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.

 

 

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Book Review, Tasting Events

DNS host Wilson on Wine (Part 2)

How does the 2019 edition of Wilson on Wine compare to the first from 2015?  Well it’s a different colour for a start, but the changes have been subtle improvements with each edition.  The indices in the back are very helpful, so you can look up particular wines or see which wines are listed from your favourite wine merchants.  For the first time there’s a natural wine section – wines that can be a little different so might not suit the unprepared – but what better way to prepare than having someone recommend a few!

Wilson On Wine 2019

Part 1 looked at the wines we tasted that were particularly good value for money; now we look at some which were just exceedingly good:

Granzamy Brut Champagne NV (12.0%, RRP €34.95 at O’Briens)

granzamy brut-nv champagne

This Champagne has a few unusual facets considering its distribution through a multiple retailer:

  1. It’s a “Grower Champagne”, i.e. the grapes used are the producer’s own rather than being bought in (see this post on Champagne types for more background).
  2. It’s made from 100% Pinot Meunier, the third Champagne grape which is often unfairly looked down upon.
  3. It’s totally delicious!!

Granzamy fully deserves its normal price of €34.95 but is sometime on promotion at €5 or even €10 less, making it an absolute steal.  When Champagnes are discounted this low they aren’t usually that nice, but this is an exception.  Looks out for promotions and fill your boots!

Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2016 (13.0%, RRP €24.95 at O’Briens)

gaia assyrtiko wild ferment

Gaia’s Wild Ferment Assyrtiko is a regular on Frankly Wines and the 2016 vintage is now singing sweetly.  It manages to reflect both its volcanic and maritime origins with thrilling acidity and soft stone fruit.  As always, the Wild Ferment makes itself known through an attractive funkiness on the nose.  The simpler little brother Monograph gives a good introduction to the grape, but this is still one of the finest examples I’ve tried.

Stonier Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%, RRP €26.95 at O’Briens)

stonier mornington peninsula chardonnay

The Mornington Peninsula is one of the most southerly wine regions in mainland Australia, giving cool conditions which are great for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  For me, this wine is the proof that natural wine is not the only way to make good wine.  I do like plenty of wines which are considered natural, but judicious intervention in terms of wine making choices can add interest, without artificial chemicals in the vineyard or winery.  The grapes are sourced from different sites around the region, and then around half (from the coolest sites) are allowed to go through malolactic fermentation which softens and rounds the wine.  Some oak is used in various formats, but only 15% is new.

With its struck match reductive funky nose and fleshy citrus mouthfeel, this is the sort of wine that would have a €60+ price tag on it if it was from Burgundy!

Weingut Rabl Grüner Veltliner Käferberg 2015 (13.5%, RRP €24.95 at O’Briens)

rabl gruner kaferberg

I like “regular” Grüners, whether from Austria, New Zealand or elsewhere, but special ones like this make a really good ambassador for the grape.  It has texture, richness and a depth of flavour that place “Beetle Mountain” ahead of the rest.  For Alsace fans this has quite a lot in common with a superior Pinot Gris (perhaps one from Kaefferkopf which is “Beetle Head”).  I’d be very interested to see how this develops over the next half decade or so, but to be honest it’s so delicious now I don’t think I’d be able to keep my hands off it!

Domaine Tempier Bandol Rouge 2014 (14.5%, RRP €39.95 at Karwig Wines)

domaine tempier bandol rouge

Bandol is one of the most famous Provence AOCs and Domaine Tempier have been a leading producer since the nineteenth century.  Red, white and rosé are produced, but here we focus on the red, Mourvèdre dominated but augmented by a little Grenache and Cinsault.  Bandol is the only place in France with enough sun and heat to properly ripen Mourvèdre, and boy does it show – there are intensely concentrated black and red berries bursting out of the glass, and lifted, spicy aromatics.  This is a wine which could last decades but is already really special.

 

 

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:

Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 4)

So far we have looked at the northern Crus (part 1), Châteauneuf-du-Pape (part 2) and other southern Crus (part 3).  Now it’s the turn of wines from the regional Côtes du Rhône appellation plus one of the stars of Ventoux, not a cru as such but one of the best of the other AOCs in the Rhône.

Domaine André Brunel “Cuvée Sommelongue” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (14.0%, RRP €18.30 at Karwig Wines)

Andre Brunel CDR cuvee sommelongue

It would be very rare for a wine drinker to have not had a bottle of Rhône, and it’s close to a certainty that they have tried an AOC Côtes du Rhône.  The reason is simple – 48% of the whole region’s production has that AOC with a further 11% being Côtes du Rhône-Villages [2016 vintage: source: http://www.rhone-wines.com/en/en-chiffre].

What would be unusual, however, would be for that drinker to have tried a CDR with five or six years of age – most are very approachable in their youth and so are enjoyed when young.  Just because a wine can be enjoyed young doesn’t mean that it should be – and this is the perfect example of a CDR that has benefitted from ageing.

This tastes quite different from the exuberantly fruity young CDRs; primary fresh fruit has mellowed and the herbal garrigue notes are more prominent.  This Cuvée Sommelongue would be perfect with a hearty stew, and adding a dash or two as you make it would be highly appropriate!

Domaine Roche-Audran “César” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (15.0%, RRP €22.95 at Baggot Street Wines)

Domaine Roche-Audran Cesar CDR

Just like buses, there seem to be no 2012 CDRs and then two come along together!  This shows that well made wines can age gracefully, despite a modest appellation.  I say gracefully, but César is a bit of a bruiser – with 15.0% abv it has as much power as Greyskull.  You don’t need to be He-Man to drink it though – this biodynamic beauty has lots of lovely red fruit and herbal notes from 100% Grenache grapes.  If it’s cold outside, pop the cork and warm yourself up!

Château Pesquié “Quintessence” Ventoux 2015 (13.5%, RRP €27.95 at Searsons)

Pesquie Quintessence

René & Odette Bastide bought Château Pesquié in the early 1970s, around the same time that the Côtes du Ventoux appellation was created (it dropped the “Côtes du” from 30th November 2008).  They replanted much of the vineyards while still selling their grapes to the local co-operative.  A decade or so later their daughter Edith and her husband Paul Chaudière joined the family firm and took up oenology seriously.  Together they built a winery and started producing Château Pesquié wines from the 1990 vintage – including Quintessence which was (and remains) a statement of quality for the region.

The slopes of Mont Ventoux provide much needed cool air to the area, thus making Syrah a key variety down here as it is in the north.  Quintessence is 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache, full of dark black fruit and savoury tapenade.  Although drinking nicely now, it has the structure and acidity to age for several decades – if you can manage not to touch it!

Château Pesquié “Artemia” Ventoux 2014 (14.5%, RRP €46.50)

Pesquie Artemia

Edith and Paul Chaudière’s sons Alex and Fred became the next generation to join the family wine business, bringing additional enthusiasm and know-how.  Artemia became the new flagship wine, the combination of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah from two individual low-yielding old vine single vineyards.  Maturation is 18 months in oak, split half and half between new and used barrels.

Given the blend, Artemia is more fruit forward and less obviously structured than Quintessence – more elegant and more approachable, though still with an intense concentration of fruit.  The oak is well integrated and adds a little gravitas.  This is a very different expression of Ventoux from its sibling, and preference between the two is very much down to personal preference.  My own….I’ll take both please!

 

 

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

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 2)

Part 1 covered some fantastic northern Rhône reds to try this autumn.  Now we move onto the most famous appellation of the Rhône – and possibly the whole of France – Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Although aspects of quality are built in to the AOC rules, it doesn’t mean the wines are always great – some negotiants have released wines which aren’t balanced and do the CNDP name little good – they are usually found in discount supermarkets.  Thankfully there are quality conscious producers who make outstanding wines that show why Châteauneuf is held in such high regard.

Mas Saint-Louis Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 (14.0%, RRP €36.00 at Searsons)

chateauneuf-du-pape mas saint louis

Tasted among its peers this wine stands out for its lightness and elegance rather than its power – in fact its appellation would be a surprise to many as it is perhaps more like a Pommard than a typical blockbuster CNDP.  The blend here is 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah and the remaining 15% a mix of Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Picpoul Noir.

Red and black fruits abound, but it is the beguiling manner of their delivery which is so compelling.  With a touch of spice and a long finish, this is the Châteauneuf that you will want to keep as a secret!

Domaine Roche-Audran Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 (14.0%, RRP €49.00 at 64 Wine)

Roche Audran Chateauneuf du pape

Domaine Roche-Audran was set up as recently as 1998, but began biodynamic practices soon after in 2006.  They have three distinct terroirs, and it’s the third of a hectare in Châteauneuf-du-Pape which concerns us here, described as “molassic sand covered with round pebbles originating from the river Rhône”.  Sand loses heat quickly so the vines get something of a rest at night, helping to preserve acidity and delicacy.

Quite unusually for CNDP the Roche-Audran vineyard is 100% Grenache – it’s only due to the sandy soil that it doesn’t become over-ripe and over-alcoholic.  The vines are 60 years of age and cropped at 28 hl/ha.

The result is a gentle, enticing, inviting and seductive wine.  It slips down the throat and demands another glass be consumed.  Although the alcohol is not that high for the area it’s an intoxicating wine.

Domaine André Brunel “Les Cailloux” Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2013 (14.0%, RRP €45.55 at Karwig Wines)

Andre Brunel CNDP Les Cailloux

“Cailloux” are river-rounded stones, not quite as big as the famous “galets” pudding stones of the area, but serving a similar function of maintaining easy drainage and thus keeping the vines on their toes.

The Brunel family have been making wine in the area since the 17th century, but things were put on a more serious footing in 1954 when Lucien Brunel set up the Les Cailloux label.  His son André took over in 1971 and expanded the family’s holdings into other Rhône areas, but also introducing several innovations – he among was the first in CNDP to do away with chemicals in the vineyard and also created the super-premium “Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire”.  André’s son Fabrice joined in 2012 to keep the family tradition going.

Les Cailloux Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre; my tasting notes for this wine are compact and bijou – bloody amazing!  It’s smooth and fluid, a real pleasure to drink and it doesn’t bash you over the head!

Domaine de Mourchon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 (15.0%, RRP €39.00)

Mourchon CNDP

Situated just outside the beautiful village of Séguret, Domaine de Mourchon has vines around the winery and in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Their flagship wine is 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre and 10% Syrah – a slight re-ordering of the typical GSM blend.  The vines range from 60 to 80 years old and are planted on sandy soils and in “le Crau” lieu-dit.  Maturation is for 12 months split between demi-muid 600L barrels (70%) and concrete tanks (30%).

This is an amazingly perfumed wine – one that you hesitate to taste as it would interrupt your appreciation of the aromas – but once you have tasted you delight in its lithe red fruit and exotic spices.  The stated alcohol is fairly punchy at 15%, but it never stands out as the wine wears it very well.  Such a fine wine!

Tasting Events

Dream Sweets (Are Made Like This)

DNS Wine Club were recently treated to a sneak peak of the sweet wines shown to the Irish press.  The trio below were the standouts, but please remember – sweet wines are not just for dessert!

 

Château Rieussec Sauternes 2014 (14.0%, RRP €50.00 (375ml) at O’Briens)

Chateau Rieussec 2014 Half Bottle

We start with the smallest bottle and lowest abv yet highest price – and all these facts are related.  Sauternes is an expensive wine to produce, as botrytised grapes (shrivelled by noble rot) contain less juice than normal grapes, and picking them at optimum levels often requires several passes in the vineyard.

Château Rieussec is one of 11 Premiers Crus (just below the sole Premier Cru Supérieur of Château d’Yquem) established by the 1855 Classification.  It was bought by the Lafite branch of the Rothschilds in 1984 and benefitted from their marketing and distribution efforts, though (thankfully) pricing is still a fraction of Lafite-Rothschild’s Grand Vin.  A second sweet wine (Carmes de Rieussec) and a dry white (R de Rieussec) complete the range.

This 2014 is made from the traditional Sauternes blend of Sémillon (93%), Sauvignon Blanc (5%) and Muscadelle (2%) and is an exuberant delight for the senses.  Still very young, it has a highly perfumed nose of stone fruit, whisky marmalade and ginger.  The spice is somewhat muted on the palate at present, as apricot, peach and citrus dominate, wrapped in an envelope of sweetness that is cosseting but not cloying.  As one DNS member put it “this tastes of money” – it’s a fabulous, beautiful wine.

 

Gérard Bertrand Banyuls 2011 (16.0%, RRP €23.95 (750ml) at O’Briens)

 

Gerard Bertrand Banyuls

Along with Maury and Rivesaltes, Banyuls is one of the three Vin Doux Naturel producing areas in Roussillon, French Catalonia.  As with the VDNs produced throughout France, grape spirit is added early on during fermentation to kill the yeast, leaving plenty of sugar left in the juice – and plenty of alcohol too!  This is the same method as used in Porto, so the end result is not unlike Port.

Grenache is the king in these parts, not least because of the grape’s ability to produce high sugar levels and moderate tannin levels.  Bottling is relatively quick after mutage as Grenache is susceptible to unwanted oxidation if left in oak, but once under cork the wine can last for decades.

At 16.0% Gérard Bertrand’s Banyuls comes in at around the same as some Californian and Italian wines – and tastes lighter than the vintage Port it was tried against.  Grenache Gris supports the mainstay Grenache Noir and adds elegance.  Fruit is the key here, both dried and fresh, with a little tannin and acidity supporting the show.  This would be superb with some fruit cake but perfect for contemplation on its own.

 

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny NV (19.0%, €24.95 (750ml) at O’Briens)

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny

Most of us don’t associate fortified wines with Australia, but for the majority of the twentieth century locally produced “port” and “sherry” dominated the market.  Once dry table wines had taken off, the Grenache and Shiraz vines that were the source of grapes for fortifieds were still used to some extent, but as varieties they fell behind Cabernet Sauvignon in the fashion stakes, so many older vines were sadly ripped up and replaced.  Thankfully, some still survive and make brilliant port style wines – though of course they can’t be labelled as such in the EU – and are the highlight of many winelovers’ discoveries on visiting Australian cellar doors.

This is a rare example which is available up here – in Ireland at least.  Produced by the ever-excellent Geoff Schrapel at Bethany in the Barossa, it is a blend of late harvested Grenache and Shiraz, aged together in old oak casks for an average of ten years before bottling.  As with tawny Port, this gives a lighter – almost brown – colour to the wine, with dried fruit and nutty flavours.  This is a delightful drink, especially in the coming darker months, and has more flavour than most Ports at this price.

Opinion

SuperValu French Wine Sale

SuperValu French picks
SuperValu’s French wine sale runs until 20th September, both online and in their stores.  Here are a few of their wines which I’ve tried and can heartily recommend:

Domaine de Haut Bourg Muscadet Côtes De Grandlieu Sur Lie 2015 (12.0%, €12.99 down to €10.00 at SuperValu)

Muscadet

From the western reaches of the Loire, Muscadet is best known for somewhat neutral flavours and searing acidity – it’s the perfect match for oysters and other shellfish. However, the better vignerons in the area can produce something that offers much more. Based around the Lac de Grandlieu, the subregion of Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu was only established in 1994, almost 60 years after the generic appellation, and represents a fraction of total production.

This has initial notes of tropical fruit (though not over the top), with a touch of creaminess from the time on lees, followed by a long mineral finish.  There’s plenty of acidity but it’s not at all austere.  Try this instead of a Picpoul!

 

Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux Du Giennois Alchimie 2015 (13.0%, €14.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)

Alchimie

Coteaux du Giennois is a Sauvignon Blanc-only appellation close to the more famous Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé in the Loire’s central vineyards.  Alchimie has been a favourite of mine over the past few vintages, and the 2015 is great.  It’s all about the Gs: gooseberry, grapefruit and grass, appealingly fruity in the mouth.  It’s definitely French Sauvignon (well this is the French wine sale after all!) but it’s accessible enough to appeal to fans of the grape grown in other countries.

 

La Vigne Des Sablons Vouvray 2015 (12.0%, €14.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)

Vouvray

Third Loire wine, third grape!  Vouvray is Chenin Blanc country, and is one of the best places for the grape.  Always with Chenin’s intrinsic acidity, it can be still or sparkling and range from austerely dry to very sweet.  This version is just off dry – there’s a little residual sugar on the finish if you really look for it, but it’s more about apple fruitiness and balancing the fresh acidity than adding sweetness.  At 12.0% the alcohol is fairly modest, which is probably no bad thing when it’s so damned drinkable!

 

Hommage Du Rhône Vinosobres 2015 (15.0%, €15.99 down to €12.00 at SuperValu)

Vinsobres

Vinsobres is a little known name which is not surprising as it has only existed as an appellation in its own right since 2006.  Before that it was part of the second tier of the Rhône wine pyramid as Côtes du Rhône Villages-Vinsobres which gives more of a clue as to its contents – mainly Grenache with support from Syrah and other local grapes.

Black fruit are to the fore: black cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant.  While the southern Rhône is much more consistent from year to year than, say, Bordeaux or Burgundy, this is from the excellent 2015 vintage and it packs a punch at 15.0%!  This is something to buy in the sale and drink on dark winter nights with a hearty stew.

 

 

Opinion

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

wolfblass-black-1998

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

900

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.

 

 

Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #8

Rhône Wine Week is the fourth such celebration of the wines of the Rhône Valley and runs in Ireland from 29th October to 5th November 2016.  Events and promotions will be held at good independent wine shops and restaurants throughout the country.

Each day during this year’s celebration will have its own wine to try:

Château Pesquié “Terraces” Ventoux 2012 (13.5%, €18 – 19, Donnybrook Fair; 64 Wine; Jus de Vine)

terrasses

Happily, I am quite familiar with Château Pesquié wines, including sampling the range at a tasting meal at Belleek Castle.  Further up the range, Quintessence then Artemia are amazingly concentrated.

This bottle is an estate blend named after the terraces cut into the hillsides of Mont Ventoux.  Although it has (just) a majority Grenache, which tends to produce generous amounts of alcohol, it’s not a huge blockbuster. 35 % of this vintage is aged in oak barrels (2 to 4 years old) or in oak tanks for about one year.  The key to Terrasses is drinkability without dumbing down – accessibility but still with some complexity.  It’s one of the best value Rhônes on the market!