Great wines have been made around the village of Ama for centuries, but the Castello di Ama winery was only founded in the 1970s by a group of local families who were keen to revive the area’s vinous fortunes. Over the years they developed a significant range of Chianti wines – including several single vineyard wines that became part of the Gran Selezione classification – plus some IGTs including a Pinot Nero and a Chardonnay.
However, a significant milestone was in 2010 when parts of each of the four vineyards were planted with new, high quality clones of Sangiovese. As Sangiovese is prone to mutate quicker than many varieties (as in the case with Pinot Noir), a co-ordinated project within the Chianti Classico region was launched to improve the genetic material in the vineyards. Of course, this cannot be done in a single go without huge quality and cashflow issues so it is done piecemeal. Once the new vines were old enough to bear good grapes they were harvested and blended into a new cuvée, simply known as “Ama”.
Vineyard Technical Data (from website):
Total vineyard area: 80 hectares (198 acres)
Vineyard names: Bellavista, Casuccia, San Lorenzo and Montebuoni
Exposure: North-West, South-East
Soil: clay and calcareous
Altitude: 460-525 metres above sea level.
Training system: vertical trellis with single Guyot
For me there is a lot of ordinary Chianti around (although this could be said for many well-known regions) and the wines can be quite thin and tannic without any fruit to counterbalance. Despite 2015 being a warm and excellent year, the indicated alcohol of Ama is only 12.5%, which is a touch lighter than I would have expected both before and after tasting it.
Wine Technical Data (assembled from website):
Blend: 96% Sangiovese, 4% Merlot
2015 Harvest dates:22nd September (Merlot), 5th to 8th October (Sangiovese)
Yeasts: Ambient yeasts
Fermentation time: 25 days (varieties fermented separately)
Malolactic fermentation: Yes, in stainless steel tanks
Maturation: After blending, in second-use tight-grained oak casks
Bottled: January 2017
This is a smooth, quite powerful and spicy wine which is recognisably Sangiovesi and recognisably Chianti but is quite self-assured. To have these results from such young vines is a testament to the plan of using new clones, the potential of the site and very accomplished wine-making. After being disappointed too often this has renewed my love of Chianti!
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.
Two wines to elevate your Christmas festivities game
2017 must have been the quickest year of my whole life!
It sound like such a cliché but I HONESTLY feel like Christmas was just a few months ago but certainly not almost 12 months ago! For this feeling of complete restlessness, I enjoy blaming my WSET Diploma course but at the same time, this is what has made this year so unbelievably exciting. Learning about the plethora of wine styles around the globe has made me even more curious and certainly thirstier!
Since I have been enjoying far too many beautiful wines at my WSET course this year to make you feel sorry for my workload, I thought it was only fair to branch out and introduce some other than Greek wines on the Tsournavas’ Christmas table this year and see how I can satisfy the delectable taste buds of my friends and family!
Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Saering 2014: I have always been a big fan of Riesling’s tantalising vibrancy of fruit and unmistakable freshness and complexity. Sometimes, it can be quite tricky to tempt people to try a variety that they either might have never heard of before or they did and didn’t particularly like!
Alsatian Riesling is characterised by this distinctive elegance and power with a tremendous amount of freshness and complexity but with lots of finesse and elegance. This one from Schlumberger never ceases to surprise me! The family owns more grand cru vineyards than anyone else in Alsace and their Saering shows a fantastic spectrum of sweet lime, waxed lemon, cold honey and elegant hints of minerality and kerosene. Delicious!
Excellent with curries, oriental cuisine, shellfish or even cabbage dolmades! I usually invite my friends over for pre-Christmas lunch and this would go down like a dream!
Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Saering 2014(12.5%): available for£17-£20 from The Wine Society, Davy’s, Harrods, Oxford Wine Company
Castello di Fonterutoli Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2013: Mazzei is one of the oldest and most important winemaking families in Italy with 25 generations of history. Sometimes, you need that much of experience in order to produce such a world class Sangiovese! This wine is a cross between James Dean and Steve McQueen; a rare blend of charm, sophistication and seduction.
Awarded “Best Chianti” in the last Decanter World Wine Awards, this is the Sangiovese of dreams! The result of 120 single vineyards and equal number of individual vinifications, made from 36 clones of Sangiovese (18 unique to Fonterutoli), this Italian red is the essence of “Super Chianti Classico”. Tons of black berries, redcurrant and juicy red cherries, dark chocolate and finely ground coffee with the silkiest mouthfeel! Is this how true love really feels like? Try with Christmas lunch paired with wild boar sausages and steaks cooked with prunes.
Castello di Fonterutoli Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2013 (14.0%): available for £45 – £50 from Harrods, Davy’s, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Il Toscanaccio, Petersham Cellar.
If you cast your mind back all the way to February of this year, you may remember that supermarket group Lidl launched a limited release of new French wines in Ireland (here are my posts on the Redsand Whites).
Now they’re going to do the same with a batch of Italian wines, set for release on Monday 13th June, and available while stocks last. The wines in this batch don’t reach quite as high as the more expensive French ones did, but they are still worth seeking out.
Gavi di Gavi DOCG 2014 (12.5%, €9.99)
Gavi is the town in Piedmont (NW Italy) where this wine is made from the Cortese grape (which I always think sounds like a family from The Godfather) – and the wine is sometimes usefully called Cortese di Gavi, in case you forget. Wines from the production area closest to the town are called Gavi di Gavi as we have here.
By the way, if that’s all too confusing, feel free to call it “Gavin”. The wine won’t mind either way.
The wine is clean and unoaked, with pear and stone fruit flavours. It has some texture too, so it could stand up against seafood and lighter chicken dishes. Make sure you give it a chance to warm a little if it’s been in the fridge for a while.
Soave Classico DOC 2015 (12.0%, €9.99)
I suspect I’m not the only person who has been put off “Soave” by the cheap swill on the cheapest supermarket or convenience store shelves – but when it’s done right, it can be a very pleasant drink. Trademark Italian acidity is still there but with soft citrus, pear and apple fruit. The perfect drink for sitting in the back garden – especially if someone else is doing the gardening!
Barbera d’Asti DOCG 2015 (12.5%, €7.99)
Barbera is the grape here and Asti is the province in north-west Italy where it’s made – together with Alexandria next door. As part of Piedmont (or Piemonte to the locals) it tends to fall into the shadow of Nebbiolo, especially Barolo and Barbareseco, the “King and Queen” of the area. Barbera can make top class wines, but even the more economical end of the market gives some very drinkable examples such as this. It’s full of soft, juicy red and black fruit, with a slight smokiness. Remarkable for the price.
Teroldego is the grape in this wine. Haven’t heard of it? don’t worry, neither had I! It’s from the Trentino area of northern Italy, Superiore meaning it’s 12.0% minimum and Riserva meaning it has spent at least 24 months maturing before release.
This wine has lots of character – it’s zippier than a gobshite from Rainbow! Super fresh acidity makes it mouthwateringly tasty and really food friendly.
At first glance this might appear a bit more expensive than the other wines – but it’s a double sized bottle! Magnums are great fun at parties, so buy a few for a BBQ and you’re sorted! Nero d’Avola is a popular grape in Sicily, giving spice, dark berries and chocolate. It’s very drinkable, just make sure you don’t get carried away on a school night!
Larger format bottles are nearly all named after Biblical figures such as Methuselah and Salmanazar – the Magnum is the exception as it was named after a Private Investigator*
Salice Salentino DOC Riserva 2013 (13.5%, €9.99)
Now we’re in the heel of Italy’s boot, in Puglia. Salice Salentino is the staple of Italian restaurants everywhere – for good reason! It’s made from the Negroamaro grape which translates as “black and bitter”, but if there is any bitterness it is pleasant. What it does have is spicy black fruit, and it’s so more-ish! A barbecue wine that you will want to carry on drinking after the food has all disappeared.
Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2011 (13.5%, €9.99)
Up to now, all the wines I’ve recommended have been in the easy drinking style. This is a bit different – not for the uninitiated, unless you are prepared to try something new. The heart of Tuscan wine is Chianti, particularly the original central area which is now Chianti Classico.
This is a Riserva – aged in barrel for 24 month then 3 further months in bottle. It has the full on Chianti experience – tobacco, liquorice, cherry and a touch of vanilla. This should keep for another five years at least, and will soften and mellow over that time. Who am I kidding? This is going to be drunk within a week!
Following on from A February Feast, part 1, here are some of the reds which really impressed me at the Tindal’s portfolio tasting in February. In my dash round the hall I only got to taste one wine from the Tyrrell’s table – as they have just partnered up with Tindal’s they were new to the portfolio and hence probably the busiest table there!
Craggy Range Martinborough Te Muna Road Pinot Noir 2012 (€39.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown))
Although Central Otago gets most of the column inches nowadays, Martinborough remains one of the top regions for Pinot Noir within New Zealand. Like all Craggy Range’s …erm … range, this is a single vineyard bottling. The Te Muna Road vineyard is pictured above, and as this is New Zealand it is obviously bigger than some Burgundian Clos.
The 2012 is a serious wine, with concentrated red and black fruit, balanced tannins and a very smooth finish. I could see this still tasting lovely into the next decade.
Château Pesquié Ventoux Les Terrasses Rouge 2014 (€19)
Fred Chaudière’s family estate is considered to be among the best of the Ventoux in the Southern Rhône. Although Château Pesquié has a range of bottlings from the everyday to very serious (see some more of the latter here), it’s the Terrasses Rouge which stands out as a great buy. Certified organic from 2014, it consists of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, with minor traces of Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre. Buy a magnum and book a day off!
Château Spencer La Pujade Corbières “Le Millésime” 2008 (€27.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Cashel Wine Cellar (Cashel))
Winemaker Sebastien Bonneaud loves his beret and loves his Carignan, being one of its fiercest supporters. This cuvée is an unusual departure for him in that it is made from 80% Mourvèdre and 20% Syrah. After fermentation the wine is matured from 14 to 16 months in 100% new 300 and 600 litre French oak barrels, as befits an upmarket cuvée (“Le Millésime” literally translates as “The Vintage”).
At over seven years old the oak is now very well integrated, and though its influence is felt it does not stick out or jarr at all. It’s big, round and powerful, but also elegant.
Badia a Coltibuono – literally translated as “Abbey of the Good Harvest” – has existed for a millennium, with the monks gradually expanding their landholdings, until significant change arrived under Napoleonic secularisation in 1810. This Chianti Classico is made from 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo (which softens the edges). Wild yeast are used for fermentation and it then spends a year in cask before bottling. Chianti’s signature notes are all present – sweet / sour red and black cherries, tobacco (highlighted by the tannins) and vanilla from the oak.
This was one of the highlights of the tasting for me. It has a noticeable family resemblance to the standard Chianti Classico above, but more depth of flavour and even smoother. The wine is made from the best selection of grapes, then the best barrels spend a further 12 months ageing on top of the standard bottling’s 12. A serious wine which is seriously drinkable!
Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana 2011 (€58.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown))
Sangioveto is the old local name for the Sangiovese grape, a nod to tradition for Badia a Coltibuono’s top red. Only made in the best vintages, with extra ripe fruit and maturation in French oak barrels, it is arguably Super Tuscan in style, even though it is a varietal Sangiovese – this is also hinted at by the IGT Toscana classification. Some might decry the break from tradition, but then Chianti used to contain 15% Malvasia Blanca!
This is a powerful but soft wine, lots of black fruit supported by soft tannins and 15% alcohol. Lovely to drink now, especially if decanted, but it would be worth stashing a few of these away for 2020.
The end of January to April is a very busy time in the Dublin wine calendar, with lots of country, producer and distributor portfolio tastings. Among the many excellent events is Tindal’s Portfolio Tasting at the swanky Marker Hotel in Dublin’s Dockland. I had less than sixty minutes to taste so had to pick and choose; here are the white wines which impressed me most.
Domaine William Fevre Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2012 (€45, Searsons (online & Monkstown) and 64 Wine (Glasthule))
William Fevre is undoubtedly in the top echelon of Chablis producers with an extensive range across the chablis hierarchy. This Premier Cru is better than some Grand Crus I have had, combining zingy acidity, minerality and ripe fruit. Drinking well now but will continue evolving over the next decade.
Domaine William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru Bougros “Côte Bouguerots” 2009 (€90, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Gibneys (Malahide))
Moving up to Grand Cru level and an older, warmer vintage brings even more complexity, fruit sweetness and integration. There is still Chablis’s trademark stony minerality and acidity, so it remains refreshing. Would pair well with white and seafood up to gamebird.
Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils Meursault “Les Clous” 2013 (€47.50, Searsons (online & Monkstown)
Whereas a ripe Chablis might conceivably fool you into thinking it came from further south in Burgundy, the converse could not be said of this Meursault – it is decidedly of the Côte d’Or. Bouchard was established close to 300 years ago and have expanded their land under vine at opportune moments.
Meursault is probably my favourite village in the Côte de Beaune, and is the archetype for oaked Chardonnay. This being said, the use of oak is often judicious, and so it is here; there’s plenty of lemon and orange fruit with a little toastiness from the oak. Very nice now, but a couple more years of integration would make it even better.
Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2013 (€27.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Parting Glass (Enniskerry))
This is a cool climate Chardonnay from one of my all time favourite producers, Craggy Range. The origin of the usual name is explained on their website:
Its namesake, Cape Kidnappers, comes from an incident that occurred during Captain Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand in 1769. When Cook attempted to trade with the native Maori in an armed canoe, a Tahitian servant of Cook’s interpreter was seized. The servant later escaped by jumping into the sea after the canoe was fired upon.
Hawke’s Bay does have some fairly warm areas, with the well-drained Gimblett Gravels in particular perfect for growing Syrah and Bordeaux varieties, but cooler parts are located up in the hills or – as in this case – close to the coast. The aim is apparently to emulate Chablis; with only a little bit of older oak and clean fruit, it’s definitely close. The 2013 is drinking well now but will benefit from another year or two – the 2008s I have in my wine fridge are really opening up now!
Another intriguingly named wine. In 1298 the Abbots of the nearby Murbach Abbey were given the status of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire by Emperor Frederick II, and were henceforth known as Abbot Princes.
This is clean and somewhat simple, but fruity and expressive. When done well, Pinot Blanc can be versatile and more approachable than many other of the Alsace varieties – it will go with lots of things, is well balanced and fruity enough to drink on its own.
Schlumberger have Riesling vines on several of their Grand Cru properties, and it’s a wine geek’s dream to taste them head to head to see what the difference in terroir makes. All wines are organic and biodynamic; whether you place importance on these or not, the care that goes into them certainly pays dividends in the glass.
This 2012 Saering is still very young, showing tangy lime and grapefruit, but a pleasure to drink nevertheless.
This late harvest Gewurztraminer is named after the family member Christine Schlumberger who ran the firm for almost 20 years after the death of her husband, and was the grandmother of the current Managing Director Alain Beydon-Schlumberger.
All the fruit is picked late from the Kessler Grand Cru vineyard, packed into small crates so as not to damage the fruit, then taken to the winery for gentle pressing. Fermentation can take from one to three months using ambient yeast.
On pouring, fabulous aromas jump out of the glass – flowers and white fruit. They continue through to the palate, and although the wine feels round in the mouth it is tangy and fresh, far from cloying. A seductive wine that exemplifies the late harvest style.
I love sweet wines, whether with dessert, instead of dessert, or at any time I fancy them. They can actually pair well with savoury dishes of many types, depending on their prominent flavours, richness, acidity and sugar levels. For example, late harvest Gewurztraminer from Alsace is amazing with foie gras, and off dry to medium wines often work well with exotic Asian fare.
There are several methods of making sweet wines, the simplest being to leave the grapes on the vine while they continue to produce sugars, and harvest them later. A further step is to allow noble rot (botrytis cinerea) to attack the grapes and dry them out, thereby concentrating the sugars. Other traditions involve sun or air drying to reduce water levels.
Whichever way is used, balance is the key, particularly the balance between sugar and acidity. This means that even lusciously sweet wines can avoid being cloying, which is usually a turn off.
Here are ten of the sweet wines which really impressed me in 2015:
I first tried a Berton wine from Coonawarra, my favourite red wine region of the world. It was perhaps a little less fruit forward than some from the area but had the most pronounced spearmint aromas that I’ve ever encountered in a wine (for the avoidance of doubt this is a positive for me!)
The Riverina area in the middle of New South Wales is an irrigated bulk wine producing region, and is where many of Australia’s inexpensive bottles (and boxes!) are produced. Due to humidity close to the major rivers it is also a source for excellent botrytis style stickies (as the locals call them), including the fabulous De Bortoli Noble One.
Semillon’s thin skins make it particularly susceptible to noble rot – which is why it is so successful in Sauternes and Barsac – and so it proves in Berton’s version. I’m not going to claim that this has the intensity of Noble One but it does a damned good impression – and at a far lower price. Amazing value for money!
9. Miguel Torres Vendimia Tardia “Nectaria” Botrytis Riesling 2009 (€19.99 (375ml) Sweeney’s of Glasnevin and Carry Out Off-Licence in Ongar, Dublin 15)
Familiarity with Spanish or another romance language reveals that this is a Late Harvest style, with the addition of Botrytis characters. It was one of the stand out wines of the Chilean Wine Fair – though being different in a sea of Sauvignon, Carmenère and Cabernet probably helped.
As you may or may not know, Miguel Torres wines are the Chilean outpost of the Spanish Torres family’s operations, with quality and value both prominent. The key to this wine is the streak of acidity cutting through the sweetness – the hallmark of a great Riesling dessert wine.
8. San Felice Vin Santo 2007 (€19.49 (375ml) O’Briens)
As someone who generally likes Italian wine and has a soft spot for sweet wines, I’ve nearly always been disappointed by Vin Santos I’ve tried. I don’t think my expectations were too high, it’s just that the oxidative (Sherry-like) notes dominated the other aspects of the wines.
This is different – perfectly balanced with lovely caramel and nut characters. It’s made from widely grown grapes Trebbiano Toscano (75%) and Malvasia del Chianti (25%) which aren’t generally known for their character, but it’s the wine-making process that makes the difference. Bunches of grapes are dried on mats to reduce water content then pressed as normal. After fermentation the wine is aged five years in French barriques then a further year in bottle. A real treat!
7. Le Must de Landiras Graves Supérieurs 2004 (Direct from Château)
White Graves – particularly those from the subregion of Pessac-Léognan – are in my opinion the most underappreciated of all Bordeaux wines. Even less commonly known are the sweeter wines from the area – and to be honest the average wine drinker would be hard pressed to know when there’s often no mention of sweetness on the bottle, they are just “expected to know” that “Graves Supérieures” indicated higher sugar rather than higher quality.
Being close to Sauternes shouldn’t make the production of sweet wines a surprise, but then few people carry a map around in their head when tasting!
Simply put, this is probably the best sweet Graves I’ve ever had. See this article for more details.
6. Longview Epitome Late Harvest Riesling 2013 (€16.99, O’Briens)
Riesling in Australia is nearly always bone dry and dessert wines usually use Semillon for late harvest styles or Rhône varieties for fortifieds, but when done well they can be sensational.
This was such a hit at the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting that two other of my fellow wine writers picked it out for recommendation, namely Richie Magnier writing as The Motley Cru and Suzi Redmond writing for The Taste. Imagine the softness of honey with the fresh zip of lime at the same time – something of a riddle in your mouth, but so moreish!
In its home region of the Loire, Chenin Blanc comes in all different types of sweetness, with and without botrytis. Its natural acidity makes it a fine grape for producing balanced sweet wines.
David Trafford picks the Chenin grapes for his straw wine at the same time as those for his dry white, but then has the bunches dried outside for three weeks before pressing. After a very long fermentation (the yeast takes a long time to get going in such a high sugar environment) the wine is matured in barriques for two years.
I had the good fortune to try this delicious wine with David Trafford himself over dinner at Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar – for a full report see here. Apricot and especially honey notes give away the Chenin origins, and layers of sweetness remain framed by fresh acidity.
4. Pegasus Bay Waipara “Encore” Noble Riesling 2008 (~£25 (375ml) The Wine Society
This is the gift that keeps on giving…I bought my wife a six pack of this wine a few years ago, as it was one we really enjoyed on our honeymoon tour of New Zealand, and she is so parsimonious that we haven’t finished them yet!
This is in a similar vein to the Epitome Riesling but has more botrytis character – giving a mushroom edge, which is much nicer than in sounds – and additional bottle age which has allowed more tangy, tropical fruit flavours to develop and resolve. A truly wonderful wine.
3. José Maria da Fonseca “Alambre” ® DO Moscatel de Setúbal 2008 (€6.45, Portugal)
I had been meaning to try a Moscatel de Setúbal since a former colleague from the area told me about it. A holiday to the Algarve provided the perfect opportunity, and I found this beauty in the small supermarket attached to the holiday complex we stayed in – at the ridiculous price of €6.45!
Moscatel / Muscat / Moscato is one of the chief grapes used for dessert wine around the Mediterranean – and can make very dull wines. This is by some margin the best I’ve tasted to date! I’m sure most people would swear that toffee had been mixed in, the toffee flavours are so demonstrative.
Tokaji is one of the great sweet wines of the world – in fact it’s one of the great wines of the world full stop. It’s usually a blend of a normal grapes and botrytised grapes in differing proportions, the actual blend being the main indicator of sweetness.
Apricot and marmalade are the first things which spring to mind on tasting this, though time has added toffee and caramel notes. This is the sort of wine that I would happily take instead of dessert pretty much any time!
1. Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria 2013 (Liberty, from good wine merchants)
I first came across this wine at Ely Wine Bar on my wife’s birthday a few years ago. After a filling starter and main course neither of us had room for dessert, but fancied something sweet; Ely is a treat for winelovers as it has an unrivaled selection of wines by the glass, so like a kid in a sweetshop I ordered a flight of different sweeties for us to try:
All four were lovely but it was the Ben Ryé which stood out.
At a later trade event put on by Liberty Wines, I noticed that this was one of their wines open for tasting. With a room full of hardened trade pros (and myself) it was amusing to notice how many people just dropped by the sweet and fortified for a drop of this!
Lionel Richie’s Commodores were easy on Sunday morning, but when it’s a bank holiday weekend it means Sunday evenings are even better than the mornings.
This Sunday evening I was invited to my brother-in-law Andrew’s for take out and wine – what a relaxing way to spend a Sunday evening – with the rider that his wine-loving friend Noel and family would also be there. Andrew sorted the food, and Noel provided most of the wine, with a bit chipped in from Andrew and myself.
Although it was easy, it was also a very enjoyable evening, with some cracking wines noted below. Where there is an Irish stockist listed on Wine Searcher I have added it, otherwise a UK stockist.
A good rule of thumb for Austrian Grüners is that the alcohol level is an indicator of the wine’s style, and so the 12.0% of this Birgit Eichinger proved true to be a light, summer-quaffing style. Fresh and light, it doesn’t scream its grape variety, but is remarkably easy to drink.
Pauillac is probably the most prestigious appellation on the Médoc peninsula, Bordeaux’s left bank with grand names and grander buildings. Three of the five First growths are in the commune – Châteaux Lafite, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild – with world famous reputations and prices to match.
The small village of Saint-Lambert within the Commune of Pauillac is home to the much more modestly priced Château Gaudin. Its wines are very much true to the general Pauillac style, being dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (85%) with support from Merlot (10%) and Carménère (5%) plus tiny dashes of Petit Verdot and Malbec.
2009 was the middle year of three fantastic vintages within six years (2005 – 2009 – 2010) and was perfect for Cab Sauv. With such a high percentage of that grape one might think that five or six years from harvest is too short a time for a wine to be approachable, but this is already drinking fantastically now. The fruit is still dense and the evidence of 18 months ageing in new oak barrels is still apparent, but there’s no reason to wait!
Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé 2010 (€55, O’Briens)
Made by widely admired superstar Bernard Magrez of Pessac’s Pape-Clement, La Tour Carnet was officially classed as a Fourth Growth in 1855. Debate as to the relevancy of that classification continues, but it is useful as a general indicator of quality.
Average vine-age is 30 years. The precise blend changes from year to year, but it is usually led by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with small contributions from Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. After fermentation, 70% of the blend was aged on the lees in French oak barrels for 18 months (30% of which new) and the balance in stainless steel.
Although from a very good year, in comparison with the Ch. Gaudin above it was perhaps a little awkward and not quite sure what it wanted to be. A very nice drop which, with a bit of patience, might integrate more fully and blossom in a few years.
Castellare I Sodi Di San Niccolo IGT Toscana 2010 (GBP 40.42, Exel, €61.67 (2011) Millesima)
I have to confess I hadn’t heard of this wine before, but after asking the google it seems as though I really should have! Widely decorated, it’s a blend of 85% Sangioveto (the local name for Sangiovese) with 15% Malvasia Nera. The name “I Sodi” refers to land so steep and uneven that it has to be worked manually, not even using horses.
Castellare di Castellina was born in 1968 from the consolidation of five farms in the Chianti Classico region, and became solely owned by Paolo Panerai around ten years later. At that point he carried out a detailed survey of all the vines on the property so that the best genetic material could be selected.
Subsequently Paolo engaged in partnership with the University of Milan, the University of Florence and the Institute of San Michele all’Adige to carry out ongoing research on the best clones as well as the production of grapevines selected for the renovation of the vineyards.
On pouring I thought it very pleasant, but not amazing; very smooth and drinkable without bring special. However, after a bit of time in the glass it really started to open up, herbs and liquorice layers on top of cherries and blackberries. This is a fine wine that I will definitely be trying again.
An interjection between the reds, something sweet to go with dessert. From the pride of Ribeauvillé, this is a late harvest (that’s exactly what Vendanges Tardives means in French, or Spätlese in German) Gewurztraminer from 2001.
Probably not overly sweet in its youth, it is still sweeter than a normal Gewurz but is not at all “sticky”. The ageing process reduces the wine’s sweetness (though I have not yet found the mechanism) and there is still some acidity to offer balance. As you expect from Gewurz there’s a real floral aspect to it on the nose, with stone / white fruit such as peach and lychee on the palate.
It was actually a little too restrained for the chocolate brownie and ice cream dessert, but off itself was delicious. It’s showing no sign of slowing down at the moment so it might well make it as far as its 20th birthday.
Château Giscours Margaux 3ème Cru Classé 2009 (€100, McHugh’s)
Giscours was a Third Growth in the 1855 Classification, but its fortunes have waxed and waned several times since, mainly as ownership has changed and more or less was put into the vineyards. Margaux is the most feminine of the Médoc’s big four appellations, often with a higher percentage of Merlot than the others and a certain silkiness to the wines.
For the whole Giscours estate’s 94 hectares under vine, the split of grape varieties is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and the balance Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Of course the Grand Vin receives a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon than the second and third wines, particularly in a good year such as 2009. The estate matures the Grand Vin in 100 % French oak barrels (fine grain and medium toast) for 15 to 18 months, 50% of which are new and 50% have had one previous use.
Although still relatively young, this was not dumb, tight or closed – it was already singing. Modern Claret is sometimes overdone in the search for Parker points and so needs a decade before approaching, but it wasn’t the case here. Perhaps this was infanticide on a wine that will go on to greatness, only time will tell.
Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1998 (GBP 180, WinePro)
Grange occupies the sole spot at the top of the Penfolds pyramid, but Bin 707 isn’t too far behind. Whereas Grange is virtually all Shiraz based, the 707 is the King of Cabernet., allegedly named after the fancy new Boeing airliner of the time.
Grange’s first (though non-commercial) release was in 1951 and the 707’s inaugural vintage was 1964. It hasn’t been made every year since; between 1970 and 1975 there was a conscious decision to put the best Cabernet fruit in other wines, then in the years 1981, 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2011 winemakers didn’t have access to the appropriate style and quality of fruit.
Both Grange and Bin 707 are both multi-regional blends, that is, the fruit comes from several different vineyards in several different regions within South Australia. For the 707 these are Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, Robe and Wrattonbully. Maturation is for 18 months in 100% new American oak hogsheads (300 litres).
So 17 years on, how did it fare? To the eye the age was apparent on the rim which was quite red brick in hue, though the core was still opaque black. The nose showed spearmint, menthol & eucalyptus with dried black fruit and just a tiny hint of oxidisation.
To taste there was a touch of mint and lots of fresh blackcurrant, with some raisins in the background. It was really smooth and still monumental in mouthfeel, despite an abv of 13.5% which is quite modest by today’s standards. Above all it had an amazing length, a small sip lingered in the mouth for several minutes. A stunning wine.
Château Dereszla Tokaji Azsú 5 Puttonyos 2006
To cap it all off was a sweet – sweet wine. As I’ve mentioned before I reckon 5 putts is probably the *ahem* sweet spot for Tokaji, the perfect balance between flavour, sugar and acidity. Château Dereszla also produce 3 and 6 puttonyos wines, plus the legendary Aszú Eszencia
This showed typical apricot, honey and marmalade notes, quite sweet but not at all cloying. This is a wine to get up in the night to drink!
I’ve already picked out five whites from the Sweeney’s Wine Fair that really impressed me, so now it’s turn for my selection of reds. But first a brief introduction of the people behind the name:
Apparently, for those who like that sort of thing, Sweeney’s also have a great range of artisan cheese from Sheridan’s cheesemonger.
So now for the reds:
5 Vigneti Del Salento I Muri IGT Puglia 2012 (Liberty Wines, €15.95, 2 for €28.00)
A favourite with Sweeney’s staff and customers alike for a few years, I Muri hails from the heel of Italy – the beautiful region of Puglia. The most important local grape is Negroamaro, literally translated as “black and bitter”, and while this wine is listed as a 100% varietal Negroamaro it shows no bitterness. It does have black – blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, with a savoury edge but a polished finish.
Aragonez is the Portuguese name for the grape known as Tempranillo in Spain (well, in Rioja at least). Alicante Bouchet is a teinturier, the term for a (very rare) type of grape with red flesh, so both the skin and flesh give colour to a wine.
Do you remember the scene in the film Ratatouille where restaurant critic Anton Ego tastes the eponymous dish and is instantly transported to his childhood? Tasting Herdade de Rocim gave me exactly the same sensation, except I was magically transported to a summer barbecue, drinking wine. I think it’s a sign.
Check out the vintage! The current release is 2011, so it’s quite rare to see older vintages on the shelves, even in a good independent wine merchants, but this is entirely deliberate; Finian bought several cases of this when it was released and has kept it in bond to be released when ready. And boy, is it ready!
It has all the hallmarks of good Chianti Classico – liquorice, tobacco, acidity, tannin, black cherry – but the extra years maturing have seen them knit into a smooth, harmonious whole. I think it’s now closer in style to its big brother Badia a Passignano, which still remains the smoothest Chianti I’ve experienced.
Hearsay at the Wine Fair suggested I might be in the minority liking this bottle (it’s not the first time and certainly won’t be the last time I’m in a minority); reflection has led me to believe that some people who are used to drinking young Chianti prefer, or at least expect, the components mentioned above to stand out individually. If that is more to your taste then I suggest trying the 2011 Marchese, reviewed here.
2 Torres “Celeste” Crianza DOCa Ribera del Duero 2011 (Findlater WSG, €20.00, 2 for €34.00)
While also in the north of Spain and often using the same grapes as Rioja, Ribera del Duero isn’t a clone of its more famous counterpart. For a long time only the renowned Vega Sicilia made wines drunk elsewhere in Spain, never mind exported. Now the region’s reputation is on the up, with national heavyweights such as Torres joining the ranks of local producers.
Tempranillo here is usually known as Tinto Fino, and often has support from Bordeaux grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. However, even on its own it can show darker fruit than in Rioja.
Celeste has a nice name and a pretty bottle, but the contents surpass both of them. Bright red and black fruit are offset by creamy vanilla from the oak. It has wild strawberries rather than the poly-tunnel farmed ones that cheap Rioja can have, with blackberry and cherry riding shotgun. It’s a serious wine, yet it’s a fun wine.
1 Domaine Treloar “Le Ciel Vide” AC Cotes de Roussillon 2012 (Distinctive Drinks, €16.00)
This wine is a rockstar – it stood out as the best wine of any colour from the whole tasting as it was just so interesting and funky. Lots of fresh berry fruit is accompanied by smoke, earthiness and just a hint of farmyard.
Looking into the story of the Domaine is fascinating – it deserves a full post all to itself. The name of the wine is a direct translation of “Empty Sky”, a Bruce Springsteen song, which evoke memories of 9/11 for the owners who were working just one block away when the planes hit.
The blend of this wine has changed every year depending on the grapes available locally and how each variety fared in a particular harvest:
I love the complete honesty of co-owner Jonathan Hesford when discussing the first two vintages of this wine (2008 and 2009):
I’m not sure how these wines will age. They have the potential to develop even more fragrant aromas but don’t have the tannin structure of my other red wines.
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…
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
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
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
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
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
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 Antinoribought 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
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
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.
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
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!!