St John’s Road is a small scale winery in South Australia’s Barossa making a small range of three Barossa Valley reds and a solitary Eden Valley white. Their wines undoubtedly reflect their origins, but also a European sense of balance and elegance – possibly due to the time their founders spent in the south of France.
Grapes for the red wines are mainly sourced from long-term partner growers in Stonewell, Light Pass, and Gomersal, plus their own small holdings.
St. John’s Road Motley Bunch GMS 2016
GMS is a twist on the classic Southern Rhône GSM blend, with Mataro (a.k.a. Mourvèdre, 36%) overtaking the Shiraz (27%) in the blend, but Grenache narrowly staying up front with 37%. It’s not just a case of chucking all the grapes into a fermenter, either; they are selected, vinified and matured to give an end wine that is more than the sum of its parts. Grenache doesn’t shine with new oak nor lots of oxygen so it’s matured in old 500 litre French oak puncheons. The Mataro and Shiraz elements are aged in smaller, 300 litre hogsheads, though only 10% of this oak was new.
How does this translate in the glass? To kick off, it pours a bright, glowing ruby. The nose shows lifted strawberry aromas and perfumed redcurrants, tinged with notes of spice and earth. The palate is lithe and delicious, with delightful red and black fruits to the fore, and a touch of oak in the background. There are also savoury, gamey notes which stop this wine running away with itself, and plenty of structure to frame everything nicely.
There’s no doubt that this is an Aussie wine, but it’s a modern, food-friendly wine which speaks firmly and produly of its origins but doesn’t shout.
Stockists (2017): jnwine.com; La Touche Wines, Greystones
RhonéA1 is a superco-op, an agglomeration of 5 existing co-ops from the South Rhône. Their range covers a distinct part of the Rhône méridional, based on where the member co-ops’ own members vineyards lie: the AOCs of Beaumes-de-Venise, Gigondas, Rasteau, Sablet, Vacqueyras and Visan.
Included in their range is a Côtes du Rhône blended in collaboration with local chefs – “Légende des Toques” – but for a few euro more their Rasteau blend is a distinct step up:
RhonéA Rasteau Tradition 2019
Rasteau has only been an AOC for dry red wines for a dozen years or so, and still flies under the radar next to Gigondas, Vacqueras and of course Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Perhaps there’s a certain underdoggedness (if such a word exists) which makes them state that Rasteau is a “Cru” on the label; or, perhaps, it’s for the benefit of consumers who aren’t that familiar with “Rasteau” but do know “Rhône”2.
Back to the wine itself, and this is a typical southern Rhône GSM blend, consisting of 60% Grenache (Noir), 25% Syrah and 15% Mourvèdre. No oak is used for either fermentation or maturation – concrete tanks give a little softer edge than stainless steel but no added aromas or flavours.
It’s perhaps a touch darker in the glass than it’s CdR sibling: that’s the Syrah and Mourvèdre showing their face. The Grenache comes through strongly on the nose with a big hit of alpine strawberries and blackberries, but there’s also more intense and darker fruit, lavender, violets and thyme. The palate has all those herbs and dark fruit notes intertwined in a tasty package. The finish moves more towards black olive and savoury notes: once again the minor players make a big impression!
I’m a big fan of the smaller wine importers and distributors in Ireland and the independent wine shops where many of their wines are sold. Neither of these roles is easy or that well paid, but require a passion for wine. The other part of wine retail is the supermarkets and multiples who have higher quantities but lower priced offerings. The challenges here – especially in supermarkets – are very different. Wines have to be very commercial – which I use in a factual and not derogatory sense – as wines have to mainstream and meet customers’ expectations rather than being quirky or unusual. They often have to have attractive packaging and offer very good value for money – there’s no hand-selling like in an indie – and they have to sell.
The Irish supermarket that strikes the best balance for me is SuperValu and its head of wine Kevin O’Callaghan. I write about their wines frequently for two main reasons:
I taste a lot of their wines (which are usually samples, and are disclosed as such)
Their wines nearly always offer great value for money, especially when on promotion
And, just as for all retails and importers who send me samples, if I don’t like a wine I just don’t mention it.
In addition to the noted price reductions SuperValu also offer €10 off any six bottles from Thursday 26th November to Wednesday 9th December. Below I review some of the “Classic Christmas Wines” that Kevin has selected for their Xmas promotion.
Disclosure: all bottles were kindly sent as samples, but opinions remain my own
André Goichot Chablis 2018
I reviewed this vintage back in September of this year and liked it; if you like Chablis or clean, dry but fruity whites, then this citrus and green appled wine is definitely worth a try. Great for seafood or as an aperitif.
RRP: €19.66 down to €15.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec
I also reviewed this wine in September, but I think it’s showing even better with a few more months. The mid-palate has some particularly tasty tropical notes, along with gooseberry and just a little grassiness. At the regular price of just under €20 this Sancerre is very good, but at €15 it is a real bargain. Just don’t drink it too cold!
RRP: €19.66 down to €15.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec while stocks last
Another wine from the Goichot stable, but this time a Cru Beaujolais. Fleurie is one of the lighter Crus, and it shows in this wine which is quite pale in the glass – I could read print through a tasting sample. The nose has both fresh and tinned strawberries, with a touch of black cherry reminding me of Ski yoghurts in an ’80s flashback. The strawberries are also prominent on the palate, but with a hint of spice in the background. There’s a nice texture and fresh acidity to this wine which make it very quaffable. This isn’t the best Fleurie I’ve ever tried but at €12 on offer it’s a great mid-week quaffer to have on the wine rack, or with cold cuts over Xmas.
RRP: €14.66 down to €12.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec
Vacqueyras, for those who don’t know it, is a southern Rhône Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre (GSM) blend which offers a bold fruity red wine in the vein of Châteauneuf du Pape but at a lower price. Grenache gives easy drinking red fruits, Syrah gives pepper, spice and more savoury notes while Mourvèdre gives grip, perfume and meaty aspects. The precise ratio between the three components depends on what style the winemaker is looking to achieve.
The nose on this wine is all about the fruit; blueberry, wild strawberry and tinned strawberry. These notes continue through onto the palate where black fruits and herbs also appear. The finish is quite dry which made me think there there’s a good proportion of Syrah and Mourvèdre in the blend; subsequent investigation revealed there to be 20% and 10% respectively which fits my observations.
This is a reasonable effort. I don’t think I’d buy it at full price but the significant reduction puts it into the “worth a try” category.
RRP: €20.65 down to €14.00 from 26th Nov to 30th Dec while stocks last
The Ripasso style is a half way house between normal Valpolicella and Amarone, made by pumping Valpolicella wine into a tank which was used for fermenting Amarone, after that wine has been pumped out leaving the gross lees (mainly grape skins) behind which still have some fermentable sugars left. The end wine has a little more alcohol and (usually) a little more residual sugar than the plain Valpolicella.
This example from Vivaldi is made from three classic local grapes: Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella. For real wine geeks (such as myself) it is interesting that the initial fermentation was at 25°C – 28°C whereas the subsequent fermentation was carried out at just 15°C. Maturation was in wood before bottling.
That last sentence is important; for me the (unspecified) wood had an important influence on the wine, adding creamy vanilla and toasty notes to the bright cherry fruits from the grapes. Residual sugar is 8.5 g/L which is mainly perceived as extra body and roundness rather than sugariness. It’s the velvety texture which will appeal to most about this wine, though the downside is not quite as much freshness as I’d like myself. It’s definitely worth a try at the normal price of €15.65 but it’s an absolute steal at 6 for €40!
RRP: €15.65 or case deal of 6 for €40.00 from 17th to 20th Dec while stocks last
In these unusual times, we all need a lift from time to time. As a change to my usual wine reviews I’ve decided to start a fun and irreverent series on matching wine and music. The basic idea is that I give participants:
A piece of music –> they suggest a wine to go with it, with an explanation
A wine –> they suggest a piece of music to go with it
It’s all for fun, so please don’t slag off anybody’s taste music (or wine!) Thanks to Michelle Williams for the inspiration – she has been matching songs to wine for years on her Rockin Red Blog.
For installment 17 of the series, the friend of Frankly Wines is a Welshman with a huge passion for Spanish food and wine, Mitchell Young. When discussing his taste in music he mentioned bands from the 60s right up to the 2020s, but one period / movement that caught my eye was the ‘”Cool Cymru” contributions of the Manics, Stereophonics and Catatonia’ as I have several albums by these bands and have seen the Manics and Stereophonics live.
By a country mile my favourite Manics song is “Motorcycle Emptiness” which I bought as a 12″ single (that’s vinyl, for youngsters!) Like most people who have a passing interest in these things, I always presumed that it was played on his Gibson Les Paul Standard, but was actually played on a Fender Telecaster Thinline – check out this YouTube video.
Enough of the guitar geekery and onto the wine. As mentioned, Mitchell is a big fan of Spanish wines, but he is also partial to a good Rhône red, and over the past few years I have noticed him tweeting about a producer that he and I both like: the biodynamic specialist Montirius from the heart of the southern Rhône. Among their wines that I’ve tried it’s their Vacqueyras that I enjoyed most, so that was my pick for Mitchell!
Manic Street Preachers – Motorcycle Emptiness
I’d like to thank Frankie for this opportunity to talk about two of my favourite things, music and wine.
The song Frankie choose for me was, “Motorcycle Emptiness” by the Alternative Rock band, Manic Street Preachers. The song was released in 1992 and was the fifth single of their debut album, “Generation Terrorists”. It was later included in the, “Forever Delayed” greatest hits album. The song was written by the four original band members; Richey Edward was to go missing in 1995, and the song is seen as a commentary on capitalism and the choices it affords to young people and the conformity it demands of them.
The “Manics” formed in Oakdale Comprehensive School in South Wales in 1986. The area, like much of industrial Britain was suffering the economic turmoil of the 1980’s and in particular from the Miners’ Strike of 1984-1985. The band never seem to have forgotten their roots and don’t seem to have flown far from the nest if regular sightings of James Dean Bradfield walking his dog near where I live is anything to go by.
I’ve been lucky enough to see them perform a number of times, once supported by Catatonia, a really, “Cool Cymru” evening. The band have achieved global success with thirteen albums, the pick, for me, being their fifth album, “This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours”, which contains the track, “If You Tolerate this Your Children Will Be Next” a song inspired by the Welsh volunteers who went to fight in the Spanish Civil War”.
The band have firmly established as one Wales can be proud of musically, politically and culturally.
What to drink with this song? It didn’t take me long to settle on Gran Cerdo, “Big Pig”, Tempranillo. The producer, Gonzalo Gonzalo Grijalba is another “alternative”, the wine being biodynamic and natural. The wine appears to be technically a Rioja, it’s grown Rioja Alta, but Gonzalo prefers to bottle it as a Vino de España. Gonzalo is a man fiercely proud and protective of his family vineyards and its terroir.
Gonzalo’s father became ill working the vineyards during the 1970s due to his exposure to the chemicals widely used then. Gonzalo set out to not suffer the same fate as his father and set a path to produce a natural product. Much like the Manics, Gonzalo wanted to make different choices and step out of conformity. The wine’s label is a less than subtle reference to the lack of support he received from the bankers, pigs with their mouth stuffed with money, when he began this project.
The wine itself delivers a burst of dark red fruits with a hedgerow, forest floor background. Some spice, acidity and tannins make this a beautiful wine to drink. A lovely purple colour, slightly cloudy due to its biodynamic and natural production methods, with no hint of oak being produced in concrete vats. The wine appears to be developing a cult following.
I like to think the Manics and Gonzalo would really get on.
Domaine Montirius Garrigues Vacqueyras
The wine Frankie chose for me was Vacqueyras Garrigues Le Domaine Montirius, a great choice. A quick rummage through my wine “collection” revealed bottles going back to 2008 mostly bought directly from the domaine.
The wine is a fantastic example of what the Southern Rhone has to offer. Another wine produced in concrete vats using Grenache and Syrah. A deep, rich red wine with a burst of red fruits, beautiful tannins and with aromas of the “garrigue”, the herb scented scrub, that can still be found between the vineyards of the area. Another biodynamic wine with the vineyard having “converted” to biodynamics in 1996 the wine offers both characteristics of traditional Rhône wines and is an example of how new thinking will push the area forward in the future.
I first discovered Montirius in an independent wine store in Brighton, now sadly closed, and became a firm fan from the off. It was also my introduction to biodynamic wine. Its discovery coincided with a long series of family holidays to France which developed into over a decade of annual trips to the Vaucluse in Provence. The vineyards of Montirius are found here overlooked by the Dentelles and the sleeping giant of Provence, Mont Ventoux. The visit to the vineyard was always saved for the second week and always consisted of a very generous tasting session and early on I was lucky enough to be shown around by the wine maker Eric Saurel himself. When I met him, his hands were black with wine stains and he offered me an elbow which, being less Covid savvy greetings wise in those days, I think I shook!
By the time I recounted this to my boys, who were small at the time, his fingers had become vines. I think they believed me for a while. Listening to Eric tell me all about biodynamics, how the water used in making the concrete vats had stones from the vineyards left in it so it could absorb something of the terroir, how each of the vats was “earthed” into the bedrock with copper wires, how thought was given to the orientation of the buildings and so on. He may have been making some of it up but I was sold. If this much love went into making the wine it had to be great.
What to listen to with this wine? It didn’t take me long to settle on, “Omaha” by Counting Crows. Like the wine I can remember hearing this song for the first time and like the wine I was fan from that point on.
The band were formed in Berkley, California, in 1991. This song is from their first album, “August and Everything After”, released in 1993. I first saw them the year after in the Newport Leisure Centre and have seen them on every major European tour they’ve undertaken since. The band are a real ensemble of consummate musicians who have gone on to produce seven studio albums. It’s always a long wait between albums, but for me they’ve never bettered this album, being, like all subsequent albums, driven by lead singer Adam Duritz’s highly emotive and deeply personal lyrics. I love the whole album but this is the stand out track for me.
What’s the link to the wine? Spending three weeks in a car travelling the length of France, stopping typically in Reims, Valence and Nimes on the way down and Dijon and Arras on the way back meant music choices were of vital importance, with a CD player being the height of technology. With two adults, two children, everything they needed to bring with them, far too many clothes and space for wine on the return journey the number of CDs was limited to how many could be stored in the armrest storage. Much discussion took place but the Counting Crows CDs were a given for all four of us. The music, the journey, the vineyard and the wine will forever be linked.
It’s been a few years since we’ve undertaken the trip but we are planning on doing it next year Covid restrictions willing. If we do make it one thing is certain, we’ll be listening to “Omaha” visiting Montirius and drinking their Vacqueyras.
A Barry boy now residing in Cardiff, Mitchell has been married to Debbie for 32 years (she still can’t believe her luck.) They are lucky enough to have two boys who are both History graduates, which makes for some niche conversations over Sunday Lunch. He took early retirement from Primary School teaching which has given him even more time to pursue his interests of wine, food, travel and pottering about on an allotment. He has a real interest in Sherry (the best value wines in the world) and the wines of the Southern Rhône. He is also a keen cook and has a passion for Spanish food which has been encouraged by the boom in excellent tapas bars and Spanish restaurants in the Cardiff area.
Lidl Ireland are introducing some limited release French wines in their stores from Thursday 24th September 2020 in what they are calling their “September Wine Cellar”. I tasted the majority of them at the first press tasting since Covid first hit and can give them all a thumbs up. They aren’t likely to win any major awards but they are very good value for money and give wine drinkers a chance to try something representative of a style they might not have tried before.
Here are my brief notes on four more reds included in the event:
Val de Salis Syrah Pays d’Oc 2019
Syrah’s home is in the northern Rhône where it is the only black grape used; it is also an important component of southern Rhône blends where it provides aromatics and a backbone to Grenache. Such is the standing of Syrah in France that planting it in the Languedoc has been positively encouraged by the French wine authorities who deem it to be an “improving grape”, i.e. better than many others planted there. This Val de Salis Syrah is mid to dark in the glass with a youthful purple rim. The nose shows bountiful blackberry along with sweet / savoury liquorice. This is a warming wine to taste (despite the reasonable alcohol) with tasty red and black fruits. There are also interesting notes of spice, liquorice and black olive giving a nice savoury finish.
Stockists: Lidl Ireland
Val de Salis Syrah Viognier Réserve Pays d’Oc 2019
In my reference to the northern Rhône above I stated that Syrah is the only black grape permitted there. While this is 100% true, it’s not the full picture; some red wine AOC regulations permit the addition of white grapes(!) when making red wine, either Viognier (Côte Rôtie) or Marsanne and/or Roussanne (Saint-Joseph, Crozes Hermitage and Hermitage). What the darned heck is that all about? you may ask. The white grapes serve to soften the Syrah, add their own aromatics to the wine and also help the Syrah’s own aromas to fully bloom.
Like the varietal Syrah above this is mid to dark intensity in the glass with a purple rim. The nose is very aromatic, ripe deep black fruit and spice. There are also hints of oak treatment and some graphite. It is lovely and round in the mouth, fill of black and red fruit, lots of toasty vanilla and smooth chocolate (think Galaxy). Such a delicious wine!
Stockists: Lidl Ireland
Château Gabier Cahors 2018
From the Languedoc we now head north west to Cahors (administratively in the south west of France for wine purposes). Of course Cahors is the original home of Malbec, a grape which has expanded outside its heartland to Bordeaux and the Loire Valley, among other places (I hear reports that some is planted in Argentina). As you’d expect from the “Black Wine of Cahors” this is dark in the glass, though not quite opaque. The nose features redcurrants, raspberries and blackberries, wrapped in a seductive smokiness. On the palate the black fruit comes to the fore, but there are also red fruit notes providing great acidity and freshness. This is nothing like an Argie Malbec, but it’s worth a try to see if you like this style.
Stockists: Lidl Ireland
Organic Vacqueyras 2019
Information on the front label is again somewhat lacking, though at the top it does tell you that this is a “Cru de la Vallée du Rhône” (which you can hopefully translate for yourselves) and there’s a symbol confirming that it’s certified organic. The papal crossed keys are deliberately reminiscent of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s crossed keys and tiara – in fact Vaqueyras producers are being a little naughty with this (see this Yapp Brothers’ blog post for a full explanation). Like most southern Rhône reds Vacqueyras wines tend to be a Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre (GSM) blend.
In the glass this is quite dark for the southern Rhône which makes me think there’s a good proportion of Syrah (which is darker than Grenache) in the blend. The nose exhibits luscious strawberries and spice. This is a big and fairly rich wine; voluptuous, but with a certain lightness as well. Strawberry notes dominate the attack but there is also a dry, herbal finish. This is a fantastic winter wine.
Stockists: Lidl Ireland
The amazing aromatics of the Val de Salis Syrah Viognier make this an easy pick of the bunch for me.
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)
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)
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)
“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)
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!