As I said at the beginning of my review pieces, for me 2015 was an excellent year for wine. If one region really stood out for me in 2015 it would be Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France; already well known for bulk wine and subsequently good value bottles, it has a growing reputation for excellence in the hands of dedicated producers.
Here are ten of the reds which most impressed me in the year:
10. Château de Rousselet Côtes de Bourg 2009 (€12.99, Lidl)
For about 17 years my parents lived close to La Rochelle in the Charente Maritime department – much better known for Cognac than wine. But happily it was close enough to Bordeaux that day trips were quite easy, and so at least once a summer I would head down in the car for some tasting and buying.
Heading south, the first subregions encountered are the Côtes de Blaye (now renamed) and Côtes de Bourg. Touring around with a visitors booklet I would try new vineyards every year, plus return to a chosen few of the best. Château de Rousselet was one I returned to year after year, as Francis Sou and son Emmanuel continued to gradually improve the quality of their wines. Here are a few of the older bottles I still have:
So I was surprised and delighted to see a fairly recent vintage being sold through Lidl! The 2009 vintage was outstanding in Bordeaux, and even modest areas such as the Côtes de Bourg produced some crackers – classic claret, still great for food, but also round and fruity enough to be drunk by itself. Sadly the Lidl stores close to me didn’t have any stock when I visited!
9. Château Paul Mas Clos de Mures Coteaux du Languedoc 2013 (€16.99, Molloys)
Paul Mas is one of the star estates of the Languedoc. There are several different quality levels of which Château Paul Mas is around the top – “Everyday luxury”. The equivalent white also featured in my Top 10 whites of 2015.
As it common in the Languedoc this is a blend, comprising 83% Syrah, 12% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre – so it’s a GSM blend of sorts, though showing more black than red fruit due to the higher Syrah content. This wine was one of the surprise stars of the (as yet unpublished) DNS tastings on Syrah and Shiraz – both for the absolute quality and the value for money at €16.99.
8. Condado De Haza Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2011 (€23, JN Wine and others)
Pesquera’s sister property in a warmer part of the Ribero del Duero shares much in terms of ethos and quality but has a different sensibility – it’s more fun and accessible, with an emphasis on fruit and pleasure rather than refinement. Plum, blackcurrant and black cherry are rounded off by vanilla from 18 months in American oak.
There’s no doubt that Tinta Pesquera is the senior sibling but this crowd-pleaser is a lot of wine for sensible money, and is the one I would chose to drink on its own.
See this article for more details.
7. Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block 21 “Viento Mar” Pinot Noir 2012 (€19.99 from O’Brien’s Wines, Mitchell & Sons, Redmonds of Ranelagh, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin, Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Bradley’s and O’Driscoll’s of Cork)
Cono Sur do a great range of Pinot Noirs from the everyday Bicicleta up to the prestigious Ocio. This is a single vineyard release Pinot which sits roughly in the middle of the range; there are also seven other varietal single vineyard releases including Riesling, Carmenère and Syrah – I’d like to try them at some point as well!
The vineyard itself is nicknamed the Spanish for “Sea Wind”, invoking the coastal breezes which help keep the temperature relatively cool in San Antonio Valley – ideal for Pinot Noir.
Luscious black and red fruits combine with a hint of vanilla – it’s got lots of fruit but fresh rather than confected fruit. Amazingly drinkable, and knocks spots off Burgundy (and most other regions’) Pinot at this price.
See this article for more details.
6. Domaine L’Ostal Cazes Grand Vin Minervois La Livinère 2011 (€23.49, O’Briens)
The general Minervois appellation has around 800ha planted to vines and the smaller, more prestigious, Minervois La Livinière appellation is around a quarter of that, with lower yields and a higher proportion of better-regarded grapes such as Syrah.
The JM Cazes group of Château Lynch-Bages fame first ventured outside of Bordeaux when they acquired this property in 2002. The Grand Vin composes 70% Syrah, 15% Carignan, 10% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre and weighs in at 14.0%, so in weight terms it’s somewhere in between northern and southern Rhône.
Although it doesn’t have the stature of its more well-known stablemates, it’s more accessible than most of them – especially those from Paulliac and Saint-Estèphe – and would be the one I reached for most often given the choice of all of them.
5. Alpha Zeta Amarone della Valpolicella 2011 (€35, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)
Amarone is one of the first Italian wines that people fall in love with, enjoying its big rich flavours and textures, though they come at a premium price. It’s a wine that’s easy to love. Sometimes it can get a bit too much, with jammy fruit and high alcohol making too much of a mouthful for a second glass.
This example from Alpha Zeta is one of the most well-balanced I’ve come across, and while it might still be too fruit forward for Barolo loving masochists it doesn’t intimidate. Also, compared to many it is (relatively) inexpensive at €35 a bottle (many others go far north of €40).
This was the bottle I took along to a meal with fellow wine blogger friends at Dada Moroccan restaurant in Dublin. The touch of sweetness and richness turned out to be a perfect match for the lamb and apricot tagine I ordered – probably the favourite wine of the evening.
4. Uno de Mil Tempranillo & Petit Verdot (€23.95, Cases Wine Warehouse)
A pretty label and a stunning wine, which happens to be organic and biodynamic. Such is the explosion of fresh fruit and vanilla in the mouth that it instantly made me think of a blueberry muffin! Made from a blend of Tempranillo (from Rioja and Ribero del Duero) and Petit Verdot (a small part of some Bordeaux reds), it’s from the less well-known region of La Mancha – but knocks spots of plenty of Rioja that I’ve had!
3. E.Guigal “Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph” Saint-Joseph 2005 (2009: €46, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)
Saint-Joseph has become my go-to Rhône appellation, with its lovely blackberry, black olive and sour black cherry flavours. What I hadn’t appreciated was that the appellation was named after an actual vineyard, itself named after Holy Joe himself who was reputed to have lived there.
Now in the hands of famed Rhône producer Guigal, the “lieu-dit” Saint-Joseph produces both red and white wines of superlative quality. 2005 was an exceptional year in the northern Rhône (10/10 according to The Wine Society) and this wine was at its peak. It showed all the trademark Saint-Joseph notes but with a polish and complexity that stood out.
2. D’Arenberg The Dead Arm McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005 (2008: €54.99 from O’Briens and independent merchants)
D’Arenberg are one of the standout producers of McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide in Australia. Led by the colourful (in several senses) Chester Osbourne, they have a wide portfolio of wines with different quality levels and varieties. The Dead Arm is one of their three Icon bottlings, along with The Coppermine Road (which I once realised I was driving on!) Cabernet Sauvignon and Ironstone Pressings Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre.
And the unusual name? From the d’Arenberg website:
Dead Arm is a vine disease caused by the fungus Eutypa Lata that randomly affects vineyards all over the world. Often affected vines are severely pruned or replanted. One half, or an ‘arm’ of the vine slowly becomes reduced to dead wood. That side may be lifeless and brittle, but the grapes on the other side, while low yielding, display amazing intensity
The 2005 is beautifully mature, though far from over the hill. It has the blackberry and plum fruit, pepper and spice plus vanilla notes as you’d expect from an Aussie Shiraz, but these flavours are all now interwoven and settled in; they are speaking in harmony rather than shouting individually. I just wish I’d bought more than one bottle!
1. Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1996 (~€115, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin and other independents)
And so for the third year running my favourite wine of the year is a Penfolds red! In 2013 it was the 1998 Bin 707, then in 2014 I was lucky enough to try the Grange 2008. The former would have has a good shout again in 2015 but the bottle of 1998 I had planned to open with Christmas dinner didn’t actually get opened until 2016. I did, however, open both 1996 and 1997 and it was narrowly the former which I favoured.
The biggest surprise was that although it showed signs of maturity in the brick red rim, the nose and palate still showed lots of fruit – overwhelmingly blackcurrant, of course, given that this is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. There were some touches of cedar and pencil shavings that pointed to its age, but they were knitted in.
Bin 707 stands second to Grange in the Penfolds hierarchy, but for my tastes it runs it very close or even beats it sometimes!