Pepe Mendoza makes fascinating wines in his home region of Alicante. To understand the wines we must first understand the region and the man himself. We will look at the range of wines he makes followed by tasting notes of one of them.
Where is Alicante? I wouldn’t have been able to place it accurately on a (blank) map, so here’s an annotated map:
Alicante wine comes from the province of the same name in south eastern Spain. As you can see on the outline map above (Credit: Té y kriptonita), there are two separate and distinct sub-regions:
Vinalopó which follows the banks of the river of the same name
La Marina which is a newer, smaller region by the coast
Monastrell is the major grape planted in Alicante – especially in the more developed and warmer Vinalopó – as it is in other wine regions in this part of Spain. A long-standing speciality of the area is Fondillón wine, a late-harvest red wine which is left in barrel for extended periods – similar to the way that Tawny Port is matured, though Fondillón is not fortified.
La Marina is cooler and has more rainfall, and so is more suitable for white grapes – Moscatel is prevalent.
Another historical wine style which was once more common is Brisat wines, i.e. skin-contact wines made using amphoras.
Señor Pepe Mendoza
José (Pepe) Mendoza grew up learning about vines and winemaking in his father’s eponymous firm Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, founded in 1989. Pepe was closely involved in the vineyard and the winery, then the overall running of the family firm with his younger brother Julian. In addition to this large concern – it covers 500 hectares and produces 250,000 bottles annually – Pepe and his wife Pepa Agulló also founded their own boutique operation Casa Agrícola.
From the beginning of 2021 Pepe stepped away from the family firm to concentrate on Casa Agrícola and a new consultancy business – Uva Destino – aimed at helping “vineyards that strive to express themselves”.
Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola Wine Range
There are four distinct wine ranges within the Casa Agricola portfolio:
These are Pepe’s entry level wines which blend local varieties and are designed to be fresh but easy drinking:
Paisaje Mediterraneo Blanco: Moscatel 40%, Macabeo 40%, Airén 20%
Paisaje Mediterraneo Tinto: Monastrell 70%, Giró 25%, Alicante Bouschet 5%
Single Varietal wines
There is currently just one wine in this range:
Pureza Moscatel Anfora:100% Moscatel (see below)
These are also single varietal wines but made with grapes sourced from a single terroir, one which allows the variety to thrive:
Giró de Abargues:100% Giró from Marina Alta
El Veneno Monastrell:100% Monastrell from Alto Vinalopó
Small Production wines
These are experimental wines which act as an R&D lab for Pepe to try out new styles:
Mares de Luz Coupaje: a blend of Monastrell from Vinalopo and Giró from Marina Alta
Giró-Gironet Ánfora Velo Flor: 2 different Giró clones fermented under a veil of flor
Blanc Brisat Moscatel “La Solana”: a 100% Moscatel skin contact wine aged in amphoras
Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola Pureza Moscatel Anfora 2019
The vineyard where the grapes for this wine are sourced from is only two hectares in area and was planted in 1943. It is farmed without irrigation and according to organic principles but is uncertified. Wine making takes an additive-free approach: yeast is indigenous and there are no enzymes, acid, sugar or other additives used.
The grape variety used is 100% Moscatel de Alejandría (Muscat of Alexandria) which is common all across the Mediterranean. It is sometimes regarded as inferior to other Muscats – principally Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains – but in the right setting it can deliver very good wines.
The juice is fermented on skins in amphoras of 220, 250 and 350 litres, with macerations two to three times a day. After alcoholic fermentation of around ten days, the wine is matured in the same amphoras for six months, without lees stirring, then in bottle for a further five.
Although classed by some as an “orange” or “amber” wine, this is more of a deep lemon colour. The nose shows grapes as expected from a Muscat, but also orange blossom and citrus peel. When tasted, at first it shows delicacy and poise, dancing on the tongue. There’s a fleshy sweetness to the mid palate, but this is followed up by some grippy tannins and an oh-so-dry finish.
This is a highly individual and unusual wine, completely out of the mainstream. It’s not one I would drink regularly on its own – it would surely blossom even more with food – but it’s very well done and deserves consideration for a wine which activates your senses and stimulates your brain.
Stockists: The Wine Pair; Higgins Off-Licence; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The Corkscrew; Sweeney’s D3; Deveney’s Dundrum; SC Grocer Monkstown
Source: media sample
Other Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola wines available in Ireland
In addition to the Pureza Moscatel Anfora, the following Pepe Mendoza wines are available in Ireland:
Paisaje Mediterraneo Blanco 2019 (RRP €24.95) Stockists: Avoca; Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Deveney’s Dundrum; Sweeney’s D3; McHughs; SC Grocer Monkstown; The Wine Pair; Thomas’s Foxrock.
Paisaje Mediterraneo Tinto 2019 (RRP €24.95) Stockists: Avoca; Baggot St Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Deveney’s Dundrum; Sweeney’s D3; McHughs; Mitchell and Son.
El Veneno Monastrell 2018 (RRP €43.95) Stockists: Avoca; D-Six Off-Licence; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The Corkscrew; Sweeney’s D3; Deveney’s Dundrum
When it comes to naming New Zealand’s wine regions, the significant region which is most often forgotten or overlooked is North Canterbury, close to the major city of Christchurch on the South Island. North Canterbury includes the sub-region of Waipara which is more often seen on wine labels (though not to be confused with Wairarapa which is at the bottom of the North Island and includes Martinborough). I’m not sure why Canterbury is overlooked – perhaps because it doesn’t specialise in Sauvignon Blanc? – but some great wines are made here.
Not too dissimilar to Marlborough which is further north on the South Island, Waipara is situated in the rain- (and wind-) shadow of the Southern Alps and is close to the sea, giving temperate summers with cool nights and dry autumns which allow grapes to achieve full phenolic ripeness as their own pace. The most important varieties here are Riesling and Pinot Noir, though other aromatic whites and Chardonnay also do well.
To show how the terms can be used interchangeably, note that the sign above mentions Waipara whereas the website banner states “Fine North Canterbury Wine” under “Pegasus Bay”
Background to Pegasus Bay
It started with a doctor reading a book. The doctor was Neurologist Ivan Donaldson and the book was one of Hugh Johnson’s wine books, “Wine”, given to him by his then girlfriend Christine. The book lit a fire within him; he journeyed round many of Europe’s well-established wine regions, and on his return he planted Canterbury’s first vines in 1976. This first vineyard was in Mountain View, just south west of Christchurch, and was very experimental in nature. Ivan managed to fit in his wine hobby in between hospital and private consulting work.
Almost a decade later, Ivan and Chris decided to make the jump from a hobby to a proper enterprise. By now they had four sons, so it was a combined family effort to plant vines in the Waipara Valley. They named their winery Pegasus Bay after the large bay running from the City of Canterbury up to the mouth of the Waipara River.1
The first vintage was 1991 which Ivan made in his garage. The family gradually expanded the winery, cellar door, restaurant and gardens. All four sons are now involved in the winery, with the eldest – Matthew, a Roseworthy graduate – being chief winemaker. As well as estate wines under the Pegasus Bay label the Donaldsons also make Main Divide wines from bought in fruit.
Pegasus Bay Wine Styles and Philosophy
In a nutshell, Pegasus bay wines have something of a Burgundian sensibility but they reflect Waipara and the vintage in which they are made. In a interview that Ed Donaldson gave for the Wine Zealand Project2 in 2016 he expounds the family’s philosophy:
So what drives us is – hopefully – making better wine all the time
One of the advantages [we have is that] my brother Matt’s taken over the winemaking so he has a lot of time to experiment, and to tweak, and to change, and see the wines age, and the vines getting some vine age, and just seeing what works and what doesn’t work, and continually trying to evolve and make better wine.
Our winemaking style is to be true to ourselves, not trying to emulate anything. We have a lot of respect for the old world and its wine styles. We as a family drink a lot of wine from all over the world but we’re not necessarily trying to emulate them, we’re trying to make the best example of what we think expresses the region and the season as best we can. Trying not to follow trends, we try to make the best wine we can and find a home for it.
We’ve been members of the Sustainable Winegrowers Programme pretty much since its inception, and we make wine as naturally as possible.
Pegasus Bay Wine Ranges
There are two main ranges, Estate and Reserve. The Estate wines are (obviously) made only with their own fruit, and although they are perhaps the junior wines in the Pegasus Bay portfolio they are not what you or I would call “entry level”, which has connotations of lower quality, simpler wines for drinking very young. Make no mistake, the Estate wines are seriously good.
The Reserve range is a significant step up again, in both quality and corresponding prices. This range includes two botrytis sweet wines; a Semillon Sauvignon blend reminiscent of Sauternes and a Riesling which evokes the Rhine. The Reserve wines are named with an operatic theme as Chris Donaldson is an opera devotee.
The Vengence range has just two experimental wines whose composition varies from year to year. They are totally different in style from the main two ranges; they are fun and quirky rather than being serious. They give the winemakers the opportunity to play around with different vineyard and winery choices that they couldn’t just jump into with the main ranges.
Reserve: Bel Canto Dry Riesling, Aria Late Picked Riesling, Virtuoso Chardonnay, Prima Donna Pinot Noir, Maestro Merlot/Malbec, Encore Noble Riesling, Finale Noble Semillon Sauvignon
Vergence: Vergence White (Semillon blend), Vergence Red (Pinot Noir)
Wines in bold are reviewed below
Pegasus Bay Chardonnay 2017
As with most of Pegasus Bay’s vines, this Chardonnay is harvested from vines which are mainly ungrafted. The vines now average 30 years old and are planted on rocky soils which are free draining and low in fertility. These facts all lead to lower yields but with concentrated flavours. The climate is warm, rather than hot, yet with cool nights, so the growing season is long.
I mentioned above that there’s a Burgundian sensibility to Pegasus Bay wines, but in the case of this Chardonnay the winemaking is definitely Burgundian in nature. Multiple passes were made to hand harvest the fruit at optimum ripeness. The grapes were whole bunch pressed then transferred to 500 litre oak barrels, 30% new and 70% used. Spontaneous fermentation took place in these puncheons and the young wine was left to mature on its lees over winter and spring. Malolactic fermentation started naturally into the summer months, with the winemaking team halting it based on regular tasting to get the balance between fresh malic and round lactic acids.
When poured this Chardonnay is a normal lemon colour. On the nose there are citrus fruits but they initially take a side seat to outstanding “struck-match” reductive notes. There are also soft yellow fruits and a stony mineral streak. The palate is magnificent, a really grown up Chardonnay that balances fruit, tanginess, minerality, freshness, texture and roundness. This is one of the most complete Chardonnays I’ve had the pleasure of trying in many years.
Stockists: Donnybrook Fair, Donnybrook; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.
Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 2016
This 2016 pours a medium intensity ruby red, consistent across the glass. The nose has lots of fruit, more black than red; the black fruits appear at first (blackberry and black cherry) but gradually cede attention to red (red cherry and pomegranate). Enticing savoury notes and spice complete the olfactory picture. It’s a very sophisticated and complex nose that deserves – nay demands – frequent revisits.
The palate is savoury and fruity in taste. Those same black fruits come to the fore but with black liquorice and black olive counterpoints, Fine grained tannins and acidity provide a fantastic structure, but this is a supple and sappy wine, not austere.
The alcohol is little higher than we usually see in a Pinot Noir, but the 14.5% does not stick out at all when tasting. This is a well-balanced wine, albeit a powerful one. When it comes to food pairing, Pinot Noir is often matched with mid level meats such as veal or pork – and to be fair this would be excellent with charcuterie – but this has the weight and intensity to match well with game, lamb or even beef.
Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule; World Wide Wines, Waterford: The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Donnybrook Fair, Donnybrook; La Touche Wines, Greystones; D-Six, Harolds Cross
Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling 2008
Pegasus Bay have four Rieslings in their portfolio, as befitting a top Waipara producer:
The Estate Riesling is produced every year
The Bel Canto (Reserve) Dry Riesling has a little botrytis and is made in two out of every three years, depending on vintage conditions
The Aria (Reserve) Late Picked Riesling is a late harvest style that often has a small proportion of Botryis grapes and is made roughly one on two years, vintage dependent
The Encore (Reserve) Noble Riesling is only made with fully botrytised berries, often requiring multiple passes, and of course when there are sufficient grapes in a particular vintage.
Only in very exceptional years such as 2008 and 2014 are all four styles made. The Riesling vines are on a rocky outcrop which has warm days but very cool nights, helping to maintain acidity and thus preserve freshness.
As the pure botrytis (and therefore sweetest) Riesling in their range, Pegasus Bay liken it in style to a Séléction de Grains Nobles (SGN) from Alsace or a Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) from Germany. When harvested the grapes are totally shrivelled and so produce a very small amount of juice – but such luscious juice! After clarification the juice is allowed to ferment naturally; when the yeast finishes its task there is plenty of residual sugar, though the precise figure is not published.
On the nose it’s instantly identifiable as Riesling, but with honey and tropical fruits to the fore. In addition to the pineapple, mango and grapefruit there are also hints of mushroom. The palate is beautiful but perhaps confounding for the uninitiated – it’s rich and sweet yet full of acidity, giving your palate a smorgasbord of experiences. The finish is amazingly long.
At 13 years of age this bottle has had plenty of development, possibly rounding off the acidity slightly while also tapering the apparent sweetness to some degree (the mechanism for which is not yet understood). It still has plenty of life left though – it could easily keep to the end of this decade.
RRP: €35 for 2016 vintage (375ml bottle)
Stockists: currently no retail stockists, but available in some restaurants
Source: own cellar
Other Pegasus Bay Wines available in Ireland
In addition to the three wines reviewed above there are three further Pegasus Bay wines available in Ireland
Sauvignon / Semillon: RRP €29, Stockists: Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; The Corkscrew; Jus De Vine, Portmarnock
Bel Canto Dry Riesling: RRP €35, currently no retail stockists, but available in some restaurants
Prima Donna Pinot Noir: RRP €75, Stockist: The Wine House, Trim
Frankly Wines and Pegasus Bay
Now, those who follow me on Instagram may realise that I live in the Dublin suburb of Glasnevin, also home to the National Botanic Gardens, the Irish Met office and the large Glasnevin cemetery. It was therefore a huge surprise when, while touring New Zealand on honeymoon, we suddenly realised that we were driving through Glasnevin, Canterbury. And where was our first stop? Pegasus Bay, of course!
1Ironically Pegasus Bay was originally known as “Cook’s Mistake” – I’m glad I didn’t find that out on my honeymoon!
When particular wines become a commodity it can be hard for quality producers to sell their wines for a price that reflects their efforts and costs. One rule of thumb is that, if there is a “Tesco Finest” example of a wine then it’s already close to a commodity. Two principal ways of overcoming this barrier are:
Brand marketing is expensive and really only worthwhile to large scale producers. These producers will often have distinct quality levels among their wines. Brancott Estate and Villa Maria of New Zealand spring to mind.
By “stand-out quality” I mean that a producer who focuses on improving quality year on year may – eventually – be sought out as one of the best examples of their particular wine. One example is Villa des Crois Picpoul de Pinet. Before tasting this I couldn’t have imagined that premium Picpoul could exist. In fairness, it is still modestly priced for a quality white wine, but it does command a premium over other Picpouls.
So now we move onto the questions: What is Pecorino like? Where is Pecorino grown?
According to Jancis, Julia and José’s book Wine Grapes1, Pecorino is a very old grape from the Marche in central Italy, possibly even domesticated from wild grapes of the area. The wine has no connection with Pecorino cheese; the cheese is just made from sheep’s milk and the grapes are said to have been popular with grazing sheep (Pecora)2. It was widespread up to the end of the 19th century but fell out of favour.
The story of the rediscovery of Pecorino in the last quarter of the 20th century has a few different versions. Luigi Cataldi Madonna (see below) claims that his friend Vincenzo Aquilano found some 80 year old vines in 1983 and that he (Luigi) was bowled over by an experimental wine made from it in 1990. Wine Grapes credits Guido Cocci Grifoni as resurrecting the grape in the 1980s, though that producer’s website gives 1975 as their first year of making Pecorino wines.
One of the main characteristics of Pecorino is its high, sometimes bracing, acidity. It naturally produces low yields (which is a likely reason it fell out of favour) but is strongly resistant to both downy and powdery mildew.
Cataldi Madonna is located on the “Forno d’Abruzzo” plateau, a hot subregion which receives cooling downdrafts from the most southerly glacier in the northern hemisphere. The vines cover 30 hectares and are situated between 320 and 440 metres above sealevel.
The business was founded in 1920 by Baron Luigi Cataldi Madonna, but didn’t bottle wine until 1975 under the founder’s son Antonio. Antonio totally modernised the vineyards and production facilities, bringing it right up to date. The next generation saw Antonio’s nephew Luigi take over the business in 1990. He transformed the house even further and made it one of the best respected wineries of Abruzzo.
As mentioned above, Luigi first tasted Pecorino in 1990 and immediately planted his own vines. The variety became a calling card of Cataldi Madonna and is currently available in three versions. Luigi’s daughter Giulia became the fourth generation of the family to run the business when she recently took over the reins.
Cataldi Madonna Pecorino Giulia 2019
This is the middle Pecorino of Cataldi Madonna, with a bag-in-box base wine and the SuperGiulia premium wine. They are all Pecorino IGT Terre Aquilane. Giulia was created by Luigi to celebrate the 18th birthday of his daughter Giulia. The wine is 100% Pecorino from vines planted in 2001 at 380 metres on clay loam soil.
Opened young and straight from the fridge, this wine is somewhat muted on the nose, with light citrus notes to be found. The palate is dominated by bright, I mean BRIGHT citrus notes and a real zap of acidity. But then, if you’re not a complete amateur like me, given some time and air it opens up a little on the nose and especially on the palate. The acidity settles down, remaining fresh but not jarring. The citrus notes unfurl into lime, lemon and grapefruit, and are accompanied by some pear and tropical fruits.
This wine loves to take you on a journey, and the delicious destination is worth the price of the ticket!
Stockists: Deveneys, Dundrum; McHughs, Kilbarrack; D-Six Off Licence; Baggot Street Wines
Source: media sample
1Wine Grapes: A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties, including their origins and flavours – Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, José Vouillamoz
Before the arrival of this wine into Dublin I have to confess that I was only distantly aware of Wente Vineyards and their home of Livermore Valley in California’s Central Coast. The two are inextricably linked, but first here’s a map for us to get our bearings:
Livermore Valley in California
As you can see, Livermore Valley is at the top of the Central Coast region, across the Bay from San Francisco. Cooling sea breezes and fogs from San Francisco Bay give the valley more significant diurnal temperature variation, helpful for producing quality wine.
Although not that well known today – in Europe at least – grapes were first planted in Livermore in the 1840s, before the Bordeaux Classification of 1855 and well before phylloxera devastated European vineyards.
There was a flurry of winery openings in the 1880s, with Cresta Blanca Winery in 1882 followed by Concannon Vineyard and Wente Vineyards in 1883. Colcannon and Wente are still in operation today, with Wente being the biggest. In fact, it was Wente who ended up buying the land that Cresta Blanca had used and replanted it after decades of being barren.
Livermore Valley’s influence on Californian wine extended beyond its immediate borders:
Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grown there originated from vine cuttings taken from Château d’Yquem
Livermore was the first area in California that labelled wines by their variety
As one of the oldest places planted to Chardonnay, it is the genetic source of 80% of Californian Chardonnay
Wente Vineyards are proud of their status as “the country’s longest, continuously operated family-owned winery”. They have now reached five generations of family winegrowers:
Carl H. Wente founded the vineyard with the purchase of 47 acres in 1883
Ernest Wente imported Chardonnay cuttings from Montpellier in 1912 and established the Wente Clone. His brother Herman Wente helped to found the California Wine Institute in 1936
Karl L. Wente joined the business in 1949 and greatly expanded US and international distribution. He also expanded the family’s holdings into Arroyo Secco (Monterey)
Eric, Philip and Carolyn Wente took over management of the business in 1977
Christine, Karl, Jordan, Niki and Aly Wente hold various positions in the business
Not content to simply fall back on with their long history, Wente are also embracing the future with the first ever virtual wine tasting accessed through Alexa or Google.
In addition to producing wine the estate also features a restaurant, 18 hole golf course and concert venue. But it’s the wine that matters most to us! The Wente wine portfolio consists of several ranges. In approximate order of most to least expensive they are:
The Nth Degree
Wente Winemakers Studio
It’s not unusual for Estate wines to be the top range in a producer’s portfolio, so this indicates a high quality level. To evaluate this theory we now turn to a specific wine from the Estate Grown range.
Disclosure: This bottle was kindly provided as a sample
Wente Morning Fog Livermore Valley Chardonnay 2018
The Wente Vineyards “Morning Fog” Livermore Valley Chardonnay is made by fifth generation Karl Wente. Its name evokes the fogs that roll across San Francisco Bay and into the east-west trained vines of Livermore Valley. Various Wente Chardonnay clones are used, including “Old Wente” which have been propagated without going though heat treatment at UC Davis. Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately.
After the grapes are pressed the must is split into two parts: 50% is fermented in old American oak and 50% is fermented in stainless steel tanks. The barrel fermented portion remains in those containers for five months and undergoes monthly lees stirring. The Inox portion is split further; half remains on its lees and receives bâtonnage while half is racked into clean tanks. All vessels are then blended together before bottling.
When poured the wine is lemon, not as deep as some other (more oaky) Chardonnays. It’s highly aromatic on the nose – helped by 2% Gewürztraminer – full of toasty, leesy notes and fresh citrus. The palate is fresh and clean, but with lovely texture. Unlike some Cali Chardonnays, the texture doesn’t get in the way of the wine or stand out awkwardly, but rather comes along for the journey. There’s a fine mineral streak through the wine and a fresh finish.
Overall this is a very well put together wine, rising above many confected and manufactured rivals at this price point.
Stockists: Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Jus de Vine; Lotts and Co; Martins Off Licence; McHughs Kilbarrack and Malahide; Mitchell and Son Glasthule and CHQ; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; Power & Co Fine Wines; Sweeney’s D3; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The GrapeVine, Glasnevin; The Wine Pair; Thomas’s Foxrock
As we roll on towards the festive season, despite the pandemic. many of us are starting to plan which wines we want to have in stock for drinking over the Christmas period (Christmas don’t care ’bout Covid!) Here are five wines that you should consider this Yule:
Disclosure: bottles were kindly sent as samples, but opinions remain my own
Perelada Cava Reserva Brut
I reviewed this wine just over three years ago and the salient points of that article remain valid:
There’s a lot of very ordinary Cava out there, at very low prices (often €12 or less)
Small-scale, renowned producers such as Llopart and Raventos i Blanc are available from around €30 upwards in Ireland (and are usually better than any Champagnes down at that price)
That leaves a big gap in the market between the two price points which is neatly filled by Perelada
This Reserva Brut bottling is made from the traditional three Cava grapes: Macabeo (30%), Xarel·lo (45%) and Parellada (25%) with 15 months maturation on the lees – significantly more than the nine months minimum for Cava. It’s highly aromatic, just a delight to sniff, but very attractive on the palate with apple, pear and citrus notes. The finish is crisp, perhaps a little dry for some tastes (though not mine).
When to drink: This would be a great start to Xmas morning, good enough to sip on its own, with nibbles or even a smoked salmon starter.
Stockists: The Drink Store, Stoneybatter D7 / Higgins Off Licence, Clonskeagh / Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Fine Wines O/L Group.
Fontanafredda Gavi di Gavi 2019
Amongst a group of my friends we have a running joke that one (Gosia) would often select Gavi di Gavi from a wine list when there were other, more interesting, options available. This wine shows that joke to be hollow as it’s a cracking wine, full of flowers and spicy pear on the nose, sensual texture on the palate and soft stone fruit flavours. There’s a racy acidity to the wine but it isn’t lean, just refreshing.
When to drink: With shellfish, white fish or even lighter poultry.
RRP: €20 – €21
Stockists: Redmonds of Ranelagh; Martins Off Licence, Fairview; D-SIX Wines, Harolds Cross
Trapiche Malbec Reserva Malbec 2019
Trapiche have several different quality levels within their line-up, including the excellent Terroir Series Ambrosia Single Vineyard Malbec which I reviewed here. This Reserva is a more of an everyday wine, but is true to its variety with bold plum and blackberry fruits and a touch of vanilla. It’s an easy-going red that doesn’t hit the heights but hits the spot with a steak.
When to drink: With red meat or just with your feet up in front of the TV
Fleurie is Ireland’s favourite Beaujolais Cru by some distance, perhaps helped by the easily pronounceable name. It’s a relatively light Cru so sits as a happy medium in depth of colour. The nose shows a variety of cherries, blueberries and red table grape skins. On the palate we find freshly-made home-made jam from a variety of red and black fruits, a little garden thyme and pencil shavings. On it’s own I thought it a good but not great wine, but when my wife tried it with extra mature cheddar she though it magnificent – the fruit of the wine counters the saltiness of the cheese and the cheese softens the acidity of the wine. As a non-cheese eater I will take her word for it!
When to drink: With hard cheese, charcuterie, wild boar sausages, venison, duck, or nut roast
RRP: €18 – €20
Stockists: Fine Wines Off Licence; The Drink Store, Stoneybatter; Nolans Supermarket, Clontarf; Kellers Carry Out, Nenagh.
Boutinot La Côte Sauvage Cairanne 2017
Cairanne only became a named village or Cru in its own right a few years ago, though 20% of the land was effectively demoted at the same time (1,088 hectares of the original 1,350 survived the increased standards). Being in the Southern Rhône this is a GSM blend, consisting of Grenache Noir (60%), Syrah (20%), Mourvèdre (10%) and Carignan (10%). The minor grapes add considerable colour as the wine is darker than many Grenache based wines. Their influence is felt on the nose, too, which has rich black fruit and spice, something like blackberry crumble in a glass. These notes continue through to the palate which is velvety and powerful. This is heady stuff, perfect for Xmas or winter celebrations.
When to drink: With friends, family, or on your own. Treat yourself!
Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; La Touche Wines, Greystones; Martins, Fairview; The Drink Store, Stoneybatter; Fine Wines O/L Group
I’m in the very lucky position where I get to try lots of good and great wines on a regular basis, many of them sent as samples (especially in 2020!) Sometimes, even among these wines, a few shine even brighter than the rest. It’s often hard to put into words what makes them so special, though I do try. Here are a couple of (unrelated) wines which stood out even in good company:
Disclosure: both bottles were kindly given as samples, opinions remain my own
Elgin Ridge 282 Elgin Chardonnay 2018
Elgin is South Africa’s coolest climate wine region, located about an hour’s drive south east of Cape Town. Although now an exciting area for grapes, for many years it was known almost exclusively for its orchards, particularly apples and pears1; as a rule of thumb, agricultural land which is suitable for orchards is generally suitable for grapes. Elgin is even cool enough for Riesling, with Paul Cluver’s wines leading the charge.
Elgin Ridge is the only winery in Elgin to be both certified organic and certified biodynamic (there is one other which is solely biodynamic). It was founded by Brian and Marion Smith on the site of a former small (ten hectare) apple farm in 2007 and has remained in family hands since. Their aim is to be self sufficient in terms of inputs (biodynamic preparations and cow manure) using sheep to control weeds and ducks to control insects and snails.
The figure 282 in the name of this wine, their flagship Chardonnay, refers to the vineyard’s altitude of 282 metres above sea level. It pours lemon in the glass and initial aromas are predominantly of toasted coconut, indicating a fair bit of oak ageing. Absolutely heavenly, if you like that sort of thing – which I do! The coconut gives way to fabulous orchard fruits(!), smoke and spices. On the palate this is a rich wine, with integrated oak and stone fruits and a touch of butterscotch. There’s plenty of body and flavour, but this is no big butter bomb as there is a certain elegance and lightness to the finish. In terms of style this brought to mind excellent southern hemisphere Chardonnays such as Smith + Shaw’s Adelaide Hills M3 and Man O’War’s Waiheke Island Valhalla.
For some reason 2020 has been the year of Sancerre for me, with lots of very enjoyable bottles showing that the average standard in the region is very high. Even among those, this baby stood out. But first a bit of background.
The maison mère2(!) is Fournier Père et Fils – to give it its full name – under which there are four Domaines:
Domaine Fournier (Sancerre &c.)
Domaine de Saint Romble (Sancerre)
Domaine des Berthiers (Pouilly-Fumé)
Domaine Paul Corneau (Pouilly-Fumé)
The full range of Domaine Fournier is detailed below. As you might expect from one of the “Cuvées Appellations”, this wine is made from vines planted on the three key soil types of Sancerre: Silex, Caillottes and Terres Blanches. The nose opens with ripe peach but also peach stone, sweet fruit reined in by acidity and a pleasant tartness. On the palate there’s more fruit but on the citrus side of the spectrum, along with a touch of mown grass and green bell pepper. Don’t mistake this for a Touraine Sauvignon plus, though; this is a smooth and gentle wine which showcases its different flavours on a long journey through your mouth. A superior Sancerre.
My love for Alsace wines – especially its Rieslings – is without parallel, yet even I am forced to concede: Other Rieslings Are Available! Given the grape’s Germanic origins and it’s position as the most widely planted grape there (23% of vineyard area as of 2015) it is only fair to look to Germany. Of all Germany’s 13 wine regions, for me the most synonymous with quality Riesling is the Mosel.
The Mosel wine region had Saar–Ruwerappended to its name until 1st August 2007, and those two names still account for two of the six Mosel Districts (Bereiche). Also, adjacent to Luxembourg, the Obermoseland MoseltorDistricts are home to modest wines – still and sparkling – made from Elbing and other “lesser” grapes. The final two Mosel Districts are the most important. The Berg Cochem District is also known as the Terraced Mosel (Terrassenmosel) as many of its slopes are incredibly steep and are terraced so that they can be worked. The final District is Bernkastelwhich includes the famous sundial vineyards.
The Haag family have run their estate in Brauneberg, Bernkastel District, since 1605. I have previously reviewed their Brauneberger Juffer Grosses Gewächs Riesling and Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel. Now I turn to their “entry level” dry Riesling.
Disclosure: bottle was kindly given as a sample, opinions remain my own
Fritz Haag Mosel Riesling Trocken 2018
Weingut Fritz Haag hand pick their Riesling grapes for this wine from their slate-soil vineyards around their home base of Brauneberg. Fermentation takes place in both large wooden vats (for a touch of roundness) and stainless-steel tanks (for freshness). As many who are fluent in wine know “Trocken” means dry in German, so the fermentation is not stopped early to make the wine sweet (although Fritz Haag does make some brilliant sweet wines).
This estate Riesling pours a light lemon in the glass. The nose is full of citrus with lifted mineral tones – and unmistakable Riesling character.
The measured residual sugar is 7.5 g/L which would be creeping into off-dry territory for some grapes, but set against this Riesling’s acidity it merely tames the zing a little and brings out the fruitiness of the wine.
On the palate we find fleshy lime, grapefruit and peach combined – you don’t taste them individually but there’s a new super-fruit that combines all their characteristics! Light and lithe, a wine that dances on your tongue before disappearing down your throat. Once in your stomach it sends a direct signal to your brain for another taste! The finish is dry as you’d expect from a Trocken wine, but the fruit sweetness in the mid-palate banishes any thoughts of this being too dry.
The TL;DR review: tastes of deliciousness!
RS: 7.5 g/L
Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf wines; F.X. Buckley Victualler & Grocer; Jus de Vine; McHugh’s Off-Licences, Kilbarrack Rd & Malahide Rd; Nectar Wines; The Vintry; The Wine Pair; Sweeney’s D3; Avoca Ballsbridge; The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Drink Store Stoneybatter; Grapevine, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Lotts & Co.; Martins Off Licence; Terroirs, Donnybrook
Bodegas Roda were founded as recently as 1987 but have already forged a reputation for excellence. They have evaluated over 552 Tempranillo clones before settling on the best 20 to plant going forward. French – rather that American – oak barrels are used for maturation, yet the oak treatment is always in balance with the fruit.
Sela is the “entry level” from Roda, with fruit hand harvested from 15 to 30 year old bush vines. Maturation is for 12 months in seasoned French oak. Of course, this wine could be labelled as a Crianza, but that term has a cheap and cheerful image in Spain, definitely not fitting for Bodegas Roda! The blend is 87% Tempranillo, 7% Graciano and 6% Garnacha giving fresh red and black fruit. Sela is an easy drinking style but also has the elegance to be served at the table.
The Roda Reserva is a clear step up from the Sela. While the blend is almost identical – 86% Tempranillo, 6% Graciano and 8% Garnacha – the vines are all over 30 year old and yields are lower, both aiding concentration. Alcoholic fermentation is in French oak vats followed by malolacic fermentation in French oak barrels (40% new, 60% second use) where the wine then matures for 14 months. When bottled the Reserva is kept in Roda’s cellars for a further two and a half years before release.
The nose has red and black cherries, strawberries and raspberries with vanilla and smoky notes from the oak, and hints of cinnamon. The wine feels thick and viscous in the mouth with the fruit aromas coming through to the palate. The Roda Reserva is a vibrant wine, still in the flushes of youth, but should continue to evolve for the next decade or two.
The main difference between Roda I and Roda (formerly Roda II) is in flavour profile – for Roda I grapes are picked from old bush vines which tend to show more black fruit characteristics rather than the red fruit of Roda. The blend is Tempranillo dominated (96%) with a seasoning of Graciano (4%). The oak regime is slightly different as well – the barrels are 50% new and ageing in barrel is for 16 months.
While obviously sharing some house similarities with its junior sibling, this is a different wine altogether, much more complex. The nose is more perfumed and expressive with black fruit, smoky oak, earthiness and chocolate. These notes continue through to the palate where some dried fruit and mineral flavours join them. The mouth is voluptuous and soothing. Fine grained tannins help to make a savoury, satisfying dry finish. Although this would be a real treat to drink on its own it would shine even brighter with food.
You can read the full background on this wine in my recent post on the 2012, so I won’t repeat that here. The blend is consistent at 92% Sangiovese and 8% Malvasia Nera & Colorino and the oak regime is the same. The 2015 is from a slightly warmer year so the exact alcohol reading is 14.26% versus 13.73% for the 2012; not a huge difference but an indication of the vintage. This is a fabulous wine, really smooth but tangy and fresh, with red and black fruit bursting out of the glass. Mazzei give it an ageing potential of 20 years but when wine is this good it would be really difficult not to drink now!
It does seem to this cynic that any IGT Toscana with French grapes in the blend is classed as a “Super Tuscan” these days, but this is truly deserving of the epithet. Siepi is named after the six hectare estate vineyard from where the grapes are sourced – one of Mazzei’s best – and has been produced since 1992. The blend is 50% Sangiovese and 50% Merlot; the varieties are picked at different times (17 days earlier for the Merlot which is known to be an early ripener in Bordeaux) and are given different maceration times (14 days for Merlot, 18 days for Sangiovese). Ageing is for 18 months in French barriques, 70% new and 30% used.
This 2016 was released in October 2018 and tasted 12 months later. It was still a little shy and closed, but already showing flashes of its future grandeur. To depart from my usual style of tasting notes, drinking this wine was like sitting in front of a warm fire on a big, well-worn sofa with soft cushions. As I write during Storm Dennis, that would be most welcome!
Château Tayet is a 10 hectare estate located at the south east corner of the Médocpeninsula, in the commune of Macau. As it’s just south of the Margaux appellation it is simply AOC Bordeaux, or AOC Bordeaux Supérieur (which is not that meaningful in itself). However, the potential of the property is definitely greater than its simple appellation would indicate.
The name itself only dates back to 1994 when it was taken over by the people behind Château Haut Breton Larigaudière in Margaux itself; it was previously known as Cru de Noë and then Château Les Charmilles. 1994 was also the start of the Cuvée Prestige, made with the best fruit and matured in a mixture of new and old oak for six months.
The vineyards are planted to Merlot (55%), Cabernet Sauvignon (40%) and Petit Verdot (5%). While the Médoc is though of as Cabernet country, it tends to be the Crus Classés of Pauillac which are very Cabernet dominated (over 80% in some vintages); Margaux is less so, and Haut-Médoc wines are often a 50% Cabernet – 50% Merlot blend. That perspective shows that Château Tayet is aiming for a certain style and quality of wine.
At the WineMasons tasting earlier in the year I had the opportunity to taste two vintages back to back:
Château Tayet Cuvée Prestige Bordeaux Supérieur 2009 (13.0%, €21 at The Corkscrew, Blackrock Cellar, D-Six, Green Man Wines & McHughs)
2009 was a fabulous year for Bordeaux, so much so that some commentators said it was hard to make a bad wine in such a vintage. The richness that is so typical of 2009 really comes through, with soft, velvety fruit that’s very approachable and rewarding. There’s still power there, even eight years after vintage – in fact I’d say this is at peak drinking right now.
Château Tayet Cuvée Prestige Bordeaux Supérieur 2011 (13.5%, €19 at Drinkstore)
2011 was a cooler vintage in Bordeaux and in general was rated a few notches below 2009. The cooler year means that richness is dialed back a little, and savoury characters fill in the gap. Black fruit is joined by black olive and tobacco notes, and prominent acidity gives freshness. In other words, this is more of a classic claret.
So which is better? At the tasting I wrote “you pays your money, you take your choice” as these are both very good wines, though different in style. If all depends what youlike, and particularly if you plan to drink the wine on its own (go for 2009) or with food (go for 2011. My personal preference is for the 2009, so grab it while you can!