When DNS Wine Club recently met to taste a few different Rieslings, two significant conclusions presented themselves:
Although Riesling can be very pleasant in the €15 – €20 bracket (in Ireland), it’s at €25+ where the wines start to be special
Despite normally being a 100% varietal, Riesling can taste incredibly different depending on where and how it is made.
Here are the three which really stood out:
Pewsey Vale The Contours Eden Valley Riesling 2010 (12.5%, €24.95 at The Corkscrew)
While the cool Clare Valley is celebrated as the home of most of Australia’s best Riesling, the higher parts of the Eden Valley are also favourable for the variety. Pewsey Vale winery can claim a number of firsts:
It was the first winery founded in (what is now) the Eden Valley in 1847
It was the first winery to plant Riesling in Australia (also in 1847)
It became the first winery in Australia to use the Stelvin screw cap closure in 1977
The Contours is Pewsey’s flagship single vineyard bottling that they only release five years after vintage as a “Museum Release” – so it already shows significant development. And that development shows most on the nose, an amazingly intense cocktail of toast, brioche, lime, sage and petrol. The palate is just a little less intense, but still beautiful.
Sipp Mack Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2011 (14.0%, €30.00 at Mitchell & Son)
As the DNS Wine Club had already held an Alsace tasting earlier in the year, and given my predilection for the region’s wines, I had intended not to include any Alsace wines in the Riesling tasting. However, I failed! As the Sipp Mack Vieilles Vignes Gewurztraminer showed so well previously I was minded to show the equivalent Riesling, but as stocks of that had not quite arrived in the shops from the docks I was “forced” to step up to the Grand Cru!
Of all the Rieslings we tried this had the highest alcohol at 14.0% – the Grand Cru sites get lots of sun (so the grapes develop lots of sugar) and Sipp Mack’s house style is to ferment until totally dry, so all the sugar is turned into alcohol. This Rosacker is super smooth, with appleand tangylimefruit plus chalky minerality. A profound wine.
Weingut Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Mosel Riesling Spätlese 2013 (8.0%, €29.95 at The Corkscrew)
The Mosel is considered by some to be the ultimate region for Riesling, with steep slate-laden vineyards running down to the river. Being relatively far north makes the ripening season longer and so flavours get even more chance to develop. While there is a modern trend toward dry Riesling, for me the beauty still lies in the traditional sweeter wines such as this Spätlese (literally “late harvest”.
Sonnenuhr literally means “sun-hour” or “sun-clock”, but is better translated as sundial! The significance seems to be that the prime south facing sites were the ones where a sundial would work so they made sure to advertise the fact.
Even before pouring it was obvious that this wine was different from the others with its golden hues. Residual sugar is not “volatile” meaning it can’t be detected by the human nose, but the aromas of honey, soft stone fruit and flowerswere phenomenal. I did see one taster look shocked on first sniffing this wine – it’s that good! Although quite sweet on the palate this Spätlese was perfectly balanced with zingy acidity.
All three of these wines were excellent, and well worth the price tags. I would be extremely happy drinking any of them and all were well received by the club, but by a narrow margin the Max Ferd. Richter was declared wine of the night!
And here’s the musical reference from the article title…
This is as close as I’ve ever come to a live blog…
This is the second in a series of festivals run in Dublin this year by Great Irish Beverages, and of course the most relevant to me. After a fantastic launch party last week, this week has five (5) days of interesting and exciting wine-related treats in bars, restaurants, wine merchants and hotels across the city.
So what’s the story?
By purchasing a €5 wristband here, you will receive a 30% discount on at least two festival wines at 32 Dublin bars and restaurants. And to keep things interesting, each venue is offering a unique ‘Dublin Wine Experience’ for the week of the festival. These range from food pairings and post-work aperitivos to wine-based cocktails, flights of wine and self-guided tastings.
To my shame, I didn’t manage to get to any venues on Monday or Tuesday, but I did pop my head into Ely Wine Bar on my way home today as I heard they have Riesling!
Apologies for rubbish photos, my smartphone doesn’t do well with low light:
With a Dublin Wine Fest wristband, a modest sum entitles you to a decent taste of four fantastic Rieslings at Ely’s Georgian Wine Bar. Monday was a flight of sparkling wines which I was gutted to miss
Castell d’Encus DO Costers del Segre Ekam Riesling 2009
Cool climate Riesling from the far north east of Spain (yes, Spain!) into the Pyrenees, with a dash of Albariño. Around 30% of the grapes have noble rot, but everything is fermented to dryness, leaving racy acidity and lots of body without the easy trick of leaving residual sugar. Would be amazing with all sorts of seafood or as an aperitif.
Sipp Mack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2009
From one of my favourite Alsace producers, this is something that I could sip in the sun all day. There may be a hint of sweetness here but it’s not a sweet wine – there are lemons and limes galore in there which keep everything fresh and zippy. Rosacker is one of the best of the best in Alsace, and this vineyard near Hunawihr is home to the wine regarded as the epitome of Alsace wine – Trimbach’s Clos Ste Hune – which would be in the region of €250 on a restaurant wine list.
Mount Horrocks Clare Valley Watervale Riesling 2012
Watervale is regarded as second in the Clare Valley subregions after Polish Hill, but for many people its wines are fruitier and more approachable. Amazingly for such a young wine, this had already started developing some diesel aromas, and was thoroughly delicious.
Weingut Max Fed. Richter Mosel Riesling Spätlese
The Mosel has a strong claim for the best Rieslings in the world. Vines on steep hillsides running down to the river have to be tended and harvested by hand, with several casualties every year. Being so far north means that, even if the grapes reach high enough sugar content, their acidity is on the high side. Traditional winemaking techniques advise leaving some sugar in the finished wine to offset the acidity, making for a refreshing but fruity wine.
My favourite? You’ve got to be kidding! They were all high quality, interesting wines. I’d love to try the same four again but with food…
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!!
Many of the producer tastings I’ve been at in the past year have been solely focused on red wines, but as I tend to drink much more white at home that hasn’t been such a hardship. Many of the retailer tastings have been very broad and included a few standout whites, so a few of those are included below.
I haven’t thought too deeply about the order of wines 10 down to 4, but the top 3 are definitely in order!
10. Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
All wines were wild ferment until a few decades ago, but cultured yeast is now the norm for mass produced wines – it’s more reliable and predictable in terms of fermentation performance, flavours and alcohol levels. Wild yeast can often give wilder, but more interesting flavours.
This Greek Assyrtiko from O’Briens is included because it’s just so different from anything else I tasted in the year – it really brings the funk!
9. Bruno Sorg Alsace Grand Cru Pfersigberg Pinot Gris 2010
One of my favourite Alsace producers, Bruno Sorg have a broad range of varietals at different quality levels, and all are excellent for the price tag. From near their home in Eguisheim this Grand Cru Pinot Gris is silky and rich, off-dry without being sweet, textured without being stuffy. I did try some other countries’ Pinot Gris offerings, but Alsace is still where it’s at in my book.
8. Eric Texier Opâle 2012
This ethereal Mosel-style Rhône white stood out for me at The Big Rhône Tasting at Ely– partly because it was so different from the (delicious) Rhône reds, but mainly because of its sheer audacity and brilliance.
This should be drunk in small sips from a small glass, perhaps with company, but once you taste it you won’t want to share!
7. Schloss Gobelsburg “Lamm” Grüner Veltiner Reserve, Kamptal, 2010
The only white varietal tasting I went to all year was Austria’s signature grape Grüner Veltiner. The biggest surprise for me was not the excellent quality, it was the versatility of the grape – it’s such a chameleon, depending on where and how it’s made.
The Lamm Reserve was my overall favourite from the tasting at Wine Workshop – and perhaps it’s no coincidence given my proclivity for Pinot Gris that I preferred an example of Grüner which somewhat resembles Pinot Gris.
6. Dog Point Section 94 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is so ubiquitous on our shelves that it’s often taken for granted, ignored for being old hat or dismissed after tasting the poorer examples churned out at a discount in supermarkets. Even if you are a little bored of regular Savvy, there are alternatives, as I posted back in 2013.
A big differentiator of the alternative Marlborough Sauvignons is that they can age gracefully for several years, becoming more complex and interesting; many regular SBs shine very brightly in the year they are harvested then fade quickly.
And so I was lucky enough to taste the 2010 vintage of Dog Point’s Section 94 at the James Nicholson Xmas Tasting. Dog Point don’t make a duff wine, they range from very good to amazing – and this was now firmly in the latter class.
5. Rolly Gassmann Alsace Planzerreben de Rorschwihr Riesling 2008
A bin-end special from The Wine Society that turned out to be sublime, if difficult to pronounce. Rolly Gassmann is a renowned producer of Alsace and I had hoped to visit on my last trip there, but it wasn’t to be (too many great wineries, too little time!)
Thankfully this Riesling magically transported me to the hills of Rorschwihr. It’s just off-dry, balancing the racy acidity and lifting the fruit. At six years from vintage it had started to develop some really interesting tertiary notes – but it must have the best part of a decade still to go. I doubt my other bottle will last that long!
4. Man O’War Valhalla Waiheke Island Chardonnay 2010
This is one of the wines that was open at several different tastings during the year, but despite having a few bottles in at home I always had a taste, it’s just that good. Not exactly a shy and retiring type, this Chardonnay has loads of tropical fruit, with a little bit of candied pineapple among the fresh.
It’s well oaked, both in the sense of quantity and quality. Chablis lovers might look elsewhere, but Meursault lovers might change allegiance. A perennial favourite.
3. Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2008
Jeffrey Grosset is the King of Australian Riesling. I bought a case of the Polish Hill Riesling with the same vintage as my son, with the intention of drinking a bottle on (or around) his birthday for the next decade or so. This bottle is a few years older, and a few years wiser – the difference in development is noticeable.
Petrol, Diesel, Kerosene – whatever your petroleum spirit of choice, the 2008 has it nicely developing, though the steel backbone of acidity will keep it going for many a year.
2. Shaw + Smith M3 Vineyard Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2012
I was lucky enough to taste Shaw + Smith’s seminal Chardonnay several times during 2014 – with the good folks of Liberty Wines at their portfolio tasting, a bottle with a stunning meal at Ely Bar & Brasserie, and a glass in a small flight of Chardonnays at Ely Wine Bar.
The King Is Dead, Long Live The King! Another wine I tried for the first time as part of the flight of Chardonnays at Ely Wine Bar, this is perhaps the Californian Chardonnay. After all, in beating some of Burgundy’s best Chardonnays in the Judgement of Paris it really put California on the maps as a producer of top level whites.
And as much as I wanted my beloved M3 to be the best, Montelena eclipsed it for 2014. Even as a young wine it is very approachable but with so much depth. It’s the sort of wine you could happily taste the same vintage of over several decades.