Tasting Events

Lidl French Wine Cellars (part 1 – red)

Lidl Ireland’s “French Wine Cellars” promotion runs from Monday 25th March while stocks last.  It’s not a “sale” as such – rather a group of seasonal wines which are available in limited quantities.  First we turn our attention to the reds, with emphasis on Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley.

Château Saint Antoine Bordeaux Supérieur 2016 (13.5%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Château Saint Antoine Bordeaux Supérieur, €9.99

The regulations to make Bordeaux Supérieur are not that significant – slightly higher vine density, slightly lower yields and slightly higher minimum alcohol – but when was the last time you saw a Bordeaux wine at less than 10.0% abv?  I remember some as low as 11.0% in the early nineties but that rule is largely irrelevant now.  This is modern, approachable Bordeaux, with lots of black fruit and liquorice.  There’s a touch of leather and soft tannins, but this is not austere.  Would be perfect for steak, but quaffable on its own if decanted.

Baron de Portets Graves 2016 (13.5%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Baron de Portets Graves, €9.99Graves in part of Bordeaux’s lower left bank, and was in fact making great wines before the Médoc was drained by Dutch engineers.  The best areas of the Graves were sectioned off into a new appellation – Pessac-Léognan – in 1987, leaving the remaining area as more everyday producers.  And I don’t think I’m being unfair in calling this Baron de Portets an everyday wine – it’s only a tenner after all – but it’s far better than I’d expect from left bank Bordeaux at this price.  It’s seductive and smooth with lots of black fruit and a touch of red.  A hint of liquorice on the finish keeps it on the savoury side.

Château Fonguillon Montagne-Saint-Emilion 2015 (13.5%, €11.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Rotwein, Frankrech, LIDL

Although this is from one of Saint-Emilion’s four satellite appellations (there’s another in this offer which wasn’t to my taste), it’s very well put together – the full Saint-Emilion experience.  Dominated by Merlot, it boasts rich plum and blackberry fruit balanced by soft tannins.  Château Fonguillon is quite a mouthful (yes, in both senses), but it’s not jammy and is definitely worth a try.

Château Haut-Plaisance Montagne-Saint-Emilion 2016 (14.0%, €12.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Château Haut-Plaisance Saint-Émilion, €12.99

If ever a wine had a promising name, Château “High Pleasure” would be it.  And it is a pleasurable wine – fruit forward with quite a bit of oak (some may prefer to let it breathe properly before drinking).  Blackberry, damson and plum are the order of the day, but fresh and with a streak of acidity.  Great value for money.

Château Saint-Rémy Fronsac 2017 (14.5%, €11.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Château Saint-Rémy Fronsac, €11.99

Just north of the right bank’s leading town, Libourne, Fronsac is one of the best value appellations within Bordeaux.  Château Saint-Rémy has 17 hectares of vineyards which follow the normal patterns of right bank wine: 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  This is a ripe, thick and rich red wine, though there’s no heat on the finish that the 14.5% (!) alcohol might imply.  It’s not everyone’s idea of Bordeaux, but as a bridge between France and the new world it works a treat!

Clos des Batuts Cahors 2017 (13.0%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Clos des Batuts Cahors, €9.99

Cahors and its “black wines” are the original home of Malbec, though the variety is also found in Bordeaux, the Loire Valley and – most famously – Argentina.  In the past Cahors wines have needed some time in bottle before drinking, but this is a very drinkable example.  It’s mid weight rather than hefty, clean and full of red and black fruit.  Tannins are present and correct but not too dry.  This will do well at summer barbecues, if we get a summer this year…

Cru des Côtes du Rhône Vinsobres 2017 (14.5%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Vinsobres is one of the more recent Rhône areas to be promoted up to a Cru – in 2006 in fact.  It still isn’t that well known which means that there are some bargains to be had.  AOC rules stipulate minima of 50% Grenache and 25% Syrah and / or Mourvèdre, so expect big and bold fruit – and that is exactly what we have here.  Tannins are fairly low and acidity is reasonable (the Grenache component is probably over 60%) so this is a very approachable wine.  Give me more!

Dame de Clochevigne Rasteau 2017 (14.0%, €9.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Rasteau, €9.99

This is not a terribly complex wine, but it’s juicy and quaffable – nice enough to crack open on a school night with dinner or out on the patio now that we’re getting a bit of a stretch in the evenings.  The breakdown of grape varieties isn’t given, but being southern Rhône it’s highly likely to be a GSM – and given its flavour profile the emphasis is very much on Grenache.

Gigondas 2017 (14.5%, €16.99 at Lidl Ireland)

Gigondas, €16.99

Gigondas is considered second in the southern Rhône hierarchy – after Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but doesn’t have the latter’s instant recognition – or price tags to match.  This is, however, the most expensive red in Lidl Ireland’s offering, though still fairly modest by independent wine shop standards.  It’s cossetting and smooth, quite a cozy wine in fact (if that term means anything to anyone).  It’s not light but it does have a touch of sophistication and elegance.  This is how southern Rhône reds should be, and it’s well worth the premium on the others above.

 

 

Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 3)

After the serious Syrahs of the northern Rhône in part 1 and the famous wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in part 2, we now turn to some of the other prestigious Crus of the southern Rhône.

Domaine Brusset “La Bastide” Rasteau 2015 (13.5%, RRP €23.95 at Mitchell & Son)

Domaine Brusset La Bastide Rasteau

While Rasteau has been an AOC for Grenache-based Vin Doux Naturel since the 1943 vintage, its dry reds were only promoted up from Côtes du Rhône Villages-Rasteau from the 2009 vintage onwards.

For all my opening talk of autumn, this is a wine that would be perfect(ly) at home on a cold winter’s day.  It’s a thick, chewy blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre with a fair dose of new oak, full of ripe black fruits and toasty spices.  This style of wine would be too full-on and heavy in summer, but it’s a perfect comfort-wine for autumn into winter.

Alain Jaume “Grande Garrigue” Vacqueras 2014 (14.5%, RRP €24.00 at Mitchell & Son)

Alain Jaume Grand Garrigue Vacqueras

Garrigues” is a wonderful word which means a number of interlinked things: firstly, it’s a type of limestone-based landscape, typical of parts of the Mediterranean coast; secondly, it refers to the low-growing plants and bushes often found on such a terrain; thirdly, it is used as a wine descriptor for notes that conjure up the herbs such as rosemary, lavender and thyme which are found on garrigue.

This bottle is a typical Rhône GSM blend, with 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre.  Supple and viscous in the mouth, it dances over the tongue and belies its 14.5% abv.  Black fruits are accompanied by fragrant herbal and liquorice notes.  A really delicious wine.

Montirius La Tour Gigondas 2015 (13.5%, RRP €27.50 at Baggot Street Wines)

Montirius Gigondas La Tour

Gigondas is generally regarded as the second most prestigious southern Cru – after Châteauneuf-du-Pape but ahead of Vacqueras.  Of course, it’s the wine not the appellation that counts, and biodynamic outfit Montirius have really struck gold with their “young vines” cuvée (if 35 years can be said to be young!)  The wine is named “La Tour” after one of the parcels the grapes are sourced from and it has a zero oak regime, being fermented and aged in concrete tanks before bottling.  Those who are a fan of oak won’t miss it though, as it’s a soft and cossetting wine.  Fresh strawberries and raspberries really stand out, with a shake of exotic spice.  At this price it’s amazing value for money!

Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux “Cuvée Doucinello” Vacqueras 2014 (14.5%, RRP €32.00 at Searson’s)

Domaine le Sang des Cailloux

This is Serge Férgioule’s main red cuvée (the other being the old vine “Cuvée Lopy”) which confusingly and charmingly rotates in name between his three daughters – so other vintages could also be Cuvée Floureto or Cuvée Azalaïs.  Whatever the name happens to be, the blend is 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah  and the remaining 10% a mix of Carignan, Mourvèdre and Cinsault.  The vines are between 35 and 40 years old and are farmed biodynamically.  Serge (and his son) have a hands-off approach in the winery, preferring to do the hard work in the vineyard and then let the fruit speak for itself.  The 2014 is soft, powerful and fresh – beautifully balanced and very drinkable.

Tasting Events

The BIG Rhône Tasting at Ely Bar and Brasserie, Dublin (Part two)

Part one gave the background to the BIG Rhône tasting at Ely as part of Rhône Wine Week in Ireland and some of the whites which really caught my eye.

So now we’re on to the main event:

thinkredthinkCDRW vertical

Of course the Rhône is much more celebrated for its red wines, so below are some of the red beauties that really stood out for me (in no particular order).  Once again, apologies for the image quality – the low light downstairs at Ely is very atmospheric but smartphone cameras struggle.

Pierre Gaillard Cornas 2012 (Mitchell & Son, €45.99)

Pierre Gaillard Cornas 2012
Pierre Gaillard Cornas 2012

The only AOC (well AOP now, but you know what I mean) that mandates 100% Syrah, Cornas in the northern Rhône is reputed to be rustic – and given the label you might have no reason to think otherwise – but this was anything but rustic.  Pierre Gaillard’s most southerly vineyard is a parcel of old vines over the age of 70, situated on altered granite slopes, offering good drainage and warmth from the hot temperatures of its micro-climate.

Perhaps it’s modern, hygienic winemaking equipment that banishes rusticity, or maybe the east-facing aspect of the vineyard that endows the wine with power.  Whatever the cause, it’s a delicious wine that showcases some of the best that Rhône Syrah can do.  There is bacon and black olives, pepper and spice, but above all refined power from the fruit.

As a former Cornas doubter, I doubt no more.

M. Chapoutier Rasteau 2012 (Findlater, €19.99)

M. Chapoutier Rasteau 2012
M. Chapoutier Rasteau 2012

Maison M. Chapoutier (M for Max, then his sons Michel and Marc) produces wine from all across the Rhône region, though is most well known for their top Hermitage wines, of both colours.  Chapoutier’s wine labels are distinctive because of their raised Braille dots on the labels – and as a happy coincidence they are aesthetically pleasing for sighted people as well.

Rasteau AOC was well known as a Vin Doux Naturel for a long time, its dry reds were Côtes du Rhônes Villages-Rasteau until their promotion with effect from the 2009 vintages.  It is therefore one of the more modest Cru but this bottle really delivers – plump red and black fruit from the Grenache, with a little spicy edge from the Syrah.  At a fairly modest price this is something that would stand up to hearty winter dishes but would be great sipped out of a big glass on its own.

Château de Montmirail Gigondas “Cuvée de Beauchamp” 2012 (Didier Fiat, €26.00)

Château de Montmirail Gigondas "Cuvée de Beauchamp" 2012
Château de Montmirail Gigondas “Cuvée de Beauchamp” 2012

Gigondas is now the unofficial second-ranked Cru in the southern Rhône behind Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  With the heavy, embossed bottle there’s no doubt it’s trying to ape its more famous neighbour.  A small amount of rosé is made here, but the main event is the red, made from a maximum 80% Grenache, a minimum 15% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre, then the balance made up of certain other Rhône varieties.

The Cuvée de Beauchamp consists of 75% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre, a classic GSM blend.  It’s big and powerful without being jammy – supercharged strawberries was my main tasting note!

Les Vignerons d’Estézargues Côtes du Rhône Villages-Signargues “Sy” 2012 (Tyrrell & Co, €22.00)

Les Vignerons d'Estézargues Côtes du Rhônes Villages-Signargues "Sy" 2012
Les Vignerons d’Estézargues Côtes du Rhônes Villages-Signargues “Sy” 2012

“Sy” is actually short for Syrah which is 90% of this blend which is almost unheard of from the Southern Rhône – and this area is within touching distance of the Mediterranean, it’s so far south.  The southerly latitude accounts for the additional weight and power compared to average Rhône Syrahs – 14.5% alcohol and a huge mouthfeel.

The high proportion of Syrah planted in the area is a result of moving from mixed agriculture (particularly olives) to predominantly viticulture in the 1960s – landowners were free to choose the most appropriate Rhône variety and many went for the prestigious Syrah.

Of all the Rhône Syrahs I’ve tasted recently this is the closest to a New World Shiraz.  Blackberry and plum with exotic spice combine on the palate, with enough acidity to keep it from being blowsy.  Every New World Shiraz fan should try this!

Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2012 (Tyrrell & Co, €45.00)

Château Pesquié Ventoux "Artemia" 2012
Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2012

Like a drunken reveller leaving a nightclub, Ventoux has dropped its Côtes, which signifies a step up in status and quality.  Although it is situated in the southerly reaches of the Rhône, the cool winds coming off the Mont de Ventoux and Valcluse mountains help maintain acidity and freshness.

Château Pesquié is named after the Provençal word for a fishpond – springs and natural water sources being very important in such a warm climate.  Artemia is their premium bottling made of equal parts of Grenache and Syrah, both from low-yielding sites.  All the grapes are handpicked and after ruthless selection they are destemmed and given a long fermentation and maceration.  Malo and maturation take place over 18 months in 50% new and 50% two and three year old oak barrels.

Everything about the making of this wine is designed to make it epic!

And is it!  It’s rich and unctuous, dark black fruit and spice compete for your attention.  But it’s not all about big fruit, there’s also acidity and minerality there.  This is obviously very very young, but it is already drinkable.  Do you mind if I say “epic” again?

Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2006 en magnum (n/a)

Château Pesquié Ventoux "Artemia" 2006 en magnum
Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2006 en magnum

Just to show what the wines look like with a bit – but only a bit – of age, Monsieur Chaudière brought along a magnum of Artemia 2006, the third release.

Even accounting for the slower ageing in magnum, this was still a baby.  It had started to add a few more developed notes to the primary fruit, but this will be drinking well in another fifteen years.  Want!

Domaine La Monardière “Les 2 Monardes” Vacqueyras 2010 (JN Wine, €22.85)

Domaine La Monardière Vacqueras 2010
Domaine La Monardière “Les 2 Monardes” Vacqueyras 2010

Vacqueyras became the third major Cru of the southern Rhône in 1990, and is one of the very rare AOCs that produces wine in all three colours (though is predominantly known for its red).  The Domaine was created by the Vache family (no sniggering please, it’s childish) a few years before, in 1987, and now has 20 hectares under vine.  “Monarde” is a medicinal herb similar to bergamot which grows widely in the area.

A blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah, the grapes are hand picked and sorted then fully destemmed.   Wild yeast is used rather than commercial yeast.   The two grapes are fermented separately for two to three weeks – the Syrah is punched down to extract colour, flavour and tannin, whereas the thinner skinned Grenache is treated more lightly. Maturation is 12 months in concrete tanks and barrels and then bottling is done without fining or filtration.

There’s lots of primary cherry and blackcurrant fruit here – particularly coming from the Grenache – but also lots of herbs and spices.  It’s a veritable spice rack in a bottle!

JL Chave Côtes du Rhône “Mon Coeur” 2012 (La Rousse Wines, €22.90)

JL Chave Côtes du Rhône "Mon Coeur" 2012
JL Chave Côtes du Rhône “Mon Coeur” 2012

Although this is “only” a Côtes du Rhône the quality in the bottle is a lot higher than the appellation might suggest.  It also commands a higher price than other basic CDRs, but the producer’s name carries a lot of weight.  The Chave family have been growing grapes in the Rhône for half a millennium, with the current man in charge being Jean-Louis (JL).

The fruit comes from the Southern Rhône’s northerly villages of Valréas, Vinsobres and Visan which are fairly high in altitude and have more Syrah than usual in the south – perfect for a house from Hermitage!  This is quite serious for a Côtes du Rhônes and has firm tannins, but its red and black fruits with a savoury black olive streak are just delicious!

Santa Duc Rasteau “Les Blovac” 2009 (Le Caveau, €18.45)

Santa Duc Rasteau "Les Blovacs" 2009
Santa Duc Rasteau “Les Blovac” 2009

As you might expect from Le Caveau this is an organic wine made by a small producer. After over a hundred years selling their grapes, they began making their own wines in 1985.   Their home base is in Gigondas at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, but they make wines from several appellations across the southern Rhône.  The Domaine’s name is taken from the Provençal for a calling owl which is common to the area – there’s no saint or duke involved!

Once again we have a typical southern Rhône blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre (the precise blend does change from vintage to vintage).  The grapes are picked when fully ripe, but then have a long fermentation with gentle extraction.  At five years old it’s starting to become more even interesting and adds smoky, gamey notes to the dark black fruit.   Espresso and dark chocolate make for a full house of flavour.

JL Chave Hermitage “Farconnet” 2009 (La Rousse Wines, €58.00)

JL Chave Hermitage "Farconnet" 2010
JL Chave Hermitage “Farconnet” 2010

So we’ve already seen what Chave can do with a basic Rhône appellation, now to look at the most prestigious appellation of the northern Rhône – Hermitage.  Famed as the original home of Syrah, Hermitage became almost synonymous with the grape itself – hence Penfolds icon Grange was labelled as Grange Hermitage until 1989 (though I’m not sure how it became the name for Cinsaut in South Africa!).

Ostensibly a négotiant wine, the grapes are sourced from both Chave’s own vineyards and those of long term contract growers on the western slopes of the granitic Hill of Hermitage.  The power of the vintage really comes through in the fruit – some dried but mainly fresh black berries with the signature Syrah spice.