Tasting Events

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019 (part 1 – France)

Earlier this year, the biggest portfolio tasting on the Irish wine trade calendar – Liberty Wines Ireland – was, for a change, held at The Westbury Hotel.  I didn’t have anywhere near as much time as I’d have liked – given that there were close to 350 bottles open – but such is the quality on show that even a limited tasting throws up lots of wines that demand a recommendation.

To keep your attention I have broken the list up into several posts.  This first post covers French whites and reds, including Les Hauts de Milly which is new to Liberty.

Domaine des Ballandors Quincy 2018 (13.5%, RRP €24.99 at Baggot Street Wines; Clontarf Wines; www.wineonline.ie)

Domaine Ballandors Quincy

The new vintage is fantastic straight out of the blocks, unlike some Sauvignons which need a little time to settle down and find their poise.  This Quincy just has so much flavour; it’s an amazing Sauvignon Blanc with luscious green and yellow fruit that is a delight to drink, and tastier than many from famous neighbours Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.

Les Hauts de Milly Chablis 1er Cru “Côte de Léchet” 2016 (13.0%, RRP €39.99 at Egans Wines, Portlaoise and good independents nationwide)

Milly Chablis Lechet

Les Hauts de Milly is a new addition to the Liberty stable, and what a coup!  They have 27 hectares in Chablis (from Didier Defaix’s side of the family) and Rully (from his wife Hélène Jaeger-Defaix’s side).  Due to an extremely challenging harvest in Chablis in 2016 they lost their organic certification but are endeavouring  to regain it.

This Premier Cru Chablis  is made with grapes from 25 separate parcels in the Côte de Léchet vineyard.  It spent eight months of its maturation in a mix of stainless steel (75%) and one to six year old 228 litre oak barrels (25%).  With a mineral streak, plenty of acidity and citrus, it is recognisably Chablis, but such is the quality here that it transcends its northern origins and is truly a great white Burgundy.

Les Hauts de Milly Rully 1er Cru “Mont Palais” 2015 (13.5%, RRP €39.99 at good independents nationwide)

Milly Rully

Now to the other side of the family, with a Côte Chalonnaise from two plots within a single hectare Premier Cru vineyard, the Mont Palais.  The soils are clay and limestone, giving power and finesse respectively.  As was the case in much of Europe, 2015 was an excellent vintage in Burgundy and the warmth of the weather is reflected in tangy tropical notes.  Four years on from vintage it is absolutely singing, a very well put together wine.

Ch Larose Perganson Haut-Médoc 2014 (13.5%, RRP €35.99 at 64 Wine; Baggot Street Wines; Clontarf Wines; Hole in The Wall; Jus De Vine; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The Vintry; www.wineonline.ie)

Larose Perganson

The Larose Perganson 2010 was drinking beautifully last year, but as stocks of that vintage are depleted, the current 2014 is worth a try.  While 2014 wasn’t as stellar a year in Bordeaux as 2010 (as previously noted here) it was still very good.  As in the norm for Haut-Médoc reds, the blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (58%) and Merlot (40%) with just a little Petit Verdot (2%) for seasoning.  The body is only medium – no 15.0% fruit and oak monster here – but it has lots of nice, classic black fruit flavours, with a smoky edge.  The second wine Les Hauts de Perganson is around two thirds the price but for me it’s definitely worth paying the extra for the Fully Monty.

François et Fils Côte-Rôtie 2016 (13.0%, RRP €61.99 at 64 Wine; Thomas’s of Foxrock; www.wineonline.ie)

François et Fils Côte Rôtie

And so we meet again, a fine ambassador for the Rhône’s most northerly appellation.  Interestingly the François are primarily dairy farmers and cheese makers, with just four hectares of vines in Côte Rôtie.  The wine is silky (100%) Syrah, with aromas so lifted they are heavenly.  Sweet blackberries are tamed by fine tannins and a savoury edge.  A superior wine which lives up to its price tag.

Domaine Barge Côte-Rôtie “Côte Brune” 2015 (13.5%, RRP €78.99 at good independents nationwide)

Barge Côte Rôtie Côte Brune

Boom! (1) 2015 was a whopper in the Rhône, so even the more subtle AOCs received plenty of heat and sunshine, translating into powerful wines like this.  Big black fruit is matched by a big structure – tannin and particularly acidity – which stop it running away with itself.  5% Viognier helps to round the edges even further and adds floral aromas.  This is a hedonist’s delight at the moment, but will age gracefully for the next decade or so.

 

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019

  • Part 1 – France, Whites & Reds
  • Part 2 – Other whites
  • Part 3 – Old World Reds
  • Part 4 – New World Reds

 


(1) An excerpt from Private S. Baldrick’s poem, “The German Guns”

Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 1)

With apologies to Keats, autumn is the time when many light wines are forsaken and more substantial wines are poured in their stead, especially fruity and more generous reds.  Rhône Valley reds fit the bill perfectly!

This first part looks at some of the best northern Rhône reds, while part two will consider a selection from the southern Rhône.

Domaine Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2016 (13.0%, RRP €35.00 at SIYPS)

Domaine Graillot Crozes Hermitage

Crozes-Hermitage often lives in the shadow of Hermitage proper, both literally and quality wise.  There are often good value wines to be had but they can be disappointing compared to their big brother on the hill.  Domaine Graillot is an exception – an exceptional wine no matter how humble its origins.

This is a rich, dense, chewy wine full of black fruits, spice and tapenade savoury character.  It’s closer to a serious Saint-Joseph than any other Crozes I’ve tried!

Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin Côte Rôtie Champin Le Seigneur 2012 (13.0%, RRP €49.99 at JN Wine)

Gerin Cote Rotie

Côte Rôtie is the most northern of the northern Rhône’s eight crus and possibly the most famous.  It is also the origin of adding a dash of Viognier into Syrah to soften it and add floral aromas to the wine – a practice that has been followed in the new world, particularly South Africa.  Traditionally, the two grapes were planted together, then harvested and vinified together – extracting more from the Viognier skins than if they had been fermented as white wine and then blended in.

Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin was set up as recently as 1983 but the family has lived in Ampuis for six generations.  The first vines planted were in Côte Rôtie but the Domaine has since expanded beyond that appellation’s boundaries.  Champin Le Seigneur is the more affordable of Gerin’s Côte Rôtie wines, though obviously everything is relative!  With 5% Viognier added to the Syrah it has an ethereal quality – that indefinable lightness and sophistication that makes wine so special.

Cave de Tain “Grand Classique” Hermitage 2007 (13.0%, RRP €55.00 at O’Briens)

Cave de Tain Hermitage

From the only co-operative in Hermitage, this 2007 is absolutely à point, a perfect example of northern Rhône Syrah.  Relatively light, it still has some fine tannins and plenty of acidity – a fine structure.  There’s still plenty of fruit, too – both red and black – but also savoury notes which enhance its appeal.  Get yourself a thick piece of rib-eye steak and a super evening awaits.

Domaine Marc Sorrel “Le Gréal” Hermitage 1997 (13.0%, RRP €98.65 at Karwig Wines)

Marc Sorrel Hermitage

Those who have read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code book or seen the subsequent film may remember that “Le Gréal” is “The [Holy] Grail” which is possibly Marc Sorrel’s way of telling us that this wine is rather good – though more prosaically it is also a portmanteau of  Les Greffieux and Le Méal, two of the best plots from which grapes are sourced for this premium bottling.  Sorrel is a traditionalist, with mainly whole bunch fermentation in old oak, and his wines need some age before they are at their best.

The 1997 here has had plenty of time, but is still lively and has some years ahead of it.  10% Marsanne was added in the 1997 vintage (15% being the maximum per AOC regulations) which adds elegance.  There’s still power, but tempered by time, resulting in one of the smoothest wines known to man.

Restaurant Review, Tasting Events

Stanley, Andrew and Yves

Stanley's of St. Andrew's Street (Photo credit: Ruth Maria Murphy)
Stanley’s of St. Andrew’s Street (Photo credit: Ruth Maria Murphy)

In February I was delighted to accept an invitation to an exciting wine and food event at Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar on St Andrew’s Street in Dublin.  The wines were from Northern Rhône star Yves Cuilleron, which gives us a full house of names.

The wines were selected by Wine Director Morgan Vanderkamer and introduced by Yves himself.  As one of the few other French speakers I was given the honour of occasional interpreter.  The amazing menu was put together by proprietor & Head Chef Stephen McArdle (nickname Stanley!) who takes inspiration from French cuisine in particular.

Cave Yves Cuilleron

Yves Cuilleron
Yves Cuilleron at home

Yves elucidates the history behind his family vineyards on his website but, en bref, he took over the family vineyards when his uncle retired in 1987 – he surprised his relatives by throwing himself into the family business.  He has constantly innovated and invested since then, building a new cellar then later a new winery, and expanding his vineyards across most of the northern Rhône’s appellations.

Stone and earthworks
Stone and earthwork terrace to help stop soil erosion

For around ten years, Cuilleron wines have been brought into Ireland by Le Caveau.

Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar

Stanley’s has a wine bar on the ground floor, with a well-curated and interesting list by the bottle and by the glass.  Where else could you try a mini-flight of skin contact orange wines?

Stanley's Wine Bar
Stanley’s Wine Bar with super-quick barman

Upstairs is the main dining room – light and airy during the day but feeling more sophisticated in the evening.  The top floor has also been made available as a private dining room (no photos yet, it’s that new!)

Light feature
Light feature

The faux-military portraits are great talking points.

Portraits
Portraits – isn’t that….

So now we’ve set the scene and done a bit of a guided tour, down to business with the food and wine!

Canapés

Yves Cuilleron Marsanne IGP Collines Rhodaniennes 2012

Yves Cuilleron Marsanne
Yves Cuilleron Marsanne

This is a simple wine made to be drunk young, but is very approachable.  I was lucky enough (by virtue of my linguistics) to be able to taste the single bottle of 2012 available. There’s fresh peach and a hint of honey with a touch of breadiness from time on the lees.

Amuse Bouche
Yves Cuilleron Marsanne IGP Collines Rhodaniennes 2013

For his IGP wines, Yves tries to bring out the characteristics of the grape, which of course can be stated on the label for IGP wines but not for AOP wines.  Marsanne is often partnered with Roussanne in the northern Rhône but here it shines on its own.

Wild Irish rabbit, foie gras parfait, carrot, pistachio, pain d’epices
Yves Cuilleron AOP Cornas “Le Village” 2012

Yves Cuilleron Cornas “Le Village” 2012
Yves Cuilleron Cornas “Le Village” 2012

Cornas is a mono-cépage wine, i.e. it’s a 100% varietal under AOP regulations – and that variety is Syrah. Until relatively recently, Cornas wines were often rough round the edges, euphemistically termed “rustic”.  They needed time in the bottle to soften up, and you just had to hope that there was enough fruit left by then.

Yves’s Cornas is modern, clean and fruity, without being “manufactured”.  There’s power here but it’s from intensity of flavour rather than high alcohol.  Black cherry, blackberry and plum combine with tobacco and spice – the latter particularly hitting it off with the gingerbread.

When it comes to foodstuffs, some people can be funny buggers.  Unfortunately, I’m one of them – and rabbit is never on the menu in my house.  Out of respect for my hosts and fellow dinners I tried the dish – and was astounded!  I’ve been missing out on delicious things like this for years!  Bunny owners better put some good latches on your hutches!

Venison loin, cauliflower, apricot, truffle potato purée
Yves Cuilleron AOP Côte Rôtie “Madinières” 2009

Yves Cuilleron Côte Rôtie “Madinières” 2009
Yves Cuilleron Côte Rôtie “Madinières” 2009

Up to 20% Viognier is permitted in the red wines of this appellation, as long as the grapes are cofermented, though in practice it is rarely that high.  Traditionally Côte Rôtie is split between the Côte Brune in the north with dark, iron-rich schist and the Côte Blonde in the south with pale granite and schist soil.  Yves is more a believer in the importance of each vineyard’s aspect, i.e. which direction it faces.

2009 was a very good, warm vintage across much of France, including the northern Rhône.  This comes through in power, warmth and fruit – venturing more into the red fruit part of the spectrum than the Cornas.  There’s also both floral and savoury notes on the nose – sounds like quite a contradiction, but lovel – and an amazing match with the rich venison!

Extra mature Cashel blue, walnut toast, celery, salted caramel
Yves Cuilleron AOC Condrieu Moelleux “Ayguets” 2007

Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Moelleux “Ayguets” 2007
Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Moelleux “Ayguets” 2007

This is a sweet, Late Harvest style with some botrytis (noble rot).  The semi-dessicated grapes are hand-picked with several sorting stages from mid-October to mid-November, then pressed and left to settle.

It has around 100 g/L of residual sugar, but is soft and soothing without being cloying.  A simple rule of thumb for dessert wines is, does the acidity balance the sugar?  And in this case, undoubtedly yes!

As regular readers will know I’m far from a cheese fan myself, but I was told the Cashel Blue was lovely and went well with the Condrieu.  I can attest, however, that the latter was lovely with the salted caramel.

Mascarpone, white chocolate, pear
Yves Cuilleron Condrieu “La Petite Côte” 2013

Yves Cuilleron Condrieu “la Petite Côte” 2013
Yves Cuilleron Condrieu “la Petite Côte” 2013

This is the sort of wonderfully rich wine that a novice taster might think was sweet – it isn’t, but shows apparent sweetness due to abundant fruit and a slight oiliness in the mouth. It’s dry but not Sahara dry.

It was something of a bold selection – moving back to a dry wine to accompany dessert – but it worked because the dessert wasn’t super sweet, with acidity from the pear, and the honeyed notes from the wine.

Many thanks to Patrick, Stephen, Morgan and Yves for a fantastic evening!