Opinion

O’Briens Fine Wine Sale 2019

The Irish off-licence chain O’Briens has various promotions on throughout the year, but probably the most eagerly awaited is the annual Fine Wine Sale.  This year it runs from Monday 9th to Sunday 15th December.  Below are the wines I’d be snapping up this year.  Note that I haven’t necessarily tried the vintage stated of each wine, but I have tasted them often enough over the years to comfortably recommend them.

Gaia Santorini Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2016 (13.0%, €24.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)

Gaia-Assyrtiko-Wild-Ferment

I have previously written about the 2013 and 2016 vintages of this wine as well as its younger brother Monograph, and tasted it many times in between; it remains one of my favourite “mid-priced” white wines available in Ireland.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough  Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (13.0%, €35.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)

Cloudy-Bay-Sauvignon-Blanc

An iconic wine at a very reasonable price!  I recently tried the 2017 (which was maturing nicely) and the 2019 which, for such a young wine, was surprisingly settled and ready to go

Julien Brocard Chablis La Boissoneuse 2018 (12.5%, €29.95 down to €25.95 at O’Briens)

Brocard-La-Boissoneuse-Organic

The 2017 vintage was #1 in my Top 10 Whites of 2019 so any reduction in price of this fantastic organic, biodynamic Chablis makes it worth snapping up!

Chanson Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2017 (12.5%, €34.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)

Chanson-Chablis-1er-Cru-Montmains

Chanson has been part of the Bollinger group for two decades and produces consistently good wines.  This Montmains is an excellent Premier Cru and while delicious now, deserves another five years or so before being opened.

Man O’War Waiheke Island Valhalla Chardonnay 2017 (14.5%, €32.95 down to €28.95 at O’Briens)

Man-O_War-Valhalla-Chardonnay

I wrote about the 2010 vintage (in 2014) the 2011 (in 2016) and the 2016 (earlier this year) and loved them all.  This is a fairly full on Chardonnay which will please those who like bold wines – and that includes me.

L’Ostal Cazes Minervois La Livinière Grand Vin 2015 (14.5%, €23.95 down to €20.95 at O’Briens)

L_Ostal-Cazes-Grand-Vin

The JM Cazes family who have long owned Lynch Bages in Bordeaux have spread their interests to the Rhône and Languedoc, amongst other places.  In my not-so-humble-opinion this Minervois La Livinère is the best value wine in their portfolio.

Château Franc-Maillet Pomerol 2015 (13.5%, €48.00 down to €42.00 at O’Briens)

Ch_teau-Franc-Maillet

The 2014 of this wine was very good, so the even better vintage of 2015 is definitely worth a shout.  This wine is worthy of a place on my Christmas dinner table, so it’s definitely worthy of yours, too!

Sierra Cantabria Rioja Gran Reserva 2008 (14.0%, €32.95 down to €23.95 at O’Briens)

Sierra-Cantabria-Gran-Reserva

If you like Tempranillo-based wines but tend to favour Ribero del Duero, this a Rioja house which can match the black fruited savoury wines from there.  I have previously tried the 2010 Crianza which was great, but a Gran Reserva from 2008 should be even more of a stunner!

d’Arenberg  McLaren Vale Dead Arm Shiraz 2015 (14.6%, €54.95 down to €44.95 at O’Briens)

d_Arenberg-Dead-Arm-Shiraz

While Penfolds Grange prices have rocketed off into the stratosphere, here’s an iconic Aussie wine that is (relatively) more affordable – and approachable at a younger age, too, though if you manage to keep your hands away it will last for a decade or two.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (13.8%, €80 down to €68 at O’Briens)

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 3

The (virtual) ink has only just dried on my review of the 2012 vintage of this wine but it’s already included in the fine wine sale.  If you want to treat yourself for Christmas (2019 or 2029) then this is a great bet!

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Dog Point Chardonnay [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #27]

Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blanc is known throughout the wine drinking world and is the key export variety for New Zealand.  Although Pinot Noir is regarded as the next in line, for me Chardonnay is Aotearoa’s best grape, making excellent examples in nearly every Kiwi wine region.  Acidity is generally quite prominent, even after MLF, as this is mainly a cool climate country.  Here’s a bottle I tried recently with a bit of age on it:

Dog Point Vineyard Marlborough Chardonnay 2012 (13.5%, RRP €36.50 (2016/7 vintages) at Blackrock Cellars, Baggot St Wines, Donnybrook Fair, The Corkscrew, jnwine.com)

Dog Point Chardonnay

I recently did an article on Cloudy Bay and mentioned that the head winemaker for many years was Kevin Judd.  As the company grew they took on more staff in the vineyard, in the winery and back office functions such as marketing.  Two of the winemaking team – Ivan Sutherland and James Healy – eventually decided to branch out and set up by themselves.

With the support of their wives Margaret and Wendy (respectively) they launched their 2002 vintage in early 2004.  They gradually expanded their range and make several different wines, including the excellent and age-worthy Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc (I tried the 2010 in 2014).

Interestingly, when Kevin Judd himself founded Greywacke later the same decade, he got agreement from his old colleagues at Dog Point to use their winery facilities.

At seven and a half years from vintage, this bottle is much older than most you will see around on the shelves in wine merchants; many have the 2016 or even 2017 vintages of the Chardonnay available (I bought this bottle from my old haunt Sweeney’s of Glasnevin which closed this summer.)  It has a very yeasty, toasty nose – possibly because of lees work while maturing.  The funk continues onto the palate where it is joined by soft citrus, pineapple and hints of stone fruit.  Trademark NZ acidity is still present to prevent the wine from being at all flabby.

This 2012 is probably at its peak and ready to decline gently, so I would not keep it for much longer if I had another bottle, but it’s drinking beautifully now.  If you buy a younger vintage, try keeping it a while (if you can keep it well) to see how it evolves.

 

Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #24]

Now part of New Zealand wine folklore, Cloudy Bay Vineyards was set up at the beginning of the Marlborough gold-rush (grape-rush?) in 1984 by David Hohnen.  Hohnen was no stranger to innovation as he had set up the pioneering Cape Mentelle in Margaret River in 1970.  As he was based in Western Australia, he recruited fellow Australian Kevin Judd to actually make the wines.

Cloudy Bay was one of the main producers which put Marlborough Sauvignon on the world map of wine, and such was demand that it often outstripped supply – it was frequently only available from merchants on allocation.  Over the years as other vineyards were established, Cloudy Bay was able to increase its supply of grapes but also had more competitors in the market.  Perhaps due to the expertise of luxury goods company LVMH who acquired it in 2003, Cloudy Bay has still managed to command a price premium over all its direct competitors.

Although hardly cheap at €35 and upwards in Ireland, the “straight” Sauvignon Blanc is one of the least expensive wines of the Cloudy Bay range.  The other include non-vintage and vintage sparkling Pelorus (which we had served for the toast at our wedding), Pinot Noirs from Marlborough and Central Otago, the excellent Chardonnay and a barrel-fermented wild yeast Sauvignon called Te Koko.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (13.1%, €35 – €42, stockists below)

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (1)

The 2019 vintage was released in Ireland at the beginning of November, so this is a very young wine, but awkward and angular it is not.  It has an unmistakably Marlborough Sauvignon nose with intense citrus and tropical fruits.  They are joined on the palate by juicy grapefruit and gooseberry.  There is plenty of acidity, but it presents as mouthwatering freshness and zip rather than being strong enough to make you wince. There’s a certain roundness and texture which is absent from many other Savvies. Hating on Sauvignon is quite common nowadays, but I think this wine is good enough to win plenty of converts.

Conclusion

Thirty years on, Cloudy Bay is still at the top of the pile – though its price reflects the renown of its brand as much as the quality of the wine.

Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Gibney’s, Malahide;  Londis, Malahide; Sweeneys D3, Fairview; Martin’s, Fairview; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 2; Deveney’s, Dundrum; Higgins, Clonskeagh; Redmond’s Ranelagh; Mitchell’s, Glasthule & CHQ; Blackrock Cellars; Donnybrook Fair; On the Grapevine, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Bradley’s, North Main St, Cork; 1601 Kinsale; Wine Centre, Kilkenny; McCambridge’s, Galway; World Wide Wines, Waterford.

Disclosure: sample provided for review, opinions remain my own.

Opinion, Tasting Events

Fine Time (Part 1 – NZ & Australia)

There are few words that bring joy to a winelover’s ears as much as “fine wine sale”.  Below are some of the Kiwi and Aussie wines included in Irish chain O’Briens’ fine wine sale that I have tried and enjoyed this year.  I will leave the discussion on what constitutes “fine wine” for another day!

Note: links now added as O’Briens have also taken the fine wine sale online.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (13.1%, €33.95 down to €26.95 at O’Briens)

cloudy bay sauvignon blanc

The one Savvy to rule them all – Cloudy Bay brought Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to international attention and acclaim, for a while it sat alone at the top of the tree. Nowadays it has company – not least Greywacke, made by Cloudy Bay’s founding winemaker Kevin Judd, and Dog Point, also made by former CB winemakers.

But it’s in difficult vintages such as 2017 where the premium labels really earned their stripes; lots of grey rot was present in the grapes of bulk producers – a byproduct of being paid for quantity over quality – so the careful selection and sorting of upmarket producers like Cloudy Bay made a huge difference to the finished wine.  This is so much smoother and less aggressive than everyday Marlborough Sauvignon that it’s almost like a different wine!

Man O’War Dreadnought Waiheke Island Syrah 2014 (14.6%, €35.45 down to €26.95 at O’Briens)

man-o-war-dreadnought-syrah-2014

Man O’War’s nautically named Flagship range always go down a treat chez moi – and they are indeed a treat, especially the Valhalla Chardonnay.  Here we have their Dreadnought Syrah, perhaps a little riper and fuller-bodied than the Syrahs of Hawke’s Bay, but still recognisably Kiwi.  Black fruit and blueberries are framed by oak (though now integrating well) and tannins (present but ripe).  A fantastic wine!

St Hallett Old Block Barossa Shiraz 2014 (13.7%, €60.00 down to €48.00 at O’Briens)

St-Hallett-Old-Block-Shiraz-2014

Whereas the Dreadnought above is unmistakably Kiwi, this is unmistakably Barossa.  In fact the fruit is sourced from two sub-regions of the Barossa Zone, the Barossa Valley proper (62%) and the slightly cooler Eden Valley (38%) just to the east (note the ABV is a fairly moderate 13.7%.)  And “Old Block”?  That means OLD, with a minimum vine age for the 2014 of 80 years.  The result is a fabulous, concentrated wine with vibrant red and black berry fruit and fine tannins.

d’Arenberg Dead Arm McLaren Vale Shiraz 2015 (14.5%, €54.95 down to €43.95 at O’Briens)

dArenberg Dead Arm Shiraz

Another iconic Aussie Shiraz, this time from McLaren Vale which is a short way south of Adelaide and a few clicks inland from the sea.  Cheeky chappie Chester Osbourne is still the head winemaker of this family firm, but despite the loud shirts and outgoing personality he really knows his stuff (the 2002 Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon was my top red of 2017.)   Intense red, purple and black fruit dominate the palate – this will be at its best in the years to come, but drinkable now, especially if decanted.

Also see my French picks in part 2