Tag: Grange

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2016

The turn of the year means a chance to look forward to some excellent tastings coming up, but also a chance to look back at some great wines tasted over the previous twelve months.  Here are ten of the many reds which caught my attention in 2016:

10. Cicero Alto Reben AOC Graubünden Pinot Noir 2012

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In Europe the country most well known for Pinot Noir is of course France, with examples from Burgundy still being among the most expensive wines in the world.  After that it’s probably Germany for Spätburgunder and then perhaps Italy for Pinot Nero, but don’t forget Switzerland – hillside vineyards can be perfect for Pinot, and although Swiss wines are never cheap they can offer good value for money.  See here for the full review.

9. Mas St Louis Châteauneuf du Pape 2012

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CNDP can often be a blockbuster wine with loads of mouthfeel and 15.0% or more alcohol. Wines which don’t measure up to this are often inferior lightweight versions not worthy of the appellation or the price tag – better to go for a Gigondas or Vacqueras instead.  But just occasionally you might come across a wine which is not typical of the area but transcends it – and this is the one.  A high proportion of Grenache and sandy soil are apparently the reason for its lightness – but you will have to try it yourself.

8. Paul Osicka Heathcote Shiraz 2004

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My favourite hotel in Ireland is The Twelve in Barna near Galway City, and luckily it’s also my wife’s favourite.  The rooms, the service and the food are all excellent – and so is the wine!  When last there some months ago for a weekend (kid-free) break I spied this mature Heathcote Shiraz on the wine list and had to give it a try with the côte de boeuf for two (and although I was tempted to have both to myself I did of course share them with my wife).  I will definitely look out for this wine again!

7. Atalon Napa Merlot 2004

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Quality Californian Merlot isn’t an oxymoron, though there is plenty mediocre Merlot made in the Central Valley.  When it’s good, it can be great, and this nicely mature 2004 is probably the best Merlot I’ve ever tasted from California, and definitely the best I’ve tasted from any region this year.  See here for the full review.

6. Niepoort Clos de Crappe Douro 2013

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“A wine that asks more questions than it answers” is a fair summary of this unusual Douro red – and perhaps that’s why it’s so interesting.  It’s not a wine for everyone, with higher than average acidity and body more akin to Burgundy than the Douro, but it brings the funk!  See here for the full review.

5. Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014

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Time and time again, the 20 Barrels Pinot has impressed me with its silky smooth berrytastic goodness.  It’s possibly the closest thing to a red wine for all men (and women) – without being a lowest common denominator compromise.  Most notably it shone in an all-star Pinot Noir tasting arranged by importers Findlaters, beating off competition from Burgundy, California, Marlborough and elsewhere – in fact the only real competition was the big brother Cono Sur Ocio, though that is around twice the price.

4. Wolf Blass Black Label 1998

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Wolfgang Blass is something of a legend in Australian wine, and while his eponymous wines range down to everyday drinking level, his multi-award winning Black Label has been one of the top Aussie wines since its creation in 1973 – it won the prestigious Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy for an amazing three consecutive years with the 73 – 74 – 75 vintages, and then an unprecedented fourth time with this 1998 release.  Tasting the 1998 was a real privilege!

3. Vajra Barolo Ravera 2011

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I’ve had some nice Barolos over the years but, to be honest, the tannin and acidity have often put me off – not to mention the price.  Many need a good decade to even start being drinkable, and, while I’m not advocating fruit bombs, Barolo can be somewhat lacking on the primary flavour side.   But, as Erasure said, it doesn’t have to be like that – this is a wonderful, complex, accessible Barolo.  See here for the full review.

2. Penfolds Grange 2010

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If Spinal Tap’s amps went up to 11, then wine critics should surely have awarded this wine 102 points, as it betters even the excellent 100-pointer from 2008.  It’s still tightly wound compared to the lighter 2011 and more easy-going 2009, but it will be a legendary vintage when it reaches its peak in another decade or two.

1. Cascina Garitina Nizza 900

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A wine to show that Barbera can make excellent wines, not just something to sup waiting for Barolos and Barbarescos to mature.  Made around the town of Nizza Montferrato in Piedmont, Nizza wine was a subregion of Barbera d’Asti until gaining full DOCG status in 2014.  Gianluca Morino of Cascina Garitina is an innovative producer who makes some very good Barbera d’Asti but an amazing Nizza – a truly excellent wine with more depth and poise than I’ve witnessed in any other Barbera.

 

 

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Parallel Lines – Torres Mas La Plana 40th Vintage

For those familiar with a little of the recent history of wine, this description of a wine’s genesis may sound somewhat familiar:

  1. It was first made by a “Black Sheep” working at a wine producer founded in the 19th century
  2. Its creator aimed to create an equivalent in terms of quality and longevity to Bordeaux’s First Growths
  3. It was a new style of wine for the period, with a focus on quality and using newer oak
  4. The wine was named after a small rural building
  5. The head of the winery didn’t approve of the new wine so it wasn’t released at first
  6. It was initially a blend but then tended towards being a varietal
  7. The name of the wine changed a little over the years
  8. The wine is the winery’s flagship, even if it is now not necessarily the most expensive its portfolio

So were you thinking of Penfolds Grange?

I wouldn’t blame you – Max Schubert’s experimental creation of 1951 certainly matches the description, though another also fits the bill from closer to (my) home – Torres Mas La Plana (MLP).

Mas La Plana
Mas La Plana

The original home of Torres is Penedès in Catalonia, and although remaining family owned they have grown to be the largest producer in Spain.  Outposts in Chile and California have grown their presence in the New World.  Continental climate means hot days but cool nights which allow the vines to rest, so acidity is retained and the resulting fruit does not have a confected quality.

And as for point 2 above?  Under its previous moniker of Gran Coronas Black Label in 1970 Mas La Plana won the Gault-Millau wine olympiad in Paris, with higher marks than top Bordeaux such as Chateau Latour or Chateau Haut-Brion.

Evolution in winemaking and style

When the vineyard was first planted in 1970 there was a little Tempranillo and Grenache along side the Cabernet Sauvignon.  The majority of the Penedès region is still planted with white grapes for Cava, though of course they fall under their own separate DO.

In 1981 yields were reduced, mainly by abandoning the use of nitrogen based fertiliser, and cluster thinning (“vendange vert” in French).  Maceration time was extended up to four weeks and American oak was complemented by French oak.  The proportion of French to American was gradually increased so that the latter was absent by 1990.

40th Vintage Celebration Tasting At Brookwood Restaurant

John Wilson (Irish Times), Liam Campbell (Irish Independent), Frankie Cook (Frankly Wines)
John Wilson (Irish Times), Liam Campbell (Irish Independent), yours truly, all deep in comtemplation

1981 (from Magnum)

This was a surprise addition to the tasting.  The Irish importers Findlaters had found a magnum from way back in 1981 in their treasure cave, but weren’t sure of its condition until it was opened on the morning of the tasting.  Even the Torres winery don’t have any 1981 left in magnum so we were very privileged to taste it.

It was beautiful!

Obviously, being a magnum meant that it had developed more slowly than a standard 75cl bottle would over the same time.  In my opinion it was right at its peak – still plenty of fruit, though more dried than fresh.  This could have kept for several more years, but was perfect there and then.

1989

Gran Coronas Mas La Plana 1989
Gran Coronas Mas La Plana 1989

Even just by looking at the bottle you can notice a few salient things about this era of Mas La Plana.  Firstly, the vineyard name was a sub-brand, Gran Coronas was the principal brand.  Nowadays, Gran Coronas is the next step down from MLP; in vintages where the fruit is not considered good enough to make MLP the grapes are blended in as a component of the Gran Coronas.

Secondly, the term Gran Reserva appears at the bottom of the label.  The criteria in Penedes are not quite as strict as in Rioja or Ribera del Duero, but there is still a considerable minimum period of ageing in oak barrels.  Gran Reserva used to be very important as a signifier of quality, but it also denotes a woodier style – and nowadays Mas La Plana is more about the fruit than the wood, so the term is not used.

Finally, the alcohol – only 12.5%!  Compare this with the 2010 vintage’s stated 14.5% and the evolution of style over time is very apparent.  Some of this is down to the actual heat in each year, as more sunlight energy is turned into sugar by photosynthesis. Some is also down to the yeast used – if commercial rather than ambient strains are used this can give a significant boost to alcohol levels.  And of course, picking the grapes at a high level of ripeness in a particular year also gives more alcohol.

2005

Toni Batet from Torres
Toni Batet from Torres

2005 is widely regarded as an excellent vintage in Bordeaux, but was also good in Catalonia.  This was my favourite of the current millennium vintages – still loads of blackcurrant and blackberry primary fruit but already some interesting cedar and tobacco notes.  The 2005 is in full bloom but has the structure to last until the end of this decade at least.

The charming Toni Batet from Torres (pictured) explained that sorting tables are used to ensure only the best grapes go into Mas La Plana, and if the vintage isn’t deemed good enough then the grapes from the vineyard go into Gran Coronas.

2008 & 2009

Vertical tasting of Torres Mas La Plana
Vertical tasting of Torres Mas La Plana

For me these two vintages were quite similar – and being so close together that’s understandable.  It just shows that there aren’t bad wines made nowadays – at this level of quality, anyway.

2010

Mas La Plana 2010
Mas La Plana 2010

And so to the 40th Vintage itself.  This is such a baby, but amazingly already drinkable.  It deserves to be laid down for another five years at least, but if I had to drink it now then decanting for a couple of hours would help it open out and soften the bold tannins.

Conclusions?

For all the apparent similarities with the Grange story, Mas La Plana is its own wine and a worthy flagship for Torres.  My personal preferences on grapes place Cabernet Sauvignon at the top of my red wine rankings (don’t say that too fast!), so it’s a winner in my book.  And for a flagship wine, it’s not stupidly expensive, under €50 in Ireland compared to five times that (or more) for Grange.

Get some today and drink it when it’s ready!