Tag: California

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.

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.

I Wish They All Could Be California

North Coast

Although the French wouldn’t like to hear it, there are some high level similarities between the USA’s AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and the French Appellations d’Origine Controlées (AOCs), namely that the most prestigious delineated areas are small and sit within larger areas, sometimes with multiple layers – for example, just as Puligny-Montrachet is a part of the Côte de Beaune and then the larger Burgundy area, Russian River Valley is part of Sonoma County, then the North Coast and finally the general California area.

Confusing?  Perhaps, but the relative size of an appellation within a region is one (of several) indicators to a wine’s quality.  Here are three wines from Cline Cellars – a producer I hold in high regard – that illustrate this.

Cline Cellars North Coast Viognier 2013 (14.0%, €17.99 at jnwine.com)

Cline_CATier_Viognier_NV_Stelvin small

The North Coast AVA is illustrated on the map above – it contains the world-renowned Napa and Sonoma plus other great areas such as Los Carneros.  If a producer uses grapes from one of those prestigious areas then s/he will use that on the label, but if the vines lie outside them or the wine is a blend from different regions then North Coast will be used.

This is a 100% Viognier, the aromatic grape that was once almost lost apart from a few plots in Condrieu in the Northern Rhône.  It manages to be fresh and rich at the same time, with typical Viognier aromas of flowers and stone fruit such as apricot and peach.  It has a little oiliness in the mouth and more body than many whites.  Viognier is a grape that I don’t always get on with, but this is the best Californian Viognier I’ve tried to date – and great value too!

Cline Cellars Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013 (14.5%, €22.50 at jnwine.com)

 

cline_sonomatier_pn_nv_final small

Sonoma Coast is the part of Sonoma County that lies – you guessed it! – on the coast.  This obviously makes it a cooler climate area than inland Sonoma (it also receives more rain than the rest of the county), so it’s more suited to varieties such as Pinot Noir.  That being said, at 14.5% this is no shrinking violet of a Pinot – you’d never wonder if it was actually a rosé rather than a red, like some Pinots!  It has a lot of body and power, but it’s no monster either, as there’s plenty of acidity to keep it in balance, and although it feels silky and voluptuous in the mouth there’s no alcohol burn on the finish.  In line with the experience there’s an abundance of bold black fruit and a twist of exotic spice.  It’s an all-round impressive wine!

Cline Cellars Contra Costa County Big Break Vineyard Zinfandel 2011 (16.0% €29.50 at jnwine.com)

 

cline_singlevineyard_bigbreak_zn_nv_final small

Based on my somewhat basic understanding of California’ geography, Contra Costa County is actually just outside the North Coast wine area, right at the bottom of the map at the top.  This is a single vineyard wine, so perhaps some sort of equivalent of Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Folatières?  Well, that might be a bit fanciful, but the (unirrigated) vines here are a century old and produce impressive concentration.  The sun beats down fiercely during the day but the nearby Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers provide cooling breezes at night which allow the grapes to rest.

Okay, there’s no hiding from the size of the Big Break Zin (named after an old levee in the area which broke decades ago) but you don’t have to – it’s approachable and cuddly rather than intimidating.  It wears its 16.0% well, just like its little brother Pinot, all down to balancing acidity.  In fact the acidity comes through in the type of fruit tasted on the palate – fresh black cherry and blackberry, with hints of cinnamon and other spices.

Conclusions

Of course the comparison between AVAs and AOCs can only go so far – the latter can be incredibly prescriptive in terms of varieties, yields, vine training, irrigation, alcohol levels and many other things, whereas AVAs are primarily just based on vineyard location.  But I think that the wines above do show that there are different quality levels and that smaller is generally better.  It could just be down to the nature of the grapes for each wine, but above all paying more definitely brings the rewards of higher concentration in the glass.

Are you inclined to agree?

 

And of course, those lyrics…

 

 

 

Chardonnays from California and Kent [Make Mine a Double #19]

abc-alphabet-blocks-jnri3jz

I have long being a fully paid-up member of the alternative ABC club – Always Buy Chardonnay (rather than Anything But Chardonnay) – whether it’s in or out of fashion makes no difference to me.  As long as it’s well made, I like all the different styles it comes in – oaked, unoaked, tropically rich or mineral and lean (and that’s without going into fizz).

Here are two which are very different in style – one from a well-known Chardonnay producing area, and another where (still) Chardonnay is almost unheard of!

Hush Heath Estate Skye’s English Chardonnay 2015 (11.0%, £16.50 from Hush Heath Estate)

HH SEC small

English sparkling wine is riding high at the moment – more and more producers are being set up and quality is constantly improving.  English still wines are still very variable, in my opinion. Many of them are based on less well known varieties which were created to survive and thrive in cool German vineyards, but are less than celebrated elsewhere.  Some Alsatian style wines have proved to be very good (e.g. Stopham Estate), but here is the first (still) English Chardonnay I have ever tasted.

Hush Heath Estate can’t claim anywhere near the same continuous history as a working winery compared to Beringer below – the current winery was only set up in 2010 – but the estate was created as far back as 1503 when Columbus* was still making his transAtlantic jaunts.   Hush Heath make quite a broad range of drinks, including the cider I reviewed here and award winning Balfour Brut Sparkling.

And it’s an absolutely delightful wine!  Not at all shouty, it’s gently delicious – in fact with both Golden Delicious and Granny Smith’s apple characters, plus a touch of citrus.  I detected a little bit of residual sugar on the finish (a few g/L, though I’m happy to be corrected) which adds to the juicy round fruit character and doesn’t make it taste “sweet”.

As my opening suggested, some people just don’t like Chardonnay, but I asked a friend who is among them to try this and she was pleasantly surprised – “If only all Chardonnay was like this”.  Truly a wine for both ABC clubs!

Beringer Founders’ Estate California Chardonnay 2013 (14.0%, €19.99 from stockists listed below)

BFEC small

The Beringer Brothers were pioneers of winemaking in the Napa Valley, now the most prestigious wine region in the United States.  Their original winery is claimed to be the oldest continually operating winery in the Napa Valley (since 1876), which is rather notable if the prohibition era is taken into account.  In fact, Beringer was the first California winery to offer tours after the repeal of prohibition – inviting A list stars such as Clark Gable might have helped!

From 1971 to 2000 ownership changed hands a few times, until it finally became part of the Australian Fosters Group, twinned with Wolf Blass to become Beringer Blass, and is now the stablemate of other famous Treasury Estates brands such as Penfolds and Wynns Coonawarra.

The Founders’ Estate series is a step up from Beringer’s Classic range and “offer[s] concentrated expressions of the most popular varietals, steeped in quality that comes from Beringer’s history of crafting great wines from all over California for over 130 vintages“.  So how does the Chardonnay taste?  Like a well-made Californian wine!  Which should be no surprise, really.  The fruit is ripe and tropical, with a little bit of juicy red apple and pear.  There’s some oak here, but it’s not overbearing at all.  This isn’t Chablis but neither is it an oak monster.  Would be great with creamy chicken dishes.

Stockists: Clontarf Wines, Dublin; O’Driscoll’s, Caherciveen, Co. Kerry; Salthill Off-Licence, Galway; Hole In The Wall, Blackhorse Avenue, Dublin; Kellys Wine Vault, Clontarf, Dublin; La Touche Wines, Greystones, Co. Wicklow; Sweeneys, Glasnevin, Dublin; McHugh’s of Kilbarrack & Artane, Dublin; Amber of Fermoy, Co. Cork

 

Apple or pineapple?  The choice is yours!

 

* The Explorer, not the Harry Potter Director / Producer

Disclosure:  both wines kindly provided for review

 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Make Mine a Double #16 – California Dreaming

Wine is produced in all 50 of the USA’s states, and many of them are now seeping into the wine drinker’s consciousness – New York State (Finger Lakes), Oregon (Willamette Valley) and Shenandoah Valley (Virginia).  Despite this, California still accounts for around 90% of the USA’s total production, and is almost synonymous with American wine from a European point of view.

Central and Northern California
Credit: http://www.discovercaliforniawines.com

Of all the regions within California, the most well known are Napa and Sonoma in the North Coast (at the top of the map above).  The Central Coast also has a lot to offer, including Santa Barbara (the setting for Sideways).  Below are a couple of fantastic reds hailing from Santa Maria (area 71 in the map above) and Napa.

 

Cambria Estate Santa Maria Valley Tepusquet Syrah 2010 (14.5%, €24.95, O’Briens)

2016-05-19 22.02.09

This 100% Syrah is the sister wine to the Cambria Estate Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir which I reviewed recently elsewhere.

vineyards-4
Credit: Cambria Estate

Well, not quite the sister, as Julia’s sister Katherine has her own namesake vineyard next door.  The Tepusquet Vineyard is in the far south of Cambria Estate as it is the most protected from the elements, and is therefore a little warmer.

Internationally, the choice of synonym normally denotes the style – spicy and savoury Northern Rhône Syrah or big and bold Aussie Shiraz. In common with many US versions of the grape, this wine is labelled Syrah no matter what the style, but as it happens this is somewhere in between the two – as though Saint Joseph had a very warm year.  This spicy, savoury edge to the dark juicy fruit gives it versatility – lovely to drink on its own but would pair well with red meat dishes without overpowering them.

If you like South African Shiraz or Hawke’s Bay Syrah then this is definitely worth putting on your list.

 

Atalon Napa Valley Merlot 2004 (14.0%, €27.45, O’Briens)

2016-05-19 21.55.49

And so to the wine that dare not speak its name.  Merlot often gets a bad press, with the influence of Miles from Sideways still felt…

Jack: If they want to drink Merlot, we’re drinking Merlot.
Miles Raymond: No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!

Napa is rightly famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Chardonnay, but Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc are also planted there.  Atalon aim to produce Bordeaux-style wines from the different parts of Napa which exhibit elegance and complexity – words not always associated with Californian wine.

This is almost a varietal Merlot, with just a 3% dash of Cabernet Sauvignon, so this is right-bank in style – think Pomerol or Grand Cru Classé Saint-Emilion.  At 12 years of age it is still in its prime, with lots of black fruit, and still a little tannin.  I’d imagine it spent well over a year in American oak while maturing, but that oak is well integrated now, leaving just a little vanilla and spice.

This is a Merlot for people who don’t think much of Merlot – it is indeed elegant and complex, with far more going on than any other new world example I’ve tasted.

This is the finest varietal Merlot I’ve tasted in many years!

More from Make Mine a Double

 

 

 

 

This Summer’s BBQ Wines #5

This Summer’s BBQ Wines #5

In the summer months, such as they are on the Emerald Isle, drinkers tend to leave their bigger red wines to one side apart from when firing up the barbie and devouring half a cow.

If you’re a determined red wine drinker, what should you be looking for on the warmer days?  I put it to you that Pinot Noir might well be the answer.  I will make my case:

Byron Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2012
Byron Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2012
  • It’s lower in tannin so can pair with poultry and meaty fish (such as tuna steaks) as well as red meat.
  • Among black grapes it’s relatively high in acidity which makes it refreshing.
  • It’s lighter in body and can take a light chill – 30 minutes in a domestic fridge before bringing out to the patio will add some zip!
  • You can choose a savoury edge from the old world (esp Burgundy or Germany) or a fruitier style from the New World depending on your fancy.
  • Miles drank Pinot Noir in the cult wine film Sideways.

You know it makes sense!

Here’s a Pinot Noir that I recently test drove at a barbecue and really enjoyed:

Byron Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2012 (€25.49, O’Briens)

Byron Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2012
Byron Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2012

Santa Barbara County is the original home of quality cool climate Pinot in the States, and  is indeed where Miles and Jack from Sideways went to try some delicious wine.

Santa Barbara County
Santa Barbara County

If you’re not familiar with the area you might not place it as an American wine at first; there’s minerality on the palate and a lightness of touch that can be missing from some US wines.  The winemaker’s notes state that it spent 8 months ageing in 100% small French oak barrels, but the oak is already well integrated and does not jarr.

Redcurrant, red and black cherry, strawberry and raspberry fruit compete for your attention.  Although very smooth and approachable, there’s a serious side to this wine – the acidity and savoury notes give it some gravitas.

Although this delicious Pinot Noir would be great for a drink outdoors at a BBQ, to be honest it would be a treat in any season and setting!

Disclosure: Sample was provided, but opinions are entirely my own

This Summer’s BBQ Wines:

#1 – Bellow’s Rock Coastal Region Shiraz 2013

#2 – Château Michel Cazevieille Origine 1922 AC Saint Chinian 2012

#3 – and #4! Domaine de Maubet IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2014 & Venturer Côtes de Gascogne 2014

#5 – Byron Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2012

#6 – Lot #01 Mendoza Malbec Cabernet 2013

Valentines Wines (VII) Bloggers Of The World Unite (episode 4)

One of the best parts about becoming a blogger has been meeting other bloggers from near and far – from literally round the corner to the other side of the world.  Reading their blogs has been interesting in itself, but has also been very helpful in learning how to make my own blog better.  Everyone I have met has been polite, pleasant and generous.

For some time now I had been meaning to try collaborating with some of my fellow bloggers – and then I hit on the idea of asking them to contribute a recommendation for a Valentine’s Day wine.  A cheesy romantic link to V-Day was optional – it could just be a wine that the writer really liked and so would recommend – and just a couple of lines was requested, though some wrote more.

I was bowled over by the reaction – everyone I asked agreed to join in!  Some even gave the background as to why a particular wine was romanic for them.

So sincere thanks to all who contributed!

Champagne Marie-Courtin “Résonance” Brut NV by Paddy Murphy (@VineInspiration) of The Vine Inspiration

Champagne Marie-Courtin "Résonance" Brut NV
Champagne Marie-Courtin “Résonance” Brut NV

When I was asked to pick a Valentine’s Day wine, Frankie assured me it didn’t have to be in any way traditional or cheesy.  Still, it’s hard to resist suggesting Champagne for this or indeed any celebratory occasion.

I first tasted Dominique Moreau’s Champagnes a couple of years ago and instantly fell in love (see…I can do cheesy!?).  Dominique’s estate is in the Côte des Bar and named after her grandmother ‘Marie Courtin’.  The vineyards are farmed biodynamically and most of the Champagnes are bottled in an Extra Brut style.

I say most – in reality I thought all her Champagnes were made in this style until I found her Résonance Brut NV (100% Pinot Noir) lurking on the shelves of The Organic Supermarket in Blackrock. If I’m truly honest, it probably does’t thrill me as much as the Extra Brut NV, but even with that caveat it’s worth tracking down this delicious Champagne.

€45.49 from The Organic Supermarket

Valentine’s Wines by Suzi Redmond of Suzi’s Grape Crush

Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello di Montalcino

So chatting with friends I usually get asked for any new recommendations for wine, beer or spirits… with valentines up-coming so did the topic of going for pinks or not…

Pinks are always fun and cute for Valentines but after thinking about it I asked what they wanted from their evening, as in light breezy, more seductive or maybe a slight blend…

For wine, if you want to go bright breezy then a good pink bubbly followed by either a more reasonably priced bottle of bubbles or a lovely rose from the Loire should fit the bill.  If a blend of fun and seduction then bubbles (Celtic Whiskey shop has some half bottles on sale for €9.99) followed by an elegant red.

For me nothing says seduction than a northern Italian red especially a Brunello di Montalcino – pure seduction! It does depend on your menu and budget. If cash is a touch tight go for its second wine Rosso di Montalcino which is quite beautiful.

See Suzi’s full post including beers and spirits recommendations here.

Love Noir California Pinot Noir 2012 by Loie (@cheapwinecurius) of Cheap Wine Curious

Love Noir California Pinot Noir 2012
Love Noir California Pinot Noir 2012Love Noir California Pinot Noir 2012

Perfectly situated in the Valentine’s Day wine section, I found this beauty on the bottom shelf. I’m one to plunder the shelves down under so I bought this wine with cupidity. My expectations for this Pinot were as low as the dust bunnies I am accustomed to shooing away in aisle. However, once home Love Noir had some surprises.

What is that saying? Love thy neighbor? In this case, I bumped into a neighbor fleeing from her inlaws. It was opportune as I was a neighbor in search of a drinking buddy. To tip the scales, the in laws were watching the children. My friend’s walk “to get some fresh air” detoured to my kitchen table and we started to discuss today’s tasting.

Very first thing we noted was the lovely labeling. Gold foil on black matte paper was very classé, and you would never believe it was merely $11 and some change.  But haven’t we all been fooled before.  There was no coincidence that a wine with “LOVE” in the name was launched during the Valentine’s Day holiday season. I also caught a bit of naughtiness in how they positioned this wine. This is what I read on the back:

“Deep & Rich In Style
Silky & Smooth In Taste
LOVE NOIR
Obsession. Desire. Passion.
This is Love Noir.”

Really? I thought I was reading the book jacket of a subgenre of romance novels. My faith with this vintage was waning. But I poured anyways.

Color was a dark, red purple. The nose was pomegranate, plum, cedar. There was good structure and I could identify 3 distinct layers; fruit first, balanced acids and smooth tannins second and thirdly a lingering woodsy, berry, oak finish.  Whether aged in barrel or not, there was distinctly oak in the finish and it was pleasant and complimented the bold fruit nicely.

Hey, “every wine has a darker side.” I think I’ve surrendered to the “LOVE NOIR.” The “richness” of this wine was able to “spark intensity and intrigue.”  If I can, I am certain you will “succumb to your urges and experience LOVE NOIR. Love. Changes. Everything.”

I’m not slavish to reading labels, but if you buy this wine, it is the gift with purchase. I rate this wine as a buy again – was quite good for the price and a pleasure to both drink and read aloud even in mixed company!

$11.49 Available at Target (USA)

Stay curious!
Loie

The full list of 2015 Valentines Wines posts:

My Top 10 Reds of 2014

It was nearly impossible to reduce this list down to 10 reds so there are lots of magnificent wines that didn’t make the cut – some fine Chilean Pinots in particular.  Pinot is well represented from numbers 10 to 8…

10. Cline Cellars Sonoma Coast Cool Climate Pinot Noir 2012

Cline Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012
Cline Cellars Pinot Noir 2012

Very few quality American wines make it to Irish shores, and so discovering Cline Cellars Pinot Noir at the Big Ely Tasting was a revelation.  After tasting it again with Fred and Nancy Cline at the James Nicholson Tasting (and some of their other wines) I was definitely a firm fan.

You’d never mistake it for Burgundy, but to be honest it knocks spots off most red Burgundy under €30.  It’s on the big side for Pinot but it has poise and balance so that all its components remain in harmony.

9. Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011

Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011
Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011

This stood out as my favourite Pinot of the whole Annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in Dublin.  While Marlborough wineries are still working out how to get the best out of Pinot Noir, their Wairarapa counterparts across the Cook Strait can already be considered masters of the grape.

One of the top few producers in New Zealand, Ata Rangi is one of the well established Martinborough vineyards making outstanding Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in addition to Pinot Noir.  This has fruit and power, but is soooo smooth that a bottle can disappear in a frighteningly short time!

8. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2002

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2002
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2002

Yes, I’ve included a Champagne among my reds of the year!  But I have my reasons…

Like many rosé Champagnes, particularly those with some age on them, this was actually closer to a still Pinot Noir than a young white Champagne.  And for good reason when you look how it’s made.  70% of the blend is Pinot Noir from Grand Cru villages, of which around 13% from Bouzy is added as red wine.  This is then topped off with 30% Chardonnay from the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger and Chouilly.

I opened this on the day we celebrated my wife’s birthday – something to enjoy while we got ready to go out. My wife wasn’t that impressed by it, but that just meant more for me! The texture is the key for me – it wasn’t that fizzy or zippy, but it had an amazing Pinot nose and soft red fruit on the palate.  I don’t tend to drink much rosé but this shows what it can do.

7. Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz 2009

Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz
Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz 2009

The so-called Baron Of The Barossa, who sadly passed away in 2013, Peter Lehmann was the maker of several ranges of Barossa gems.  They started above the level of everyday wines but went right up to this flagship – more expensive than most people would spend on a regular basis but nowhere near the price of other Aussie icons such as Hill Of Grace or Grange.

At the Comans silent tasting, the 2009 showed that it’s still young and would reward patient cellaring, but it’s so drinkable now that it’s hard to resist.  It’s made in a rich, concentrated old-vine style which is defiantly and definitively Barossa, but there are layers and layers of complexity.  It packs a punch but also makes you think.

6. Château Pesquié Ventoux Artemia

Château Pesquié Ventoux "Artemia" 2006 en magnum
Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2006 en magnum

I was lucky enough to taste three different vintages of this southern Rhône superstar during the year – the 2012 from bottle and the 2006 from magnum at the Big Rhône Tasting at Ely, and then the 2005 from magnum at a jaw-droppingly excellent food and wine dinner at Belleek Castle (more to come on that!)

Although its home of Ventoux is situated in the southerly reaches of the Rhône, the cool winds coming off the Mont de Ventoux and Valcluse mountains help maintain acidity and freshness.  Artemia is Château Pesquié’s premium bottling made of equal parts of Grenache and Syrah, both from low-yielding sites

The wines are rich and unctuous, with dark black fruit and spice competing for your attention.  But it’s not all about big fruit, there’s also acidity and minerality there.  I’m trying to see if I can get my hands on a few magnums for myself!

5. Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008

Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008
Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008

Forget Galaxy Chocolate, this is possibly the smoothest thing known to man – pretty unusual for a Chianti!

The biggest producer in Italy, family owned and run Antinori bought the estate in 1987 and set out to create the ultimate expression of Tuscan Sangiovese.  Clones were specially selected to give velvet and acidity – hence the smoothness.

It has an amazing nose of red and black fruit, but these are joined on the palate by rich dark chocolate. It has an international sensibility but is unmistakably Chianti Classico.  By some distance it’s the best Chianti I have tasted to date!

4. Torres Mas La Plana 2005

Torres Mas La Plana 2005
Torres Mas La Plana 2005

When wines are this good, choosing between different vintages much be like choosing between different children, but if a choice has to be made of all the different vintages tasted of Torres’ Cabernet flagship Mas La Plana then 2005 was the chosen one.

Although regarded as an interloper by many in Spain, Cabernet Sauvignon can actually thrive in the right settings.  As it’s my favourite black grape I say boo to tradition and enjoy this blackcurrant beauty!  Compared to an excellent Rioja there are quite noticeable differences – primarily black fruit rather than Tempranillo’s red strawberries and smokey French oak rather than big vanilla from American oak.

The 2005 still has loads of primary fruit, but has already developed some interesting cedar and tobacco notes. It’s in full bloom but has the structure to last until the end of this decade at least.

3. Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989

Gerard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989
Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989

I didn’t taste enough sweet wines this year for them to deserve their own category, but this fortified Grenache muscled its way into the Reds list.  A Vin Doux Naturel from the Roussillon in South West France, this is similar-ish to Rasteau from the Rhône and Maury close by in Roussillon – and not a million miles away from Port.

Unexpectedly this was my favourite wine from the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting – Age has taken away with one hand – colour has faded significantly – and given back with the other – complexity writ large.  It’s definitely a wine for the winter season but it’s something to look forward to.  Class in a glass.

2. Katnook Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Katnook Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Katnook Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

This was technically drunk in 2015 as it was popped after midnight on New Year’s Eve, but I love it so much I have to include it.  A long time favourite producer since my visit to Coonawarra in 2000, and undoubtedly one of the standout in terms of consistent quality, Katnook Estate makes big cabs that are to die for.

This young example had fresh blackcurrants – so fresh and intense that you would swear you were actually chewing on them – with Coonawarra’s trademark eucalyptus providing additional interest.  It’s my go-to red for good reason!

1. Penfolds Grange 2008

Penfolds Grange 2008
Penfolds Grange 2008

I am an unbashed fan of Australia’s first world class wine, and included some older vintages of Grange in my best wines of 2013.  Without the 2008 for reference I’m pretty sure I would have picked the 2009 for the top spot this year – the 2009 was very nice indeed – but the 2008 was on another level altogether.  Apparently it was awarded the full monty 100 points by both the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator

Only a couple of years after release, it is still an absolute baby of course, but is actually drinkable now.  It has tremendous concentration, and although you can find the American oak if you search for it, fruit dominates the nose and palate.  Blackberry, blackcurrant and damson are tinged with choca-mocha and liquorice.

It’s an immense wine without being intimidating –  At 14.5% the alcohol is fairly middling for an Aussie Shiraz, perhaps tempered by 9% fruit from the cooler Clare Valley.  It’s made to last for decades, but unlike some flagship wines I tasted this year its elements are already harmonious.

As a “collectible” wine that has become bought more and more by investors, Grange has now moved firmly out of my price range.  I am still tempted nevertheless!!

 

My Top 10 Whites of 2014

Many of the producer tastings I’ve been at in the past year have been solely focused on red wines, but as I tend to drink much more white at home that hasn’t been such a hardship. Many of the retailer tastings have been very broad and included a few standout whites, so a few of those are included below.

I haven’t thought too deeply about the order of wines 10 down to 4, but the top 3 are definitely in order!

10. Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013

Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013

All wines were wild ferment until a few decades ago, but cultured yeast is now the norm for mass produced wines – it’s more reliable and predictable in terms of fermentation performance, flavours and alcohol levels.  Wild yeast can often give wilder, but more interesting flavours.

This Greek Assyrtiko from O’Briens is included because it’s just so different from anything else I tasted in the year – it really brings the funk!

9. Bruno Sorg Alsace Grand Cru Pfersigberg Pinot Gris 2010

Bruno Sorg Alsace Grand Cru Pfersigberg Pinot Gris 2010
Bruno Sorg Alsace Grand Cru Pfersigberg Pinot Gris 2010

One of my favourite Alsace producers, Bruno Sorg have a broad range of varietals at different quality levels, and all are excellent for the price tag.  From near their home in Eguisheim this Grand Cru Pinot Gris is silky and rich, off-dry without being sweet, textured without being stuffy.  I did try some other countries’ Pinot Gris offerings, but Alsace is still where it’s at in my book.

8. Eric Texier Opâle 2012

Opale Viognier
Opale Viognier

This ethereal Mosel-style Rhône white stood out for me at The Big Rhône Tasting at Ely – partly because it was so different from the (delicious) Rhône reds, but mainly because of its sheer audacity and brilliance.

This should be drunk in small sips from a small glass, perhaps with company, but once you taste it you won’t want to share!

7. Schloss Gobelsburg “Lamm” Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010

Schloss Gobelsburg "Lamm" Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010
Schloss Gobelsburg “Lamm” Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010

The only white varietal tasting I went to all year was Austria’s signature grape Grüner Veltiner.  The biggest surprise for me was not the excellent quality, it was the versatility of the grape – it’s such a chameleon, depending on where and how it’s made.

The Lamm Reserve was my overall favourite from the tasting at Wine Workshop – and perhaps it’s no coincidence given my proclivity for Pinot Gris that I preferred an example of Grüner which somewhat resembles Pinot Gris.

6. Dog Point Section 94 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is so ubiquitous on our shelves that it’s often taken for granted, ignored for being old hat or dismissed after tasting the poorer examples churned out at a discount in supermarkets.  Even if you are a little bored of regular Savvy, there are alternatives, as I posted back in 2013.

A big differentiator of the alternative Marlborough Sauvignons is that they can age gracefully for several years, becoming more complex and interesting; many regular SBs shine very brightly in the year they are harvested then fade quickly.

And so I was lucky enough to taste the 2010 vintage of Dog Point’s Section 94 at the James Nicholson Xmas Tasting.  Dog Point don’t make a duff wine, they range from very good to amazing – and this was now firmly in the latter class.

5. Rolly Gassmann Alsace Planzerreben de Rorschwihr Riesling 2008

Rolly Gassmann Planzerreben de Rorschwihr Alsace Riesling 2008
Rolly Gassmann Planzerreben de Rorschwihr Alsace Riesling 2008

A bin-end special from The Wine Society that turned out to be sublime, if difficult to pronounce.  Rolly Gassmann is a renowned producer of Alsace and I had hoped to visit on my last trip there, but it wasn’t to be (too many great wineries, too little time!)

Thankfully this Riesling magically transported me to the hills of Rorschwihr.  It’s just off-dry, balancing the racy acidity and lifting the fruit.  At six years from vintage it had started to develop some really interesting tertiary notes – but it must have the best part of a decade still to go.  I doubt my other bottle will last that long!

4. Man O’War Valhalla Waiheke Island Chardonnay 2010

Man O'War Valhalla Chardonnay 2010
Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2010

This is one of the wines that was open at several different tastings during the year, but despite having a few bottles in at home I always had a taste, it’s just that good.  Not exactly a shy and retiring type, this Chardonnay has loads of tropical fruit, with a little bit of candied pineapple among the fresh.

It’s well oaked, both in the sense of quantity and quality.  Chablis lovers might look elsewhere, but Meursault lovers might change allegiance.  A perennial favourite.

3. Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2008

Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2008
Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2008

Jeffrey Grosset is the King of Australian Riesling.  I bought a case of the Polish Hill Riesling with the same vintage as my son, with the intention of drinking a bottle on (or around) his birthday for the next decade or so.  This bottle is a few years older, and a few years wiser – the difference in development is noticeable.

Petrol, Diesel, Kerosene – whatever your petroleum spirit of choice, the 2008 has it nicely developing, though the steel backbone of acidity will keep it going for many a year.

2. Shaw + Smith M3 Vineyard Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2012

Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay Adelaide Hills 2012
Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay Adelaide Hills 2012

I was lucky enough to taste Shaw + Smith’s seminal Chardonnay several times during 2014 – with the good folks of Liberty Wines at their portfolio tasting, a bottle with a stunning meal at Ely Bar & Brasserie, and a glass in a small flight of Chardonnays at Ely Wine Bar.

Emma Cullen and Ella Shaw
Ella Shaw (L) and Emma Cullen (R) at the Liberty tasting

The 2010 vintage was one of my favourite whites of 2013 and given the glowing review the latest 2013 vintage just received from Jamie Goode, I expect it will continue to have its own place within my vinous affections.

1. Château Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay 2011

Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay 2011
Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay 2011

The King Is Dead, Long Live The King!  Another wine I tried for the first time as part of the flight of Chardonnays at Ely Wine Bar, this is perhaps the Californian Chardonnay. After all, in beating some of Burgundy’s best Chardonnays in the Judgement of Paris it really put California on the maps as a producer of top level whites.

And as much as I wanted my beloved M3 to be the best, Montelena eclipsed it for 2014. Even as a young wine it is very approachable but with so much depth.  It’s the sort of wine you could happily taste the same vintage of over several decades.

Bring on the battle for 2015!

Glasnevin Fizz Fest 2014

After a second trip to Champagne and Alsace in 2013 I decided that my birthday party would be a sparkling wine tasting affair.  My review of the wines was posted under the grand name of Glasnevin Fizz Fest: the good the bad and the ugly.

Due to personal circumstances I didn’t have a big birthday bash this year, so instead our New Year’s Eve party became the opportunity to try lots of fizz!

Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV

Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV
Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV

The kick-off wine at the Wine Society’s 2014 Dublin tasting proved to be a worthy opener again.  Made by the Californian offshoot of Louis Roederer from four of their top vineyards, it is definitely made to the high standards of its Champenois maison mère.

Full bodied like the Brut Premier at home, it does, however, reverse the house blend of around two thirds Pinot Noir to Chardonnay, instead being 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir.

As well as bready characters from time on the lees this also has depth from reserve wines which have been aged in oak.  This is probably the finest Californian fizz I have tasted to date.

Donini Prosecco Frizzante NV

Donini Prosecco Frizzante NV
Donini Prosecco Frizzante NV

A fairly simple Prosecco brought by a guest, it was pleasant enough not to be passed over, and considering I didn’t have any Prosecco open myself (damn, not again!) it was a nice contrast to some of the bigger names.

Lightly sparkling (a Frizzante with a screw top, no less) with gentle apple and grape flavours, it’s a wine to enjoy rather than contemplate.  For some reason it does really well in the Netherlands!

Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs NV

Sainsbury's Blanc de Blancs NV
Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs NV

I bought this own label 100% Chardonnay from UK supermarket Sainsbury’s a couple of years ago when there was a double-bubble promotion on.  It’s actually good enough at full price but I couldn’t resist stocking up.

Two years later on and the citrus freshness is still there, but additional bottle age has brought a bit more body and complexity.  It could still serve well as an aperitif but with more richness it could accompany roast chicken.

I wonder how many bottles bought at the same time made it this long – not many I’d wager!

Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut NV

Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut NV
Graham Beck Méthode Cap Classique Brut NV

Méthode Cap Classique is the South African term for traditional or Champagne method, and Mr Beck helpfully puts “Chardonnay . Pinot Noir” on the front label for those who aren’t sure.  Graham Beck is renowned as one of the best producers of fizz in the country

On the nose this had a slightly spirit quality, as though there was a trace of stronger alcohol in there.  It wasn’t apparent on the palate which was sophisticated and dry – one of the driest New World sparklers I’ve tried – with creaminess and richness from the lees.  A very good effort, especially considering the relatively modest pricetag.

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007

The first significant quality producer of English sparkling wine goes from strength to strength.  2007 was one of the first vintages seen from start to finish by head winemaker Cherie Spriggs and husband Brad Greatrix, elevating the already serious quality to a higher plane.

So how does this bottle taste?  Apple pie!  No, seriously – amazingly intense apple flavours backed up by pastry notes from the lees and then bottle ageing.  Seriously delicious!

Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage 2004

Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage 2004
Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage 2004

Non vintage Möet didn’t fare very well when tasted double blind in the previous Glasnevin Fizz Fest, but as I’ve enjoyed the house’s prestige cuvée every time I’ve tried I’d, I thought I’d give the middle ground of Möet Grand Vintage a go.

Being a vintage Champagne it was guaranteed to have a longer minimum period on the lees (36 months v 15 for NV) and this came through on the palate.  However, the fruit behind it wasn’t good enough to support the yeastiness – it tasted as though there was a hole in it, if a drink can said to have a hole in it!

Most people preferred the Sainsbury’s own label fizz, which tells you all you need to know!

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009

Widely acknowledged as their best vintage yet, Nyetimber’s Champagne Blend from 2009 had showed well previously.  Perhaps context is more important than we think, because tasted straight after the Möet Grand Vintage this was fantastic, even better than I expected.

The 2009 Classic Cuvée blend is 55% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir and 19% Pinot Meunier.  The Pinots are more obvious with soft red fruit on the attack, but then the Chardonnay’s citrus and soft stone fruits follow closely behind.  It’s very elegant and polished, and should continue to develop over the next decade and more.

Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999

Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999
Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999

The Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger on Champagne’s Côte des Blancs is the source of Krug’s famed single vineyard Clos du Mesnil.  Whereas that tends to retail at £600 or more per bottle, the village’s co-operative makes an excellent Blanc de Blanc that retails closer to £30 – a twentieth of the Krug price!

I had snapped up some magnums of the 1999 vintage a few years ago in a bin-end sale – and what a bargain they turned out to be!!  Champagne (and wine in general) matures more slowly in a magnum than in a regular 75cl botle, but authors such as Tom Stevenson also content that sparkling wine matures better in the larger format.  Without a comparative tasting for myself I will take Tom’s word for it, but the evidence provided by these magnums is definitely in favour of the argument.

Somewhat yellow in the glass from ageing, the wine is full of yeasty, bready characters on the nose.  This follows through onto the sumptuous palate, with citrus and soft stone fruit playing a supporting role.  A very long finish makes this an excellent fizz – what a shame I’ve only got one bottle left!

Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Rosé 1999

Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Rosé 1999
Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve Rosé 1999

Context rears its head again – and not in a good way this time.  Tasted among the other sparklers this appeared somewhat flat.  It wasn’t unpleasant, just a different type of drink.

I hope to try it again in 2015 to see how it shows then.

Cloudy Bay Pelorus Marlborough 2009

Cloudy Bay Pelorus 2009
Cloudy Bay Pelorus 2009

Cloudy Bay’s NV and Vintage sparklers are probably the best value wines in their range, especially considering the extra work that goes into making fizz.  Unlike its compatriot Lindauer or Australia’s Jacob’s Creek Sparkling, they are serious wines make with great attention to detail.  We served Pelorus NV for the toast at our wedding in 2009!

As you’d expect in a serious offering from Marlborough, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the grapes used, and like vintage Champagne it gets at least three years maturing on the lees.  There’s apple, citrus and bready notes on the nose, followed by a creamy palate with more apple and then roasted almonds.  It’s only a youngster so there’ more to come!

Cave de Turckheim Confidence Crémant d’Alsace NV

Cave de Turckheim Crémant d'Alsace Confidence NV
Cave de Turckheim Confidence Crémant d’Alsace NV

The last bottle opened before we moved onto some reds was this Blanc de Blancs Crémant d’Alsace from one of the region’s best co-operatives.  They produce a wide range of still wines and several sparklers – this was my favourite when we visited in 2013. Not widely known outside France, Crémant d’Alsace is actually the second most popular source of sparkling wine in France.

The blend is supposedly a secret but I remember 100% Chardonnay being whispered at the tasting counter.  Perhaps because it’s not seen as an Alsatian grape?  It’s not permitted in still Alsace wines, but is allowed in Crémant, sometimes with Pinot Blanc and other varieties.

As is the norm in Alsace, this displayed more primary fruit than flavours from lees ageing. We’re talking citrus, apple and quince here, so more of an aperitif style, but very enjoyable nevertheless.

The Overall Verdict

This was no professional trade tasting – all samples were drunk and enjoyed – so there’s somewhat less than 100% objectivity here, but my rankings would be:

  1. Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1999
  2. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009
  3. Roederer Estate Quartet Anderson Valley Brut NV

Here’s to next year’s Fizz Fest!