers from Marks and Spencer.  Now it’s time for some of my favourite M&S whites:

Domaine de la Pinte Arbois Chardonnay 2014 (12.5%, €23.50)

arbois

The region of eastern France is gradually gaining significant recognition for its wide variety of grapes and styles, many of which are particular to the area.  This is something more conventional, being a Chardonnay made in the “ouillé” style whereby evaporation losses are topped up to prevent too much oxygen in the barrel.  This has far more texture and flavour than you’d expect from a “Chardonnay” – it’s different but well worth a try.

Chapel Down Lamberhurst Estate Bacchus Reserve 2015 (11.5%, €19.50)

bacchus

I have been a keen supporter of English sparkling wine for over a decade, but I haven’t shared the same enthusiasm about English still wines.  However, there are a growing number of very good still wines that deserve your attention.  Bacchus was created in 1930s Germany – and is still grown there – but has found a second home in the cool English climate.  Chapel Down’s Reserve bottling is full of stone, tropical and citrus fruit. It’s well balanced and has a touch of residual sugar to counterpoint the mouth watering acidity.

Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay 2014 (13.0%, €15.50)

cupcake

The Central Coast on the front label is of course the Central Coast of California, which includes Santa Barbara of Sideways fame and Monterey County, where the majority of the Chardonnay grapes were sourced from.

Part of the fermented juice was matured in (mainly old, I reckon) oak barrels and part underwent softening malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks, followed by lees stirring.  When recombined this wine gives the best of both world – it has some oak, but not too much, and some creamy lees flavours. Great value for money – just don’t drink it too cold.

Atlantis Santorini 2015 (13.0%, €15.50)

atlantis

Santorini is my favourite wine region of Greece for whites, especially those made wholly or predominantly from Assyrtiko as this is.  Due to its latitude the island receives lots of sun but this is somewhat tempered by sea breezes.  It sees no oak nor malolactic fermentation so remains clean and linear.

Earth’s End Central Otago Riesling 2015 (12.5%, €20.50)

earths-end

Central Otago in the deep south of New Zealand is primarily known for its Pinot Noirs – and rightly so – but its long cool growing season is also suitable for Chardonnay and Riesling.  This has lovely lime notes, and an off dry finish perfectly balances the vibrant acidity.  With Haka instructions on the front, surely this would be a great present for a rugby fan?

Terre di Chieti Pecorino 2015 (12.5%, €15.00)

pecorino

Another recent favourite of mine is Pecorino, an everyday Italian white wine with far more character than the lakes of uninteresting Pinot Grigio that clog up most supermarket shelves.  Both oranges and lemons feature on the palate – it’s a great drop at a keen price.

Villiera Traditional Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2016 (14.0%, €18.50)

villiera

Modest packaging belies a sublime wine, one of the most enjoyable South African Chenins I’ve had for a long time.  The complexity is due to the variety of choices made by winemaker Jeff Grier – a small amount of botrytised grapes was used, part of the wine went through malolactic and part did not, both new and second-use French oak barrels were used.  The end result is a marvel of honey and vanilla – amazingly complex for such a young wine.

Stepp Riesling *S* Kallstadter Saumagen 2015 (13.0%, €22.00)

stepp

Germany’s Pfalz region is beloved of the Wine Hunter himself, Jim Dunlop, and of course makes some great Riesling.  The alcohol of 13.0% is much higher than an average Mosel Riesling, for example, which indicates that this is likely to be significantly drier and more full bodied.  Apricot, lemon, lime and orange make an appearance – just such a lovely wine!

Red Claw Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2015 (13.0%, €27.00)

red-claw

From one of Australia’s premium cool climate regions, this is a Chardonnay to make Burgundy lovers weep – or convert!  The fermented wines are matured on their lees in 500L barrels (over double the standard barrique of 225L) with no malolactic fermentation allowed, so freshness is maintained.  This is a grown up wine with lots of lees character and reductive notes.

Tasting Events

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.