Opinion

O’Briens Fine Wine Sale 2019

The Irish off-licence chain O’Briens has various promotions on throughout the year, but probably the most eagerly awaited is the annual Fine Wine Sale.  This year it runs from Monday 9th to Sunday 15th December.  Below are the wines I’d be snapping up this year.  Note that I haven’t necessarily tried the vintage stated of each wine, but I have tasted them often enough over the years to comfortably recommend them.

Gaia Santorini Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2016 (13.0%, €24.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)

Gaia-Assyrtiko-Wild-Ferment

I have previously written about the 2013 and 2016 vintages of this wine as well as its younger brother Monograph, and tasted it many times in between; it remains one of my favourite “mid-priced” white wines available in Ireland.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough  Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (13.0%, €35.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)

Cloudy-Bay-Sauvignon-Blanc

An iconic wine at a very reasonable price!  I recently tried the 2017 (which was maturing nicely) and the 2019 which, for such a young wine, was surprisingly settled and ready to go

Julien Brocard Chablis La Boissoneuse 2018 (12.5%, €29.95 down to €25.95 at O’Briens)

Brocard-La-Boissoneuse-Organic

The 2017 vintage was #1 in my Top 10 Whites of 2019 so any reduction in price of this fantastic organic, biodynamic Chablis makes it worth snapping up!

Chanson Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2017 (12.5%, €34.95 down to €24.95 at O’Briens)

Chanson-Chablis-1er-Cru-Montmains

Chanson has been part of the Bollinger group for two decades and produces consistently good wines.  This Montmains is an excellent Premier Cru and while delicious now, deserves another five years or so before being opened.

Man O’War Waiheke Island Valhalla Chardonnay 2017 (14.5%, €32.95 down to €28.95 at O’Briens)

Man-O_War-Valhalla-Chardonnay

I wrote about the 2010 vintage (in 2014) the 2011 (in 2016) and the 2016 (earlier this year) and loved them all.  This is a fairly full on Chardonnay which will please those who like bold wines – and that includes me.

L’Ostal Cazes Minervois La Livinière Grand Vin 2015 (14.5%, €23.95 down to €20.95 at O’Briens)

L_Ostal-Cazes-Grand-Vin

The JM Cazes family who have long owned Lynch Bages in Bordeaux have spread their interests to the Rhône and Languedoc, amongst other places.  In my not-so-humble-opinion this Minervois La Livinère is the best value wine in their portfolio.

Château Franc-Maillet Pomerol 2015 (13.5%, €48.00 down to €42.00 at O’Briens)

Ch_teau-Franc-Maillet

The 2014 of this wine was very good, so the even better vintage of 2015 is definitely worth a shout.  This wine is worthy of a place on my Christmas dinner table, so it’s definitely worthy of yours, too!

Sierra Cantabria Rioja Gran Reserva 2008 (14.0%, €32.95 down to €23.95 at O’Briens)

Sierra-Cantabria-Gran-Reserva

If you like Tempranillo-based wines but tend to favour Ribero del Duero, this a Rioja house which can match the black fruited savoury wines from there.  I have previously tried the 2010 Crianza which was great, but a Gran Reserva from 2008 should be even more of a stunner!

d’Arenberg  McLaren Vale Dead Arm Shiraz 2015 (14.6%, €54.95 down to €44.95 at O’Briens)

d_Arenberg-Dead-Arm-Shiraz

While Penfolds Grange prices have rocketed off into the stratosphere, here’s an iconic Aussie wine that is (relatively) more affordable – and approachable at a younger age, too, though if you manage to keep your hands away it will last for a decade or two.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (13.8%, €80 down to €68 at O’Briens)

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 3

The (virtual) ink has only just dried on my review of the 2012 vintage of this wine but it’s already included in the fine wine sale.  If you want to treat yourself for Christmas (2019 or 2029) then this is a great bet!

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #10 – Kerri Judge [Guest Post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

Kerri Judge is the Marketing Manager of Febvre, an importer who has been a stalwart of the Irish wine trade for over 50 years and who represent a few of my favourite producers. 


valdemar_gran_reservaOne of my favourites at Christmas is from the family owned estate of Bodegas Valdemar in Rioja.  Their Conde Valdemar Gran Reserva 2008 is rich and so very smooth.  Lovely dark brambly fruits with a touch of vanilla and spice with soft tannins.

A perfect glass on its own, with a piece of hard cheese like Hegarty’s Cheddar or with a melt in your mouth piece of fillet beef sliced thinly with a drizzle of olive oil and salt.  Also, great I found with leftover Turkey and Ham fried up the day after Christmas with a bit of stuffing.

Conde Valdemar Gran Reserva 2008 (13.5%):  on promotion this Christmas at €20 (usually €32) in O’Briens and Independent Off-Licences.

 


Warre's Optima 10I always have a bottle of the Warre’s Otima 10 year old Tawny Port in the fridge at Christmas.  A glass of Otima watching It’s a Wonderful Life with a bowl of walnuts and the fire lit on Christmas Eve is my idea of Christmas!

Think a rich fruit cake – dried fruits, orange peel, caramel and honey flavours with a toasty finish and great length. Chilling the Otima cuts the taste of Alcohol and enhances the fruit flavours.

Warre’s Otima 10 year old Tawny Port (20.0%):  available at around €28 (50cl bottle) at Independent Off-Licences and selected SuperValu Stores.

 


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

Tasting Events

O’Briens Fine Wines Sale – My Selection

Leading Irish off licence chain O’Briens have some excellent premium wines and some are on sale (in store only) for a short time.  Here is a selection of my favourites:

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Viognier 2012 (14.5%, €31.95 down to €25.56)

 

viognier

I had tried this wine previously and, although it was pretty good, I wasn’t overly impressed.  Tasting is such a subjective pastime that I’m always ready to give a wine another try – and I’m so glad I did!  I didn’t find this as oily as some Rhône Viogniers but it was peachy and rich – the abv of 14.5% should be a hint that it’s on the dry side.  More of a food wine than a quaffing wine, but very well crafted.

Henri Bourgeois Sancerre d’Antan 2014 (13.5%, €45.00 down to €36.00)

antan

This upmarket Sancerre is not for the casual drinker; it’s pricey but excellent.  If I bought it I’d stick it away for a few years at least – it’s still fairly tight and closed up, but undoubtedly has fabulous potential.

La Comtesse de Pazo Barrantes Albariño 2013 (13.5%, €42.00 down to €33.60)

comtesse

This is a fine wine to sit and sip, and to reflect upon the world.  It has lees work and some oak, so it’s unlike most Albariños on the market, but it’s no Chardonnay clone either. Probably my favourite Albariño ever tasted!

Chanson Puligny-Montrachet 2013 (13.5%, €55.00 down to €44.00)

puligny

Top class Burgundy isn’t cheap, so why not try it when it’s on offer?  This is another youngster that really needs putting away for a while, or at least decanting for a few hours if drinking now.  Oak is noticeable on the nose (which I like, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) and adds depth to the palate.  Don’t drink it too cold, and only share with friends who appreciate good wine!

Caro 2013 (14.5%, €50.00 down to €40.00)

caro

This is a serious Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon blend which is the result of collaboration between Bordeaux’s Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite and the Catena family.  At this young age it still has lots of oak and tannin and primary plum and blackcurrant fruit characters, but also cedar and sandalwood notes.  Far better value than most posh Bordeaux reds, keep it for as long as you can bare!

Marqués de Murrietta Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €34.95 down to €24.95)

marques

When it comes to Rioja I normally go for a Crianza or Reserva style where the fruit is more prominent than the longer aged Gran Reservas.  They can be too dry and “woody” (for me “oaky” can be good but “woody” rarely is).  Marqués de Murrietta have a beauty on their hands with the 2007 – it’s exactly how Gran Reservas should be: lots of fruit (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry) with vanilla,  all in a soft and cosseting package.  Get in!

Delheim Grand Reserve 2013 (14.0%, €36.95 down to €29.56)

delheim

This is of course a South African wine but – tasted blind – does a great impression of a classy left bank Bordeaux.  The main difference is that it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape which never ripens sufficiently to be used as a varietal in Bordeaux (though can be a very high percentage of some Pauillacs).  It’s definitely a dry wine, with pencil shavings and cedar notes that you’d associate with a more mature wine – so treat yourself to a bottle and a big steak!  More info here.

Gérard Bertrand Cigalus 2014 (14.5%, €38.95 down to €29.95)

cigalus

Probably the best wine in Gérard Bertrand’s portfolio, this is a biodynamically produced blend using both Bordeaux and Languedoc varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Caladoc (a cross between Grenache and Malbec). Interestingly, the Syrah and Carignan undergo whole berry carbonic maceration (similar to Gamay in Beaujolais) which adds a little approachability – it’s a big wine, but not too intimidating.

Tasting Events

Valentines Wines (I) The Tasting Panel

For the first of my posts on Valentine’s Wines I thought I would try something a little bit different from the norm. My wife and I invited her elder brother Andrew and his girlfriend Paula round for dinner to and to try some different wines in advance of Valentine’s Day.

It’s good to hear the opinions of other people – wine tasting can be very social and lots of fun. I heartily recommend you try forming your own tasting panel now and again, with friends from absolute novices to MWs.

Before we get into the wines, here is the delicious meal they accompanied:

Starter:

Cantaloupe Melon drenched in Pineau des Charentes

Main:

Slow Roasted Loin of Pork with a Bramley apple glaze, server with roasted potatoes, julienne carrots and petits pois, roasted root vegetables, apple and citrus jus

Dessert:

Apple Strudel with Cornish Vanilla Ice cream and / or Homemade Vanilla Custard

Cheese:

Selection of: Brie de Meaus, Abbaye du Mont des Cats, Diliskus semi-soft Herbed.

The wines

Disclosure: the wines tasted below were kindly provided by O’Briens, but opinions are entirely our own.

Rizzardi Prosecco DOC Spumante Extra Dry NV (€20.99, currently €17.99)

Valentine’s connection: who doesn’t like popping the cork on some fizz?

Rizzardi Prosecco DOC Spumante Extra Dry NV
Rizzardi Prosecco DOC Spumante Extra Dry NV

The label “Extra Dry” on Prosecco is usually a misnomer – the wine is often on the sweet side. A little sweetness can make Prosecco very easy to drink and is one of the factors behind its current boom in sales. However, Rizzardi’s style is actually dry on the palate. Being a Spumante it had a proper cork and was fully sparkling.

On tasting the main flavours we noted were pip fruit such as Granny Smith’s apple and pear, citrus (even Lemon Sherbet) and a sour sweetness (if that makes any sense) – a bit like the sensation from Sour Squirms sweets.

A little sweetness did come through on the finish once it had warmed up a little in the glass (it was served straight from a domestic fridge).

Panel Votes:

  • Andrew 5 [not a fan of fizz]
  • Paula 8 [can I have another glass please?]
  • Jess 4 [found it too dry]
  • Frankie 7 [preferred it to most other Proseccos]

Verdict:

This wine clearly divided opinion on the panel, but that’s no bad thing. Hopefully the comments give you the information to decide whether this Prosecco is for you, or perhaps try a sweeter one.

Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches Vin de France 2013 (€14.49, currently €12.99, O’Briens)

Valentine’s connection: say it with (white) flowers

Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches Vin de France 2013
Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches Vin de France 2013

Although labelled as a Vin de France, which could come from almost anywhere in France, this was made in the Corbières region of the Languedoc, quite close to the Mediterranean coast.  The name property name “Les Auzines” comes from the Occitan meaning “little leaves from the oak tree”, owned by Laurent Miquel and his Irish wife Neasa Corish.

The blend is based on Grenache Gris, with perhaps a dash of Grenache Blanc.  It is classed as an oaked white as 85% was fermented and aged in second and third-use oak barrels, but although it has gained texture and complexity it doesn’t taste typically “oaky”.

Smooth and rich but tangy, it shows flavours of Macadamia nuts, lime, gravel and mineral, fennel, lavender and other herbs – it’s really interesting.  Alcohol is surprisingly modest at 11.5% – it doesn’t feel lacking in any way.

Panel Votes:

  • Andrew 7 [Nuts and gravel]
  • Paula 8 [Soft and easy-drinking]
  • Jess 7 [A white wine for red wine drinkers]
  • Frankie 8 [what a find!]

Verdict:

Fleurs Blanches was an amazing match for the main course – perhaps helped by the dash of Fleurs Blanches which went in the jus.  O’Briens’ notes reckon that it “bears a closer resemblance to fine Burgundy than to Corbiéres” – I would clarify that by saying it could double for mature fine Burgundy – it’s that good!

Henri Bourgeois La Porte Caillou Sancerre 2013 (€22.99, currently €19.99, O’Briens)

Valentine’s connection: woo your Valentine with a classy, classic white wine.

Henri Bourgeois La Porte Caillou Sancerre 2013
Henri Bourgeois La Porte Caillou Sancerre 2013

Sancerre was the first wine region famous for varietal Sauvignon Blanc, but as is the way with Appellation-based fame, it is open to use and abuse.  If you’ve ever bought a Sancerre in a French supermarket then you will know that quality can be very variable…

So what to do?  Find a good producer, of course – or a great producer, such as Henri Bourgeois.

Minerality is a buzzword in wine at the moment, but the chalk soils of HB’s vineyards impart a magnificent flint character to his wines.  The very name “Porte de Caillou” means Pebble Gate, so that should give you an idea!

As well as the minerality (liked by one taster to sucking on gravel!), there’s lots and lots of fruit: very green, but ripe, fruit such as gooseberry and grapefruit, plus a little restrained tropical fruit.  There’s lots of acidity but it’s smooth rather than spiky, with more body and texture than you might expect from a Sauvignon.

Panel Votes:

  • Andrew 8 [An integrated continuum from the nose though to the palate]
  • Paula 7 [Lovely and fresh]
  • Jess 6 [Prefer fruity Sauvignons]
  • Frankie 8 [Classic Sancerre!]

Verdict:

Food friendly Sauvignon that the Kiwis are now trying to emulate.  This shows how Sancerre should be done, and why it became a classic in the first place.

Ars Nova Navarra Gran Reserva 2007 (€17.49, O’Briens)

Valentine’s connection: an appeal to the finer things in life – and seductive in the glass.

Ars Nova Navarra Gran Reserva 2007
Ars Nova Navarra Gran Reserva 2007

Named after the Mediaeval Latin for “New Art” (as in New Technique), this is a blend of 40% Tempranillo (well known in Rioja and elsewhere in Spain), 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot (both from Bordeaux).  Its home region of Navarra had non-native (mainly French) varieties planted from the 1980s onwards, so now winemakers have a wide choice of ingredients.

As a Gran Reserva it has spent eighteen months maturing before being bottled – the producer mentions nine months in French oak so I’m guessing a further nine in a larger format of vessel.  Alcohol is punchy but not overblown at 14.0%.

It shows smoke rather than vanilla characters from the oak, followed by red fruit (strawberry) moving into black fruit (blackberry, blackcurrant, blueberry) and a savoury finish.  There’s perhaps an edge of leather and liquorice but they don’t dominate.  Overall the impression is of fruit sweetness, plenty of tannin, well balanced.

Panel Votes:

  • Andrew 8 [My kind of wine, fruit and tannin together]
  • Paula 9 [My favourite wine of the night]
  • Jess 9 [Easy going, smooth, could drink this every day]
  • Frankie 8 [Spain meets Bordeaux, incredible value]

Verdict:

Perfectly poised between (fruit) sweet and (tannin) savoury, this was a big hit with everyone.  It was a good match for the cheese but would also be great with beef, lamb or venison.  Without the renown of Rioja, the winemakers of Navarra have really upped their game.  The only downside to this wine was that a Lussac St-Emilion tasted afterwards was dry and thin in comparison!

More Valentine’s Wines to come!