Tasting Events

Free Pour (Part 4 – Reds)

With Liberty Wines’ strength in Italian wine, there is no surprise to see that country well represented in my review of their red wines, but Chile and Australia also fly the flag for the southern hemisphere.

Vignetti Zabù “Il Passo” Nerello Mascalese 2017 (13.5%, RRP €19.99)

Il Passo Nerello Macsalese

Extra richness in Italian reds has become a major trend over the past few years, often with a degree of drying the grapes before fermentation to give extra alcohol and / or sweetness in the finished wine.  Like many trends in wine there are volume manufacturers who jump on the bandwagon but, for all the boxes ticked by the wines they are often unbalanced and unsatisfying.

After getting my fingers (palate?) burned a few times I tend to stay clear of these wines, but this is one that really breaks the mold and hangs together really well.  The increased concentration is achieved by partially cutting the vines and letting the grapes dry by around 15% before harvesting and fermenting.  The finished wine has 9 g/L of residual sugar, but the acidity from the Nerello Mascalese grape balance it perfectly.

There’s also a version made from 100% Nero d’Avola and there was previously a blend of 60% Nerello Mascalese with 40% Nero d’Avola, but this is the one that really does it for me.

Cadbury Cherry Ripe

With cherries, chocolate and coconut it instantly reminded me of my favourite chocolate bar from Australia – Cherry Ripe!

Principe Pallavicini “Rubillo” Cesanese 2016 (13.0%, RRP €19.99)

Rubillo

Cesanese is a new grape for me, though like many Italian varieties it has an ancient history and could date back to Roman times.  It is one of the best grapes indigenous to the Lazio, the region which includes Rome.  Here it is very smooth, but interesting rather than bland – in fact it’s drop dead gorgeous.  Its ripe red and black fruit make it perfect for a winter tipple.

Donnafugata Sherazade Nero d’Avola 2017 (13.0% RRP €22.99)

DonnaFugata Sherazade Nero d Avola

Donnafugata are one of the premier producers in Sicily and retain a special place in the heart of all those who taste their wines.  The Sherazade is a bigger, smoother, juicier Nero d’Avola than most in the Irish market.  The price means that it’s perhaps a weekend rather than weekday treat, but its spicy black fruits are well worth your consideration.

Outer Limits by Montes “Wild Slopes” Apalta CGM blend 2016 (14.0%, RRP €31.99)

Outer Limits Wild Slopes CGM NV

Montes are a leading producer in Chile, managing to make everyday wines that are very drinkable plus their premium Alpha range wines which have long been a favourite of mine.  The Outer Limits wines are more premium still, but are in a finer, more ethereal style than the Alphas.  This is a blend of 50% Carignan, 30% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre – which might be termed a “Languedoc Blend” for want of a better term – all from the company’s own vineyard in Apalta.

On pouring and even before tasting, berries jump right out of the glass.  It’s a big wine (14.0%) but not humongous – the fruit is fresh and complemented by restrained oak.  If you know anyone that “doesn’t like Chilean wine”, let them try this blind!

Balnaves Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (14.5%, RRP €42.99)

Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon NV

Coonawarra is in South Australia, not too far from where the border with Victoria hits the sea.  The southerly latitude and greater exposure to coastal breezes give the area a significantly cooler climate than the Barossa Valley which is 250 miles / 400 kilometres further north (a short distance in Australian terms!)  Add in the famous iron-rich red Terra Rossa topsoil over limestone, and you have probably the best place for varietal Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia – and a candidate for best in the world.  Keep your eyes peeled for a forthcoming in-depth feature on the area.

This 2012 is showing a little maturity and lots of great Cabernet character – black fruit with graphite and tannins.  In fact it’s probably more Cabernet than stereotypically Coonawarra in character, with mint and eucalyptus notes definitely in the background. Gorgeous wines like this show why Coonawarra is my favourite red wine region in the world!

San Polo Brunello di Montalcino 2013 (14.0%, RRP €63.99)

San Polo Brunello di Montalcino

Brunello is one of those wine regions which really needs some time to be understood – and given the premium prices, that’s well worth doing.  San Polo is owned by Marilisa Allegrini of the Valpolicella producing family – she has undertaken significant investment to further improve quality.  For me this wine isn’t really about Tuscany or Sangiovesi, it’s about power with finesse – just a very accomplished wine.

Montes “Purple Angel” 2015 (15.0%, RRP €68.99)

MontesPurpleAngel fs

Trying this wine at first made me think of my friend Joey Casco’s brilliant meme from his wine blog TheWineStalker.net:

151224_arnold

Whether this says more about the (necessary) drawbacks of such tastings or my lack of familiarity in appraising such wines is debatable, but after being open for over 24 hours this angel really spread its wings.  Consisting of 92% Carmenère (Chile’s signature grape) with 8% Petit Verdot, this is a big, oaky wine that’s set for the long haul.  Intense black fruit has a halo of violets and mocha – a combination that might sound strange but really works.  Probably the best Carmenère around?

The Free Pour Series:

Opinion, Uncategorized

Frankly Wines Top 10 Sweet wines of 2016

As a wise man once said to me, don’t call them “dessert wines” as that implies they are only fit to drink with a dessert!  Categorising wines isn’t always an easy task, as even simple descriptors such as colour are open to interpretation (see this article).  Where do sweet wines fit in?  In the end, the label isn’t important, what’s in the glass is.

10. Tarin Pineau des Charentes Blanc Vieilli 3 Ans

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Pronounced the same as “Pinot”, this is the secret fortified drink of France’s west country. Made by adding eau de vie to grape must that has barely begun fermenting, it can only be produced in the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments – also the home of Cognac. That’s no coincidence as the grape spirit used for Pineau is the same that is aged to eventually become Cognac.

This example has received 3 years of ageing which gives it a slight “rancio” character – enough to add interest but not so much that it dominates.  The only downside is that it is so moreish!

9. Sipp Mack Gewurztraminer Vieilles Vignes 2012

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This Gewurz isn’t intended to be a sweet wine as such, but given the grape’s natural flavour profile, low acidity and a bit of residual sugar it tastes far sweeter than other many wines of Alsace.  As a general rule I do like some sweetness in my Gewurz, and this Sipp Mack does deliver that, but with an incredible intensity of flavour thanks to its old vines. See here for the full review.

8. GD Vajra Moscato d’Asti 2015

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Moscato from Australia and elsewhere gained a lot of ground in recent years – fresh and fruity, sweet and easy to drink yet with very moderate alcohol, it became something of a party drink.  Hopefully this will shine a light back on Piedmont, the pioneering region of this style (though obviously not of the Muscat grape!)

Moscato d’Asti might also qualify as a party drink for some, but its true value is at the table, mainly with fruit based desserts where it excels.  The best – such as GD Vajra’s – have a mouthwatering balance of acidity and sweetness.  See here for the full review

7. Max Ferd. Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese

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For many wine aficionados, Germany is the ultimate country for Riesling.  The sheer variety of styles is one of its key strengths, from bone-dry to intensely sweet, and just about every spot in between.  This Mosel Spätlese (late harvest) is just wonderful and was my narrow favourite of an all-Riesling tasting at DNS Wineclub.  See here for the full review

6. Zantho Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese 2012

zantho

Zantho is a joint venture between two famous names of Austrian wine, viticulturist Josef Umathum and winemaker Wolfgang Peck of Winzerkeller Andau.  As well as dry whites and reds they also make three dessert wines (pictured above) which are all glorious, with the TBA (for short) being my favourite.  Germanic grape Scheurebe works best as a sweet wine and excels in Zantho’s TBA from close to the border with Hungary.

5. Nyetimber Demi-Sec NV

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I’m a long standing fan of Nyetimber and I’ve been pleased to see them popping up here and there in Ireland.  When back in England in the summer I picked up a bottle of their Demi-Sec – which I haven’t yet seen here in Ireland – and took it to a DNS Wineclub tasting.  It was absolutely magnificent and reinforced my admiration for Brad Greatrix and Cherie Spriggs.

Not stated on the front label is that this is 100% Chardonnay, and therefore a Blanc-de-Blancs.  Dosage is 45g/L giving it perfect balance – typical English acidity is the counter to the sugar.  This was the first English Demi-Sec to be released but I would go further and state that it’s one of the top few Demi-Secs made anywhere in the world.

4. Domaine de Bois Mozé Coteaux de l’Aubance 2008

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The Loire Valley is probably France’s most underrated wine region and its Chenin based dessert wines probably the least well known – which is a total shame as they can be world class without a world class price.  Coteaux  de l’Aubance is even less well known than Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, but the best sites can yield beauties such as this. In my opinion these wines are the ultimate expression of Chenin Blanc – and this is still a youngster at nine years of age.

3. Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria 2014

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The grape variety for this wine is known locally as Zibibbo, but further afield as Muscat of Alexandria – a very ancient grape.  “Local” here is the tiny island of Pantelleria which is between Sicily and Tunisia.  The grapes are dried after picking to concentrate the flavours and sugars, similar to “straw wines” elsewhere.  This is a wine of staggering complexity for such a young vintage, the biggest threat to ageing being its utter deliciousness!

2. Cascina Garitina Niades

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Many readers will be drawing a blank at the name of this wine which could have been in any (or all!) of my red, sparkling and sweet Top 10 lists.  Formerly carrying the DOCG of Brachetto d’Acqui, it could be thought of as the red equivalent of Moscato d’Asti – though even better, in this case.

When I tried it and tweeted about it, one wag did reply “can’t see the point” – and admittedly, before I tried it I can’t say it was missing from my life – but once tried this wine is never forgotten.  Fresh red fruit, acidity and sweetness combine to make wine heaven – it’s Eton Mess in a glass!

1. Léon Beyer Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 1998

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This was the unexpected runaway winner of the DNS Wineclub Alsace tasting, against some pretty stiff competition (including #2 in this Top 10).  Léon Beyer is based in the achingly beautiful village of Eguisheim and has Domaines Zinck and Bruno Sorg as neighbours.  “The house style is dry” said the lady at the counter, “apart from the sweet wines” – such as this rare Late Harvest Gewurz.  The Léon Beyer website give a drinking window of 10 to 20 years from vintage, but this tasted like it had another decade left at least.  If I had another bottle it would probably make my Top 10 sweet wines of 2026!