An unusual grape for Argentina, Pinot Noir is much more often seen on the western side of the Andes, but this is a remarkably drinkable example from Bodegas Salentein. Although it’s their entry level Pinot, it has plenty of upfront but elegant fruit, and is nicely balanced – quaffable without being either jammy or thin. There’s more complexity further up the range but this is the ideal mid-week quaffer!
9. Loggia Della Luna Morellino di Scansano 2014 (13.5%, RRP €15.00)
This Tuscan treat is predominantly Sangiovesi and comes from the Maremma region of coastal Tuscany. Morellino is (yet another) synonym for Sangiovesi with differing stories over the origins of its name. However, given the prominent cherry flavours and high acidity I think the story of it being named after the morello cherry is the most likely. This isn’t a hugely complex wine but is more likeable than many lower priced Chiantis so it gets a firm thumbs up from me. Would make a great party wine that you’re not afraid to drink yourself!
Chilean Cab Sauv is something of a commodity nowadays, so it’s nice to find one that stands out from the crowd for its intensity of flavour and balance. In addition to cassis so vibrant that you can almost feel the individual blackcurrants popping in your mouth, this wine also offers the cedarwood and pencil shaving that are more often associated with left bank Bordeaux.
This was one of the standout value wines at Liberty’s 15th anniversary portfolio tasting. Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre, aka Mataro) is a grape which needs plenty of heat – and gets it in south east Spain – but crucially this is grown at altitude so the vines get to rest at night and acidity is preserved. This has some structure behind the big and bold fruit but can happily serve as a tipple on its own.
6. Frères Laffitte Le Petit Gascoûn Rouge 2016 (12.5%, RRP €13.50)
Yes the label is cute, but the wine is pretty nice as well – an easy drinking Tannat-dominated blend which is surprisingly quaffable (or “smashable” in modern parlance). The lighter alcohol also suggests that this would make a great picnic wine in the warmer months – it’s exactly the wine to have on hand in case of an impromptu barbecue.
5. Casa De La Ermita Lunatico 2015 (14.0%, RRP €18.99)
Another Spanish Monastrell shows that there is lots of good value wine being made from the grape – and Spain is one of the few European countries with a climate hot enough for it to fully ripen. 12 months ageing in French oak adds structure to blueberries and blackberries.
4. Pagos de Labarca AEX Rioja 2011 (14.5%, RRP €22.99)
Rioja wines are generally easy to like, but, on reflection, not all of them are easy to admire – some have have too much wood at the expense of fruit, some have a big bang of strawberry fruit from Tempranillo but not much else, and some are just plain weird. As with most European wines, the region is most talked about but the producer is key to what’s in the glass. This is one of the most accomplished and well rounded Riojas I have tasted at any price – wonderfully rich red fruit with delightful vanilla in support. As an aside, it was also given the stamp of approval from DNS Wineclub!
3. Fog Mountain California Merlot 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.95)
It’s sometimes said that Sideways killed California Merlot (and gave a big boost to Pinot Noir). There’s an element of truth in that statement as the trajectory of the grapes’ sales moved in opposite directions, but the reality is that it was the poorer Merlot wines which lost out, leaving the good stuff behind. The name of this wine alludes to the cooler sites from which the grapes are sourced helping to preserve acidity and balance. The presence of 14% Petit Sirah in the blend adds a touch of backbone and complexity.
2. Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Rouge 2016 (11.5%, RRP €23)
The assemblage of this wine – 60% Pinot Noir, 35% Gamay and 5% Malbec – would rarely be found anywhere else but the Loire. It’s made with minimal intervention from organic grapes, resulting in a light but fruity red which tastes more alive than almost any other wine. It’s like having freshly squeezed orange juice after a glass of squash!
I had sung the praises of the contrasting 2009 and 2011 vintages of this wine during the year (with my personal preference being for the 2009), but on tasting the 2010 at SPIT Festival I found that put those both in the shade. It’s a rare thing that Bordeaux is classed as good value nowadays, but this bottling from the De Mour group is the most superior Supérieur around!
2017 was another fantastic year of wine and I’ve been lucky to taste a great many superb wines. For the first time, this year my Top 10s include Value Whites and Value Reds as lower priced wines often lie in the shadow of their more expensive counterparts. Even so, there were many wines I had to leave off these lists. Let me know what your favourites were in the comments!
Whereas the big brother Wild Ferment Assyrtiko comes from the variety’s home in Santorini, the Monograph is sourced from Nemea which is also well known for its red wines, particularly Agiorgitiko. The Monograph is a cleaner, straight-up style without any wild yeast or barrel-fermentation characters, but is a true expression of the grape itself.
If ever there was a wine which added weight to the theory of soil types directly affecting wine taste, this is it, the very mineral “Fossil” made from vines grown on limestone on the coast just north of Lisbon. Local grapes Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires combine to give floral aromas with a palate of soft white fruit with a wide streak of minerality. Refreshing to sip on its own, this also make a great match for seafood.
My general dislike of disinterest in Pinot Grigio is well documented, though it does have a few exceptions. And any wine that gets included on one of my top 10 lists must be exceptional – and this is! It has recognisable Grigio qualities (indeed some which make it as far as being Pinot Gris-like) but without the diluteness and general lack of flavour that much of the mass-produced Italian swill exhibits. Lovely drinking.
7. Château Martinolles Limoux Vieilles Vignes 2015 (13.5%, RRP €15.00)
Although Burgundy is thought to be the birthplace of Chardonnay and is still its spiritual home, the prestige of the region means that value for money is often better sought elsewhere. Normally that would be in the New World, but Limoux in the Languedoc is an alternative closer to home. As it’s in the south of France we tend to think of the Languedoc as being very warm and only good for bulk wine, but excellence is being rediscovered and cooler subregions are making some great wine. There’s a fair bit of oak here but actually more creamy lees character . Cracking Chardy for the money!
Saint-Véran is one of my go-to Burgundy appellations. Of course the producer still makes a big difference, but my experience has been generally very positive with this Mâconnais area across the board, despite a reasonable price tag (for Burgundy!) This was full of peach and pear with a slight nuttiness to it. Given a big thumbs up by DNS Wineclub!
5. Viña Leyda Falaris Hill Chardonnay 2015 (14.0%, RRP €16.95)
For me this single vineyard Chardonnay represents even better value for money than its slightly less expensive counterpart, Leyda’s Reserva Chardonnay. The fruit is ripe but still fresh, and sitting on a nice cushion of oak (25% new). This isn’t the Chardonnay to convert haters, or even those sitting on the fence, but those who like it will love it.
4. Loosen Dr L Riesling 2015 (8.5%, RRP €14.00)
Riesling is perhaps the one grape that separates dabblers in wine from true wine lovers, though it’s rarely seen in supermarkets, so it’s at the multiples and independents where Riesling has a loving home. The current fashion for Riesling is to be dry, which can mean austere when acidity is very high. The Mosel tradition is to leave a fair bit of residual sugar to balance the acidity, for the entry level wines at least. Dr Loosen makes the archetype, with the sugar and acidity combining to reinforce the zesty fruitiness. Such a delicious wine that can be drunk at any time.
Treixadura and Godello share equal billing on this beauty from Galicia’s smallest DO, Monterrei. It’s something of an enigma with tropical fruit, smokiness, minerality and freshness all rolled together. You might enjoy dissecting its elements at your leisure, but the reality is that this delicious blend is a quaffer’s delight!
2. Mandrarossa “Ciaca Bianca” Fiano Sicilia 2016 (13.5%, RRP €15.95)
Fiano is one of the newly rediscovered grapes that are starting to get a lot of notice. Of course, they never went away – investment in modern winemaking equipment and a search for the new came together with some lovely clean, unoaked, well-crafted wines. Compared to the other Fianos I have tried, however, this is something of an outlier – it just has so much flavour! I got this as a present for my Marlborough Sauvignon-loving sister in law and she sang its praises. This is a must-try wine.
1. Paul Ginglinger Alsace Pinot Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP €18.50)
And so it is. What else could top my Top 10 value wines, if not a wine from my favourite white wine region of the world and one that is made with an undervalued grape: Alsace Pinot Blanc. This is an unoaked example but is still pithy, with some nice texture. It shows a nice array of fruit, from soft apple and pear through to refreshing citrus. A remarkable wine for not that much money!.
Ranging from €14 to €49, here are some of my favourite reds from the recent O’Briens Wine Fair:
Viña Chocálan Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (14.5%, €13.95 at O’Briens)
Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is usually pretty good, even when inexpensive, as Chile has enough sunshine to fully ripen the fruit but the temperatures aren’t so high that it becomes jammy and unbalanced. This is full of juicy blackcurrant but also has a little bit of cedar wood and graphite which adds interest.
Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza 2013 (14.0%, €17.95 down to €15.95 for May at O’Briens)
Particularly at Crianza level, Rioja is known for red fruit flavours (strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant, red cherry) with a good helping of vanilla from American oak. Sierra Cantabria doesn’t follow this plan at all – it’s all about black fruit and intensity of flavour, much more akin to a good Ribera del Duero than most Riojas. Why not try it back to back with the Reserva?
Urlar Gladstone Pinot Noir 2014 (14.5%, €23.95 at O’Briens)
At the bottom of New Zealand’s North Island is the Wairarapawine region (not to be confused with Waipara near Christchurch). The oldest part is probably Martinborough(not to be confused with Marlborough at the top of the South Island) but there are other notable areas within the Wairarapa such as Gladstone. Urlar(from the Gaelic for “Earth”) is an organic and practicing biodynamic producer which makes fantastic Pinot Noir. While full of fruit it has a savoury, umami edge, and will undoubtedly continue to develop complexity over the coming years.
Viña Chocálan Vitrum Blend 2013 (14.5%, €24.95 down to €22.95 for May at O’Briens)
Sitting just below their icon wine Alexia, Vitrum is Chocalan’s premium range, so named as the owners Toro family have been in the glass bottle making business for over 80 years. As stated it this wine is a blend, and the grapes aren’t named on the front label as there are so many of them! (for reference the 2013 is: 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Syrah, 8% Cabernet Franc, 8% Malbec, 4% Carmenère, 2% Petit Verdot). All these different varieties make for an interesting wine – quite full bodied and with considerable structure, but balanced and drinkable.
Domaine Olivier Santenay Temps des C(e)rises 2014 (13.0%, €28.95 down to €23.16 for May at O’Briens)
If you don’t speak French then you’d be forgiven for missing the jeu de mot in the name of this wine: temps des crises is the time of crises and temps des cerises is the time of cherries – and also the name of a famous French revolutionary song. Anyway, on to the wine itself: this is a mid weight Pinot Noir from Santenay in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune. It has delightful red currant and red cherry with a touch of smokinessfrom barrel ageing. It’s a food friendly wine which could also be drunk on its own. While ready to drink now I would (try to!) keep this for a few more years before drinking. Great Burgundy for the €€!
Château Fourcas Hosten Listrac-Médoc 2009 (13.0%, €29.95 down to €23.95 for May at O’Briens)
Listracis one of the two villages (with Moulis) in Bordeaux’s Médoc peninsula outside of the famous four that have their name on an appellation, but is rarely seen in Ireland. Château Fourcas Hosten was bought by the family behind the Hermès luxury goods group around a decade ago and they have invested significantly in quality since then. As 2009 was an excellent vintage in Bordeaux this is a fairly ripe and accessible wine.
Unusually for a warm vintage it has quite a bias towards Merlot (65%) versus Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), even though they make up 45% each of the vineyard area (and Cabernet Franc being the final 10%). This wine shows fresh and dried black fruit with some pencil shavings and tobacco – classy, accessible Bordeaux!
Cambria “Julia’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2012 (13.5%, €29.95 at O’Briens)
The spotlight on US Pinot Noir mainly falls on Oregon and its Willamette Valley, but California shouldn’t be ignored – especially Santa Barbara County, which was of course the setting for Sideways. The cool climate here, especially in Santa Mary Valley, helps Pinot Noir develop fully, keeping acidityand light to medium tannins to frame the fresh red fruit. One of my favourite American Pinots!
Man O’War Waiheke Island Ironclad 2012 (14.5%, €34.45 at O’Briens)
I’m a big fan of Man O’War’s premium range, all nautically namedand great examples of their type (I’m just gutted that demand for their Juliasparkling wine at their winery restaurant means that it won’t be exported anymore). Ironclad is the Bordeaux blend; the blend changes from year to year depending on how each variety fared, with any fruit that doesn’t make the grade being declassified into the next tier down.
The current release is the 2012which is 45% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, 13% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon – only Carménèremisses out from Bordeaux’s black grapes, and hardly anyone grows that in Bordeaux nowadays anyway. It’s full of ripe blackberry, blackcurrant and blueberry fruit with some graphite. It would pair well with red meat, but being a bit riper in style than most Bordeaux means it drinks well on its own.
Frank Phélan 2012 (13.0%, €34.95 down to €27.95 for May at O’Briens)
Back to Bordeaux proper again with the second wine of Château Phélan Ségur, named after the son of the original Irish founder Bernard Phelan. As a second wine it mainly uses younger fruit than the Grand Vin, a shorter time in barrel and a higher proportion of Merlot (this is 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon). All these lead to it being a more supple wine, and more approachable in its youth. For me this was quite similar to the Fourcas Hosten – dark black fruit in particular – but younger and with a little more tannin and graphite notes. Steak anyone?
Torbreck The Struie 2014 (14.5%, €49.00 down to €42 for May at O’Briens)
It’s fair to say that Barossa Shiraz is one of Australia’s most well-recognised wine styles, but there are actually significant differences within the Barossa. The most notable difference is that there are actually two distinct valleys – the Barossa Valley itself and the Eden Valley which is at a higher altitude and hence has a cooler climate (there’s some great Riesling grown in the latter but very little in the former!)
The Struie is a blend of fruit from both valleys: 77% Barossa (for power and richness) and 23% Eden (for acidity and elegance), all aged in a mix of old and new French oak barrels. There’s intense blackberry and plum fruit with a twist of spice.
This is a fairly monumental wine which actually deserves a bit more time before drinking, so buy a few and lay them down…but if you can’t wait, decant!
Chardonnayis grown in most wine-producing countries, to a greater or lesser extent, but the wines are still compared to the grape’s original home of Burgundy. Even within Burgundy there are huge differences, from the lean wines of Chablis in the north to the more tropical styles of the Maconnais.
Here we have a classic Chablis and a new world Chardonnay from Chile, both from single vineyard plots:
Brocard Chablis Domaine Sainte Claire 2014 (12.5%, €24.95 at O’Briens)
Jean-Marc Brocard is an admired, well-established producer in Chablis. Founded by Jean-Marc and now run by his son Julien, the firm produces over a dozen cuvées from Petit Chablis up to Chablis Grand Cru Le Clos. The grapes come from a plot of 35 – 40 year old vines called Sainte Claire which surround the winery. Although it is a good representative of the company’s philosophy “strength, precision and freshness” it also has a little more body and texture than is common in AOC Chablis. Racy lemon is joined by orange peel on the palate and a tangy yeastiness from ten months on the lees. A superior Chablis!
Leyda Single Vineyard Falaris Hill Chardonnay 2013 (14.0%, €17.95 at O’Briens)
From northern France we now travel to the Pacific coast of Chile. Leyda is both the name of the winery and the area in which it is based, benefiting from cool coastal breezes which are chilled by the Humboldt Current. It is possibly the best part of Chile in which to grow Sauvignon Blanc as the long, cool growing season allows the aromatics to develop fully before sugar ripeness is achieved.
But it’s also great for Chardonnay!
Tasted immediately after the Chablis the oak was very apparent – quite old school in a way – but this wine actually has far more acidity and cool climate character than the old Aussie oak-bomb Chardonnays. There’s lemonand satsumafrom the grapes, creaminessfrom the lees and toastinessfrom the oak – an excellent effort which shows (again) that Chile has far more to offer than entry level wines.
Another installment in the Frankly Wines ABC = Always Buy Chardonnay odyssey! These two wines from different countries and made in different styles show what a versatile grape Chardonnay is.
Tesco Finest Bourgogne Blanc Chardonnay 2014 (12.5%, €12.00 from Tesco)
The small print and the back label reveal that this wine is made by the Vignerons de Buxy co-operative in the Côte Chalonnaise. This is an under-appreciated area – Chablis is world famous, as are the majestic vineyards of the Côtes de Nuits and Beaune. The southernmost area of the Maconnais is now receiving lots of attention but the Chalonnaise remains off the radar.
At a fairly light 12.5% this is made in a fresher style. The main notes are ripe (but not over-ripe) honeydew melon and apple, with just a kiss of vanilla hinting at a small proportion matured in oak. A far more accessible wine than I expected, and great value for money.
Marques de Casa Concha DO Limari Chardonnay 2010 (14.0%, €17.00* from Sweeney’s)
Marques de Casa Concha is one of the upmarket labels of Concha Y Toro, the Chilean giant. This Chardonnay is made from grapes in the Quebrada Seca Vineyard, 190 m above sea level and just 19km from the Pacific Ocean, giving it a relatively cool microclimate. That said, at 14.0% this is no Chablis (nor Côte Chalonnaise!) More recent vintages are noted as spending eleven months in French oak and the flavour profile of this 2010 suggests it probably did too – though not a large proportion of it new.
Flavour wise this is all about apple pie, with cream! Perhaps a touch of pineapple candy and vanilla on the side. It has quite a bit of body so would stand up to creamy chicken, pork or veal dishes. At six years after vintage the 2010 is holding up well, but I’d probably look to drink it in the next few years rather than leave it for another six.
*This bottle has been tucked away in one of my wine fridges for a fair while – possibly several years – so the price is likely to have been before some of the disproportionate increases in taxes on wine in Ireland. I’d imagine €20 is a more realistic price now.
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!
Did you know that Cono Sur is the largest single Pinot Noir producer in the world? I wasn’t aware either, until I attended a fantastic tasting of their top Ocio and 20 Barrels Pinots last year.
I also learned what Cono Sur itself means – Southern Cone. It shouldn’t have been a surprise – especially as it is hinted at graphically on some of their bottles – as it’s the nickname for the southern part of South America which is quite cone-shaped.
And finally, did you know that the Pinot family get its name because the grape bunches on the vine resemble pine cones? Thankfully they taste better than pine cones…
Pinot Noir is the perfect grape for autumn – it’s usually light and refreshing, easy to drink, but very much a food wine that can pair well with both lighter dishes and the heavier fare that we tuck into on colder days.
Here are a couple of Pinots that you should try this autumn
Disclosure: both bottles were provided as samples, but opinions remain totally mine
Louis Jadot Bourgogne “Couvent des Jacobins” 2012 (€17.99, Molloy’s Liquor Stores, O’Brien’s Wines, Redmond’s of Ranelagh and other good independents)
Maison Louis Jadot was formed in 1859 and is well regarded in France and further afield. The Négotiant has holdings of 210ha spread throughout Burgundy, and from the most basic AOC to the stratospheric Grands Crus, all feature the same distinctive yellow featuring the head of Bacchus.
This is a blend of different parcels from throughout Burgundy, from Irancy towards Chablis in the north to the Côte Chalonnaise in the south. The latter gives juicy fruity flavours and the more northerly plots give more acidity, tannin and structure; the blend is more than the sum of its parts (the whole point of blending!)
Light, fresh strawberry and raspberry, with the acidity to back up the fruit flavours. Surprisingly it has a reasonable amount of tannin on the finish, not in the realm of left bank Bordeaux or Madiran, but something with a savoury edge.
This is distinctively old world in sensibility – although it’s fruity it’s nothing like a fruit bomb. Very nice to drink by itself, I suspect this would come into its own with food.
Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block 21 “Viento Mar” Pinot Noir 2012 (€19.99 from O’Brien’s Wines, Mitchell & Sons, Dublin; Redmonds of Ranelagh, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin, Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Bradley’s of Cork, O’Driscoll’s of Cork, and other independents)
Most people are familiar with Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir as it is widely distributed. It has a cheerful label and a handy screwtop, all of which make it very accessible. However, there are several layers in the Cono Sur quality pyramid (or should that be quality cone?) which also deserve attention.
Constantly striving for improvements in quality led them to create a separate premium Pinot from a selected batch of their best grapes, handled in the most gentle and fastidious manner. As the volume made was only 20 barrels, that’s the name they used, and even though production has increased considerably, the name stuck. Ocio is their flagship Pinot which they created in conjunction with esteemed Burgundy winemaker Martin Prieur.
Now here is a Single Vineyard expression, from the San Antonio Valley, with two Antipodean-style names: “Block 21” indicated the particular plot it comes from, and “Viente Mar” (meaning Ocean Wind) gives you a clue as to its situation – close enough to the coast to be strongly influenced by cool coastal breezes, perfect to prevent the grapes from becoming jammy.
According to Cono Sur this spent 11 months in 100% French oak barrels, and there is a lick of vanilla on the palate, but the oak is already well integrated. Although it has plenty of acidity to balance the concentrated fruit, this would never be mistaken for Burgundy – but that’s no bad thing in my view, it’s just so damn drinkable! There are dense red and black fruits in play – it’s like fruits of the forest battling it out on your tongue.
The big brother Ocio is even more complex and concentrated, but this is one of the best €20 and under red wines I have tried this year.
I’ll cut to the chase: this is the best Chilean white wine I have ever tasted
A friend recently opened a random bottle of white wine which happened to be a Chilean Gewürz*, not the most common combination. On closer inspection of the label it was a ten year old Chilean Gewurz*! Fearing something old, possibly oxidised or just out of condition, a few sips revealed something wonderful: a well made, maturing, but far-from-over-the-hill, delicious white wine.
One of my mantras on wine is that most of us drink wine too young – particularly white wine – and this wine only serves to reinforce it.
Miguel Torres Chile is an offshoot from the Spanish Torres family who have been producing wine since the 19th Century. From the website:
Miguel A. Torres decided to begin the Chilean project on the advice of Alejandro Parot, a Chilean friend and classmate from his studies in Dijon (France).
Winemaking is ultra-clean and intended to have minimal impact on the finished wine:
No skin contact
No oak ageing
Bottled five months after picking
Notes on the latest vintage state that it is “an ideal match for shellfish (particularly oysters) and most fish dishes”. Without doing extensive vertical tastings I can’t argue against that, but I actually think the 2005 is far more versatile than the above suggests – quite possibly as a result of bottle ageing.
There’s texture and much more body than expected for a white. Acidity is still present but perfectly counterbalanced by the modest residual sugar (7.5g/L). The exotic tropical fruits of youth are now a little more subtle but still present and correct.
For Alsace fans such as myself, this wine was a revelation. Tasted blind, I wouldn’t have been shocked to hear it was from a big name Grand Cru producer such as Zind-Humbrecht.
I now need to work out how to collect more vintages of it…
*Note:in Germany Gewürztraminer has an umlaut, in Alsace they leave it off. I’ve tried to randomly represent both parties in this article. I’d like to think of myself as an equal opportunities speller.
So part one focused on Peter Lehmann’s Barossa gems and included a joke about hand gestures. Part two covered the wines of Lapostolle from Chile and Ochoa from Navarre, with a reference to Björk “It’s All So Quiet” (you all got that, right? right??)
Now part three will showcase a flight of Sauvignons, amongst others, and the disclosure of why this tasting wasn’t as silent as it should have been.
The Sauvignon Blancs
The first flight looks at some of the more memorable Sauvignon Blancs brought in by Comans.
McKenna Sauvignon Blanc 2013
This is an exclusive to Comans as it’s bottled especially for them by Undurraga. The name celebrates the historical connections between Ireland and Chile in the person of Irish-born Captain John Juan McKenna who played an important role in the rebellion of 1810. Take a few minutes to read the details in Tomas Clancy’s post here.
It’s unusual for me to recommend an inexpensive Chilean Sauvignon, but this is well made. You’d never mistake it for Marlborough, but if you find some of those too much then this is a little more restrained. The key word here is grapefruit – fruit sweetness but also acidity, making it tangy and refreshing.
Sablenay Touraine AOC Sauvignon Blanc 2012
In terms of bang for your buck, reliability and availability, it’s pretty hard to beat a Touraine Sauvignon. If I were drawing up a hypothetical restaurant wine list it’s the first thing I’d put on there.
This one has the typical grassy notes of a French Sauvignon, but also sweet tropical fruit and grapefruit. It’s much more expressive that your average Touraine, a better bet than a lower quality no-name Sancerre. Perfect for summer on the patio!
La Rochetais AOC Pouilly Fumé 2012
This is a lovely, pure, almost “Riesling-like” linear wine. It’s also an accessory to an embarrassing incident. Now as you know at pro tastings there’s no swallowing, everything is spat – if you want to taste several dozen wines and remain upright, never mind drive home afterwards, it’s the only way forward. Plus, not having so much alcohol in your bloodstream means your senses aren’t dulled and you can focus more on the tasting.
At the time of the tasting I was still recovering from a nasty chest infection – a colleague semi-seriously asked me if I had tuberculosis. Now imagine a sudden coughing fit when you’ve got a mouthful of Loire Sauvignon that you’re swilling round and trying to interpret. Instinct says spit now…but I wasn’t close to a spittoon, and so almost choked.
Thankfully the assembled members of the press were very kind and didn’t mock me which they would have been entitled to do. Though one kind gentleman did suggest I describe this wine as “one which took me breath away”.
My friends, even wine-tasting can be an extreme sport at times!
Château de Sancerre AOC Sancerre 2012
Forget own label Sancerres in the French supermarkets, this is the real deal.
The Château is owned by the Marnier-Lapostolle family who Chilean operation featured in Part Two. Both properties show the advantages of cooperation between winemakers from different areas; while the French influence can be seen in Lapostolle’s Sauvignon Blancs, for me there is a definite new world aspect to Château Sancerre – a roundness and suppleness to the fruit which make it caress the inside of your mouth.
The vineyards span four different soil types which, when blended intelligently, results in a complex yet focused wine.
Wither Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012
At the NZ Sauvignon Masterclass before the annual trade tasting this year, Kevin Judd et al. took us through how the marked differences in weather between 2012 and 2013 translated into markedly different flavour profiles. Since then I’ve found it remarkably easy to identify 2012s blind – much greener, especially asparagus, and less tropical notes.
This Wither Hills 2012 wasn’t tasted blind but the asparagus character came straight through (I like it, some don’t), but with a tangy grapefruit finish. Dare I suggest this would be amazing with an asparagus starter?
So what is this? It’s a premium, single vineyard Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. Given how many Chilean Sauvignons are around £6 / €10 it’s quite surprising to see a producer move upmarket. The first tasting note I wrote was “who’s just mowed their lawn” – it’s that distinctively grassy!
The grapes are sourced from a vineyard in Leyda Valley, which is only 9 miles / 14 km from the cooling Pacific Ocean. There are some great Pinot Noirs coming from that area, but that’s a story for another day. This 2013 vintage wine also belies its age – it has a smoother mouthfeel than one might expect from such a young wine.
So the key questions – is it a success? Is it worth the extra money? Right now I’d be happy to drink it, but I probably wouldn’t spend €24 of my own money in a wine merchants. However, I reckon this will actually evolve over the next few years, so I’d be very interested to taste an example with some more bottle age to see where it goes.
The Best Of The Rest
If you’re all Sauvignoned out, here are some of the other whites which stood out for me:
Dr L Riesling 2010
For those scared or wary of Riesling, Dr Ernst Loosen’s entry level bottling is a great place to start. It’s fairly simple, though it has enough acidity to evolve more complexity over a decade. It’s fresh and fruity with a touch of residual sugar, but it’s pleasant and balanced – so moreish!
Of course Dr L makes more profound and expensive Rieslings, but the true nature of the bargain is that you won’t feel like you’re missing out even if you’re a Rieslingphile.
I like Albariños on the whole, but my main beef with them is that they often don’t offer enough bang for the buck. Meet Salterio’s offering which is a great value example from Rias Baixas. It won’t be the best you’ve ever tasted but it’s remarkable at the price.
Protos Verdejo DO Rueda 2012
Not much to add here as I’ve recommended this Rueda several times before – it’s a cracker!
Muga Barrel Fermented White Rioja 2013
Rioja’s Viura (also Catalonia’s Macabeo) is a fairly neutral grape. By neutral, I mean thin and often lacking in flavour. This makes it a good base component for Cava, but can make for an uninspiring dry still white. The winemakers of Rioja have long used two main techniques to add interest to their whites – oxidisation and barrel ageing. As a personal preference I’m not yet a convert to oxidised styles, so such examples from Rioja leave me cold.
Happily for me, this Muga example is clean as a whistle and definitely worth a try. It has 10% Malvasia in the blend and was fermented in new French barriques. Maturation on the lees adds to the creamy texture, but it is tangy and fresh – a great example at a fairly modest price.
Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royal Brut NV
Good Cava and other traditional method sparklers are better than poor Champagne (the type you often see in the supermarkets at 50% off). But good Champagne holds its own, in my opinion.
This is an almost-equal-parts blend of the main Champagne grapes – Chardonnay for lemon and freshness, Pinot Noir for red fruit and body, plus the often unfairly maligned Pinot Meunier for white fruit and floral notes.
The Cuvée Royale has three years on the lees prior to disgorgement – far beyond the minimum for not vintage – and this is where the extra body and creaminess come from. It’s far better value than a special offer Champagne.
Not really. Continuing from part one’s look at Peter Lehmann’s Barossa offerings, we now turn to a major producer from Chile whose flagship white I am a big fan of, plus a Spanish Bodega I hadn’t heard of before making top quality traditional-style reds.
Going under the tagline “French in essence, Chilean by birth” the house (“casa” of course) of Lapostolle is a Chilean outfit owned by the French Lapostolle-Marnier family, famous for the Grand Marnier liqueur. Even before founding their Chilean outpost twenty years ago, the family was heavily involved in wine, particularly in the eastern Loire.
Regular readers will know that I really rate their Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay (in fact I made it one of my favourite whites of 2013), how does the rest of the portfolio stand up?
Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc 2012
This is not your bog-standard Chilean Sauvignon, which can sometimes even be made with the inferior Sauvignonasse (or as I like to call it, Sauvignonarse) grapes. For me this is where the French influence really shines though, it’s a great everyday-drinking bottle but would be fine to serve to guests at the weekend too.
Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay 2012
The baby brother of my favourite below, how does it compare? Well it tastes exactly like a junior version – gently toasted oak in the background and luscious tropical fruit in the mid-palate. Grapes are sourced from the Casablanca Valley, fermented in stainless steel and then matured for seven months in a mix of old and new French oak barrels. Bravo!
Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay 2011
Nectar of the gods! Melon and pineapple sing but grapefruit keeps it from getting out of hand. Plenty of acidity to keep it from getting flabby and low residual sugar giving a dry finish. The 2011 had 75% of whole cluster pressing and 25% of maceration into the press before fermenting. 50% was fermented in French barrels and 56% was aged in French barrels for 8 month (part news and part used) and 44% in stainless steel tanks. The wine didn’t go through malolactic fermentation which accounts for the strong streak of acidity.
Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
As any wine student will tell you, wines sold in the EU have to have a minimum of 85% of the stated varieties, and therefore don’t have to tell you about the other 15%. This Ribena-special Cabernet actually has 7% Carmenère, 3% Merlot, 3% Shiraz and 1% Cabernet Franc in the blend – and is probably all the better for it. Cabernet can have a great attack and great finish but be a bit hollow in the middle – it sometimes gets called the “doughnut grape”.
All the grapes are harvested by hand and fermented with the native yeasts of the area (the subject of a future geeky blog post). Maturation included six month in oak, 55% of the wine was aged in new barrels and the balance in second and third fill barrels. If you like this style of wine (which I do), this is a steal! Mint and chocolate really come through on the palate; tasted blind I might have guessed at my favourite red wine region of Coonawarra.
Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Whereas the baby brother Cabernet above was made from grapes grown in the Rapel Valley, the Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet was grown in Lapostolle’s Apalta Vineyard in the Colchagua Valley. Cabernet vines were planted here from imported French clippings in 1920 – makes a mockery of the term “New World”
The assemblage for 2011 was 88% Cabernet Sauvignon; 7% Cabernet Franc and 5% Syrah. It changes from year to year depending on how different parcels perform and hwo they work when blended together. The vineyard is certified Organic by CERES, if you pay attention to that sort of thing.
100% of harvesting is by hand, then triage is done partially (77%) by optical sorting machines and the remainder (23% for those who can’t count) is hand de-stemmed. Only wild yeasts are used for fermentation; this, and the relatively shaded nature of the vineyard mean that alcohol is a relatively sensible (for such a warm climate) 14%.
So how does it taste? It’s definitely a Cabernet, tannins are present and correct, but they are fine. It’s approachable now but needs several more years to blossom.
Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta 2008
This is Lapostolle’s flagship wine, one might even use the unloved term “icon wine”, with a price tag to match. Why is it so expensive, and is it worth the money?
The idea behind the wine is to use the best quality grapes available, give them the most painstaking manual treatment, and intervene with the winemaking process as little as possible. For example, the fruit is harvested by hand very early in the morning (so that temperatures are still fairly cool) and then stacked in small 14 kilos cases (so there’s less chance of grapes bursting and either spontaneously fermenting or spoiling. On arrival at the winery the grapes are 100% destemmed and sorted by hand.
After pressing, French oak fermentation vessels are filled by gravity which is the gentlest way to handle the must. The native yeast strains that arrived with the grapes are left to their own devices, apart from temperature control keeping a ceiling of 26C. Manual punch downs (as opposed to pumping over, for example) are used to extract colour, tannin and flavour from the macerating grapes over four to five weeks.
The juice is then racked into 100% new medium toast French oak barrels and left to go through malolactic fermentation. After 22 months maturation the wine is bottled by gravity “without any treatment or filtration” – I don’t know if this precludes a dose of sulphur at bottling or not, but it does mean no cold stabilisation.
You might have noticed that the grape variety is absent from the front of the bottle. The blend for 2008 was 73% Carmenère (Chile’s signature grape), 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. This is significantly different from year to year (another good reason not to put it on the front) – for example 2011 has only 57% Carmenère, 2009 has a dash of Petit Verdot (another minor Bordeaux grape).
And what is the result from all this care and expense? It’s a monumental wine, huge, powerful and packed with flavour. Keen tasters will notice the results of the heavy extraction process. Although we are now over six years from the 2008 harvest, this still needs a long time to unfurl and even out. If you want to try it now then I’d suggest several hours in a big decanter ahead of serving. Personally, I’d buy a case and forget about it for five years!
Still in the Spanish speaking world, we now head to Navarre in northern Spain. At one time considered part of the Basque Country, Navarre is now a separate autonomous community from an administrative point of view, sandwiched between the Basque country and La Rioja.
From a vinous point of view, it’s slightly more complicated as DOCa Rioja wine can include grapes from some parts of Navarre and the Basque province of Álava. DO Navarra is for wines made in the southern part of the autonomous community, principally in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Navarre used to be well known for its rosado wines, but now whites and especially reds are more common. With slightly more relaxed regulations than Rioja next door, international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are fairly common.
Ochoa are a crowd I hadn’t heard of before, but when looking at their website I learned that they are a family business who have been making wine for over six centuries – not newcomers then! They make three distinct ranges:
Javier Ochoa – traditional range created by the current head of the family 25 years ago
The following three wines are from the latter range.
Ochoa Tempranillo Crianza DO Navarra 2010
Made from 100% of the early-ripening Tempranillo, this has spent twelve months in 225 litre American oak barrels (the same size as Bordeaux’s barrique) – double the minimum of 6 months for a Crianza. The grapes come from the Santa Cruz estate in Traibuenas.
It’s full of voluptuous red fruit – cherry, strawberry, redcurrant, plus delicious vanilla from the oak. Ochoa give food matching suggestions of grilled meat, stews and cured cheeses, but to be honest it’s might fine drinking on its own.
Ochoa Reserva DO Navarra 2007
Now we have the Reserva level which means wines have to be aged for at least three years before release, of which at least one has to be in barrel. Ochoa go a little further and have a minimum of fifteen months in oak. As there’s a step up in quality and price, they also use more expensive French oak along with the American oak.
Rather than being a single varietal, the Reserva is a blend of Tempranillo (55%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) and Merlot (15%). The palate moves on from just red fruit to a blend of red and black – this makes perfect sense when it contains Cabernet. There’s also a touch of mocha which I reckon comes from the toasted French oak.
Ochoa Gran Reserva DO Navarra 2005
I tend to steer clear of Gran Reservas. I often find them far too woody and far too dry – a result of being aged for far too long in oak. Don’t get me wrong, I like oak if it’s done well – but if there isn’t the fruit to support it in the first place I will happily leave it to others.
The general rules for Spanish Gran Reservas require a total ageing of five years before release, of which at least eighteen months has to be in barrel, and thirty six years in bottle. Ochoa mature theirs in French and American oak for two years, and don’t filter, fine or cold stablilise to preserve as much of the flavour as possible.
The Gran Reserva is a Tempranillo – Cabernet – Merlot blend just as the Reserva was. It’s a step-up in intensity of flavour and body. Black fruit has almost totally replaced red fruit, and the mocha tones are right up front. It’s a gorgeous drop, and I don’t find it in the slightest bit “woody” – hurrah!
In Ireland, Lapostolle wines are stocked by (amongst others)