Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2017

Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and Syrah make up a good proportion of the reds I really enjoyed last year and will be looking to enjoy again soon:

10. Urlar Gladstone Pinot Noir 2014 (14.5%, RRP €23.95)

Urlar-Pinot-Noir

When it comes to New Zealand Pinot Noir a lot of the bottles available in Ireland are from Marlborough.  Although some are very good, for me a lot of them are just a bit average.  One alternative is to head for Central Otago’s bigger, bolder Pinots – but they often come with a serious price tag.  Instead, why not head to one of the first Pinot producing areas in the country – Wairarapa at the bottom of the North Island.  Martinborough is the most famous sub-region (particularly as it’s easier for us to pronounce), but Gladstone is also worth checking out.  Urlar’s Pinot shows black fruit and spice but with savoury notes – none of the jam or cherry cola than can appear in Marlborough.  It’s quite a powerful wine but well balanced and equally at home with dinner or on its own.

9. Dominio de la Vega Paraje Tournel Utiel-Requena Bobal 2014 (14.0%, RRP €23.95)

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Neither the DO Utiel-Requena wine region nor the Bobal grape are particularly renowned, and the two are intertwined.  The DO is in the province of Valencia in the east of Spain and has traditionally been known for its bulk wine, three quarters of which was made from Bobal.  Some more quality conscious producers realised that careful viticulture, keeping yields low (the antithesis of bulk wine production!) and good treatment in the winery could allow Bobal’s hitherto hidden quality to shine through.  I haven’t tasted many examples of Bobal but this was fantastic – a nice change from the standard Tempranilli, Garnacha and Monastrell.  It’s aged for 12 months in new French oak barrels then 12 months in bottle before release.  This is darker and more full bodied than many Spanish reds, full of blackcurrant and blueberry with hints of vanilla.  The acidity keeps the fruit fresh and adds to the long finish.

8. Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2015 (13.0%, RRP €32.50)

Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage Rouge 2015

Unlike some, I’m often wary of buying Crozes-Hermitage.  Yes they can be good value, pleasant drinking, and often good with food, but rarely do they have the “wow factor” – so I’m more likely to trade up to a Saint-Joseph.  However, here is one that does have the wow factor, or more accurately, the WOW FACTOR – it’s easily the best Crozes I’ve ever tried.  It’s everything that Northern Rhone Syrah can be – intensely savoury, smoky and spicy, with juicy red and black fruits, black pepper and black olive.  It’s still young at the moment with lots of tannin, but this is a wine to buy a dozen or two of and drink them over the next decade.

7. Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2004 (14.5%, RRP €35 for current releases)

Penfolds-Bin-28-Kalimna Shiraz

 

Unless you’re very familiar with the Penfolds range, it’s not that obvious where each particular wine fits in to the hierarchy.  Bin 28 just squeezes into the “Penfolds Collection”, the flagship range which goes all the way up to Grange, Bin 707 and Yattarna.  I had no idea of this when I bought a few bottles of the 2004 vintage several years ago for €20, but the current RRP of €35 and the sheer quality of the wine make me believe it deserves its status.  Intense black (and blue!) fruit are joined by black olive and liquorice notes.

6. Ziereisen Rhini Baden Spätburgunder 2011 (12.5%, RRP €49)

ziereisen-rhini

If you want to see how good German Pinot Noir can be, try this producer from the country’s warmest wine region, Baden.  Compared to many other Spätburgunders this has more of everything – more fruit, more oak, more tannin and more body.  That might not necessarily be a successful recipe but the quality of the fruit from the Rhini vineyard and gentle winemaking have resulted in a delicious, well-balanced wine.  It’s far from cheap, but better value than many Burgundies of the same quality (and yes, it deserves to be spoken of in the same sentence).

5. Mourchon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 (15.0%, RRP €50)

Mourchon Chateauneuf du pape

2017 was the year that I really rediscovered Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  For casual drinkers that might be something of a surprise, as it’s a very well-known wine.  However, negociants who buy the bottom of the barrel or the cheapest grapes in the appellation have done it a disservice – there’s lots of very average Châteauneuf out there which trades on the name.  A few over the past several years have restored my faith and then the Big Rhône Tasting at Ely in November 2017 there was an abundance of great CNDP.  This example from Mourchon impressed me without a stratospheric price.  The blend is 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre and 10% Syrah which is a slight variation on the usual GSM order, but the extra Mourvèdre helps to add more backbone and darker fruit notes.

4. GD Vajra Bricco delle Viole Barolo 2013 (14.0%, RRP €83.99)

GD Vajra Barolo Bricco Delle Viole 2013

While many Barolos can be acidic, tannic and unapproachable in their youth, G.D. Vayra’s eschew that “playing hard to get” style.  The Bricco delle Viole vineyard is 4.79 ha in total area and runs from 380m – 470m; the altitude makes for a long growing season so complex flavours can develop while preserving freshness.  Although 14.0% abv this is not a heavy wine; it has body but is light enough to dance on the tongue.  It shows typical rose and tar notes on the nose with raspberry and blackberry on the palate.  Above all, it’s a smooth, complex but accessible wine.

3. Château-Gris Nuits-Saint-George 1er Cru “Château-Gris” Monopole 2015 (cask sample) (13.5%, RRP €73)

Chateau Gris

Château-Gris is part of the Albert Bichot portfolio and is a monopole appellation, i.e. a single producer owns the whole vineyard – and when the appellation is named after the producer that’s no surprise.  Depending on the vintage the wine is matured for 12 – 15 months in oak, of which 25% is new; the oak was quite prominent on this cask sample but didn’t overpower the sweet red and black fruit.  Some people cite red Burgundy as the holy grail of wine – this wine manages to be so good, powerful yet ethereal, that I’m starting to be a believer.

2. Ar.Pe.Pe. Valtellina Superiore Sassella Riserva “Rocce Rossa” 2007 (13.5%, RRP €76.95)

arpepe-sassella-rocce-rosse-2007

Valtellina in Lombardy is far less celebrated than Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco, yet its best producers can produce some very fine wines indeed.  And fine is actually a very apt descriptor as the wines are lighter and more ethereal than their counterparts to the west.  It’s not a case of which is better, but rather which one prefers or is in the mood for. This lovely Sassella from the Rocce Rossa vineyard was ten years old when tasted but was still in the earlier stages of development.  Cherry and herbs were the key notes in a fabulous wine.

1. D’Arenberg Coppermine Road McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (14.5%, RRP ~€50 for current releases)

darenberg-the-coppermine-road-cabernet-sauvignon-2002

D’Arenberg is an iconic producer in McLaren Vale and this is one of their three icon wines – the other two being the celebrated Dead Arm Shiraz and the less well known Ironstone Pressings GSM blend.  The 2002 was only the eighth release under this name, though d’Arenberg have been releasing fine Cabernet Sauvignon from their High Trellis vineyard for over four decades (winning the 1969 Jimmy Watson Trophy).  I opened this wine at my birthday meal out with my wife and a couple of good friends – and it was stupendously good!  Although somewhat mature at fifteen years old it was nowhere near over the hill.  Tannins were gentle and round and the big smack of cassis had been joined by cedar and graphite notes – just a perfectly balanced, à point, wonderful wine.

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Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2016

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

10. Cicero Alto Reben AOC Graubünden Pinot Noir 2012

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

9. Mas St Louis Châteauneuf du Pape 2012

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

8. Paul Osicka Heathcote Shiraz 2004

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

7. Atalon Napa Merlot 2004

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

6. Niepoort Clos de Crappe Douro 2013

clos-de-crappe

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

5. Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014

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

4. Wolf Blass Black Label 1998

wolfblass-black-1998

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

3. Vajra Barolo Ravera 2011

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

2. Penfolds Grange 2010

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

1. Cascina Garitina Nizza 900

900

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

 

 

Tasting Events

The BIG Rhône Tasting at Ely Bar and Brasserie, Dublin (Part one)

November 2014 saw the second Rhône Wine Week extravaganza in Ireland, hugely expanded on the already successful inaugural Week in 2013.  The expansion was both geographical and in terms of the number of events – it would have been physically impossible to get to all of them, even just the Dublin ones.  Kudos to my team mates Morgan, Diarmuid and Suzanne of Team Slapshot, together we came a creditable joint 3rd in the Big Rhône Quiz.

Spearheaded by Tyrrell & Co. Wine Importers and Inter Rhône, this year other importers and venues joined the fray – see rhonewineweekireland.com for the full calendar of events and participants

This post (and the next) will concentrate on the Big Rhône Tasting held at Ely Bar and Brasserie in the IFSC, Dublin.  A former 200 year old tobacco and wine warehouse in Dublin’s Financial district, it has spectacular vaulted cellars.  My smartphone pics below of the tables set up for tasting really don’t do it justice!

Didier Fiat

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So now onto a few of the white wines that really stood out for me:

Château la Canorgue Pays du Vaucluse Viognier 2012 (Le Caveau, €18.45)

Château la Canorgue Pays du Vaucluse Viognier 2012
Château la Canorgue Pays du Vaucluse Viognier 2013

Viognier isn’t a grape I tend to pick off the shelf very often.  Some of the examples I’ve tasted have been too dry and not flavoursome enough to be enjoyed on their own; while I applaud the continental practice of drinking wine mainly at the table, the reality is that I’m far more likely to pop a cork sat in the lounge rather than the dining room.

However THIS is a Viognier that drinks very well on its own, and at a very reasonable price.  It has ripe stone fruit and an oily, rich viscosity that make it a real pleasure.

Domaine Grand Veneur Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “La Fontaine” 2012 (Mitchell & Son, €48.99)

Domaine Grand Veneur Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc "La Fontaine" 2012
Domaine Grand Veneur Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “La Fontaine” 2012

White Châteaneuf-du-Pape can be made of any or all of the six white grapes in the list of eighteen permitted grapes for the AOC.  It’s pretty rare though, making up only around 5% of total CNDP production – and even rarer is it cheap!

Made from 100% Roussanne grown in the wind-swept northern slopes of Châteauneuf, the grapes are hand picked and gently pressed.  Fermentation and maturation is carried out in oak barriques, 50% new and 50% one year old, for ten months.

Surprisingly, oak doesn’t dominate the palate – Roussanne gives a rich and fat body plus plenty of fruit which can stand up to the oaking.  As a youngster the main fruit flavour is pear – but not the pear drop flavour which is common on many modern cool-fermented whites.  Instead, imagine that you’ve been lost in a desert for a few days with nothing to eat or drink and then you find a few fresh, juicy pears – it’s that intense!

The vineyard’s windy aspect helps maintain acidity and this comes through in the freshness – it’s rich but not at all flabby.  White Châteauneuf needs a good while before it starts to develop tertiary flavours – we tasted a 2006 at the Big Rhône Quiz which was only just approaching middle age!

Eric Texier Opâle 2012 (La Rousse Wines, €21.90)

Opale Viognier
Eric Texier Opâle

And now for something completely different!  This is the first time I had come across anything like this from the Rhône – it’s a sweet Viognier, not made by fortification as with Vins Doux Naturels, but rather by reducing the temperature to stop fermentation once the must has reached 7% alcohol.  The grapes were picked early to maintain acidity so the resulting sweetness has a balance – it’s not at all cloying.

While this wine does reveal some varietal characteristics, stylistically it reminded me of a Mosel Riesling – and thankfully that’s what Monsieur Texier is aiming for.  Being fairly low in alcohol also means you can have a small glass and still drive afterwards!

Part two will be the main course – the Rhône Reds!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long

My Favourite Wines of 2013 – The Reds

Here are some of my favourite and most memorable red wines I tasted (or mainly) drunk in 2013

Penfolds

For me, 2013 was the year I finally dug in to my stash of premium Penfolds wines.  Penfolds make a wide, seemingly ever-increasing, range of wines in different styles and at different price points; but there are a few that wine lovers will instantly recognise the name of.  Wine geeks should seek out The Rewards Of Patience which gives the full history of Penfolds.

I bought a six bottle case of 1995 Grange back in 2000 when I popped to the local Tesco near work for a sandwich. Pretty expensive sandwich! I’d just signed a contract for a new job and was over the moon when I noticed that Tesco had 25% of Australian wine when buying six or more. I was friendly with the wine section manager Gavin as he was actually in to wine as opposed to being a glorified shelf-stacker, so he gave me the nod that the store’s annual allocation of two half cases of Grange had just arrived in. As Grange is released 5 years after vintage it was the 1995 being offered; unsurprisingly, it wasn’t out on the shelves with the Hardy’s Stamp and Nottage Hill. Being a qualified bean counter I worked out that the 25% saving on a bottle would pretty much cover five more modest bottles – they would effectively be free! But then it occured to me that 25% discount on six bottles would save me even more money! I’m sure that logic works for some other people as well…. The shocked look on the lass at the till as the price came up for a bottle was hilarious.

I added to my collection when the same offer was on the following year for the 1996 vintage and then in 2002 buying the 1997 vintage, all with a 25% discount, but I gave up when the 1998 vintage was released at a much higher price. I found out why when visiting a neighbour of Penfolds in the Barossa in late 2003 – it was just a great vintage that cases were selling for double the release price in the car park just outside the cellar door!

I did, however, get a sixer of Penfolds Bin 707 (their top Cabernet Sauvignon) from the 1998 vintage. It generally retailed at 40% of the price of Grange, and this seems to hold true today.

So from 2000 to 2009 these cases of wine moved house with me a few times but remained unopened. Finally, when I got married in 2009 I gave a bottle of 1995 Grange to each of my four groomsmen (and the brother-in-law who stepped in to do the video at the last minute) as a thank-you, leaving me with the last for myself.

Just before Christmas 2013 we hosted two of my wine drinking mates and their wives; partially to give my wife a chance to make beef wellington for the first time in advance of Christmas day, but also a chance to catch up in a more relaxed atmosphere than some of the bigger tasting events. And it also gave me an excuse to open a few nice bottles! We had two bottles of Champagne (see forthcoming post on best Fizz of 2013), two bottles of white (ditto best White of 2013), four half bottles of dessert wine at the end and the following bottles of red:

Penfolds Bin 707 1998

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Penfolds Grange 1997

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Penfolds Grange 1996

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They were all maturing, with light red to orange rims, but still a dense dark core. There was lots of black fruit to the fore and the tannins were quite mellow, though unmistakably present. The 97 Grange was marginally preferred to the the 96, but the Bin 707 was astounding. Far from being a poor relation, its shone out, still bursting with cassis and blackberry. Definitely my red wine of the year, and a bargain to boot. Was it a better wine or just an excellent vintage? Who knows, but I need to taste some more to find out.

The beef wellington went down a storm at the meal, and also on Christmas day itself.  And what did I open to go with it the second time?  My last remaining bottle of Grange 1995!

So was the Aussie Icon Grange worth it? In my opinion, the bottles I had weren’t worth their current price of £200 – £250 retail – but definitely worth the £75 I originally paid!  The reward for patience…

Domaine de la Janasse Chateauneuf du Pape 2009

I had a spot of luck at the end of October (well two, actually, but I won’t mention the other one here!) as I was given a bottle of Rhône wine as part of the Rhône Wine Week promotions with the proviso that I write a short review. Expecting a generic Côtes du Rhône I was happily surprised to receive a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, probably the most prestigious AC in the southern Rhône.

Due to the widespread renown of the appelation (which was the first ever AC), and despite the fairly high standards demanded by the INAO (French wine regulators), some of the wines produced in the area are not worthy of the name. These are generally easy to spot as they are the cheapest on offer – especially if they are “50% off”. Other villages in the Rhône offer much better value, particularly Rasteau and Lirac.

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So I opened the bottle with moderate expectations. And boy, was I wrong! My faith in Chateauneuf was restored anew. It showed deep black fruits and spice from the Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre (GSM) dominated blend, and a luxurious round mouthfeel with a velvety long finish. It had such power (I was gobsmacked by the 15.5% abv, not obvious at all) but also finesse.

My wife asked for a sip and immediately demanded a glass, it was that good.

A profound wine which I will be looking out for again.

Errázuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2003

I managed to swing an invite to a 4-decade vertical tasting of Errázuriz’s premium Cabernet blend Don Maximiano. Cabernet Sauvignon usually makes up around 85% of the blend with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot making up the rest, though the precise proportions vary depending on the vintage. “Don Max” is a definite contender for Chile’s best red wine.

The 1989 and 1994 were more like mature Haut-Medoc than something from the new world. The 2001 and 2003 were blockbusters, not a style everyone likes, but the 2003 was absolutely fabulous in my eyes (and those of most others I spoke to). Lots of deep cassis and plum with fine tannins and acidity still hanging in there. The 2008 was also very good though perhaps not yet of age. The 2010 was a more modern Cabernet, not picked quite as late and not quite as long in oak so the wine remained fresher. All four wines from this millenium were drinking beautifully.

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Gaec François et Fils Côte-Rôtie 2011

This beauty was party of a Côte du Rhône tasting hosted by Jean Smullen, and was the finest Northern Rhône wine I have tasted for years.  As is the norm in the North the wine is based on Syrah (95%), but with 5% of Viognier added for suppleness and fragrance.  After tasting lots of Grenache blends with 14%+ alcohol this was more elegant and refined, medium in weight and only 12.5% abv – it didn’t drink like it was missing any oomph.

So how do they make it so elegant?  Firstly, the Viognier is cofermented with the Syrah (i.e. the black and white grapes are fermented in the same vessel at the same time) which is a long standing practice in the area.  Secondly, 400 litre oak barrels are used rather than the smaller Bordeaux barrique of 225 litres, and only 30% of them were new.  Interestingly the soil in the Côte Brune is said to be similar to that of Coonawarra in South Australia, another high quality red wine area.

I will also be posting up my favourite whites, fizz and stickies of 2013, watch this space!

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