Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Castello di Ama “Ama” Chianti Classico 2015 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #22]

Great wines have been made around the village of Ama for centuries, but the Castello di Ama winery was only founded in the 1970s by a group of local families who were keen to revive the area’s vinous fortunes.  Over the years they developed a significant range of Chianti wines – including several single vineyard wines that became part of the Gran Selezione classification – plus some IGTs including a Pinot Nero and a Chardonnay.

However, a significant milestone was  in 2010 when parts of each of the four vineyards were planted with new, high quality clones of Sangiovese.  As Sangiovese is prone to mutate quicker than many varieties (as in the case with Pinot Noir), a co-ordinated project within the Chianti Classico region was launched to improve the genetic material in the vineyards.  Of course, this cannot be done in a single go without huge quality and cashflow issues so it is done piecemeal.  Once the new vines were old enough to bear good grapes they were harvested and blended into a new cuvée, simply known as “Ama”.

Vineyard Technical Data (from website):

  • Total vineyard area: 80 hectares (198 acres)
  • Vineyard names: Bellavista, Casuccia, San Lorenzo and Montebuoni
  • Exposure: North-West, South-East
  • Soil: clay and calcareous
  • Altitude: 460-525 metres above sea level.
  • Training system: vertical trellis with single Guyot
  • Vine density: 5,200 vines/ha
  • Clone selections (for “Ama”): Sangiovese: CC2000, CC2004, AGRI45; Merlot: 343; Rootstock: 420

Castello di Ama “Ama” Chianti Classico 2015 (12.5%, RRP €32.95 at Karwig Wines and Mitchell & Son)

Castello di Ama

For me there is a lot of ordinary Chianti around (although this could be said for many well-known regions) and the wines can be quite thin and tannic without any fruit to counterbalance.  Despite 2015 being a warm and excellent year, the indicated alcohol of Ama is only 12.5%, which is a touch lighter than I would have expected both before and after tasting it.

Wine Technical Data (assembled from website):

  • Blend: 96% Sangiovese, 4% Merlot
  • 2015 Harvest dates: 22nd September (Merlot), 5th to 8th October (Sangiovese)
  • Yeasts: Ambient yeasts
  • Fermentation time: 25 days (varieties fermented separately)
  • Malolactic fermentation: Yes, in stainless steel tanks
  • Maturation: After blending, in second-use tight-grained oak casks
  • Bottled: January 2017

This is a smooth, quite powerful and spicy wine which is recognisably Sangiovesi and recognisably Chianti but is quite self-assured.  To have these results from such young vines is a testament to the plan of using new clones, the potential of the site and very accomplished wine-making.  After being disappointed too often this has renewed my love of Chianti!

 

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Opinion

In Praise of Co-operatives – Part 2 – Produttori del Barbaresco

Very few co-operatives are talked about in the same revered tones as Produttori del Barbaresco (“Producers of Barbaresco”, known as “Produttori” for short).  They have something of a cult following, and in good vintages their nine single vineyard (or “Cru”) Riserva wines are eagerly anticipated.

In fact, the single vineyard wines are only released when the winery believe that all nine are deserving of an individual release, otherwise the wines are blended into the Barbaresco DOCG (and, I’d imagine, some of the grapes which would go into that wine in a good year are declassified down into Langhe Nebbiolo).  That doesn’t mean that every single grape from those Cru will go into the Riserva wines; there is strict quality control.

The family name of each grower is included on the back label of each single vineyard wine (see below), even if there is an odd year where their grapes are not included for some reason.  As some of the owners’ surnames are the same there might appear to be some who own land in several different Crus!

Key Facts:

  • Founded: 1958
  • Location: Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy
  • No. of members: 50*
  • Grape varieties: Nebbiolo (100%)
  • Vineyard area: 250 acres / 100 hectares
  • Annual production (typical): 550,000 bottles / 45,000 cases
  • Labelled as (in good vintages):
    • Barbaresco (50%)
    • Single vineyard Barbarescos (30%)
    • Nebbiolo Langhe (20%)

A crucial fact about the whole winemaking process is that grapes from all nine single vineyards are treated the same, so that terroir rather than winemaking is the distinguishing factor.  For the 2013 vintage the following applies to the Crus:

  • Vinification: fermentation at 30°c (85°f), 28 days of skin contact time, malolactic completed
  • Ageing: 36 months in large oak barrels and 12 months in bottles
  • Bottling date: April 2017
  • Longevity: 20 years from the vintage

Below are brief tasting notes from the full range of wines supplemented by some relevant information from the Produttori website and a concise** overall summary of each Cru by Managing Director Aldo Vacca.

Produttori del Barbaresco, Langhe Nebbiolo 2015 (14.5%, RRP €28)

Langhe Nebbiolo

Website info:

  • Soil: limestone and clay, rich in calcium with sandy veins
  • Vinification: fermentation in concrete tanks at 28°C (83°F), 24 days on the skins, pumping over twice a day, malolactic fermentation completed
  • Ageing: in large oak barrels (25, 35 and 50 HL)
  • Bottling date: September 2017
  • Total production: 100,000 bottles (8,500 cases)

The Langhe Nebbiolo is made from lighter grapes across the 100 hectare estate, especially from younger vines or those with a less directly southerly aspect.  Quite floral on the nose, it shows lots of soft red fruit on the palate, particularly fresher red berries such as cranberry and raspberry.  The finish has plenty of tannin to remind you that you’re drinking Nebbiolo, but this is an approachable style and a great starting point for the estate.

Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€45)

Barbaresco 2013

Website info:

  • Vineyard exposure: south, west, east
  • Soil: limestone and clay, rich in calcium with sandy veins
  • Vinification: in stainless steel tanks, at 30°C (85°F), 28 days on the skins, pumping over 2-3 times a day, malolactic completed
  • Ageing: 24 months approx.
  • Bottling date: April 2016
  • Total production: approx. 220,000 bottles
    (18,500 cases)

This regular (non “Riserva”) Barbaresco is a midway point between the Langhe Nebbiolo and the single vineyard wines.  The texture is super smooth, showing that Barbaresco’s tag as “feminine” rings true.  It has the same fresh red fruit as the junior wine but moving into softer red fruits such as strawberries.  This has a lovely balance to it and a long finish.

Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva “Pora” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Pora2013

Bottle tasted: 7,525 / 16,666

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 10.7 hectares (26.4 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south, south-west
  • Soil: calcareous limestone with sandy veins
  • Vineyard owners: Dellaferrera, Manzone

Aldo Vacca one word review: Approachable

I concur with the “approachable” description, though it is a little more serious than the standard Barbaresco.  There’s lovely red fruit in there but the finish is a little tannic and drying for my tastes when drunk on its own.  (Pro Tip: drink it with food!)

Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva “Rio Sordo” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Rio Sordo

Bottle tasted: 12,439 / 13,333

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 4.5 hectares (11.0 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south – west
  • Soil: calcareous limestone with sandy veins
  • Vineyard owners: Alutto, Marengo

Aldo Vacca one word review: Elegant

This is an altogether deeper, richer wine than the Pora.  It shows a range of delicious red to black fruits with a pinch of exotic spice.  Sumptuous and well balanced, this is an outstanding wine.

Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva “Asili” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Asili2013

Bottle tasted: 10,432 / 13,333

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 2.28 hectares (5.63 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south / south – west
  • Soil: calcareous limestone with sandy veins
  • Vineyard owners: Conti, Giacosa, Viglino

Aldo Vacca one word review: Austere

I didn’t find this wine austere, but it was medium rather than full bodied with considerable acidity.  We’re back to red fruit and floral notes here; the Asili is finely balanced and poised – a fine wine in several senses.

Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva “Pajè” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Paje2013

Bottle tasted: 7,698 / 10,000

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 1.8 hectares (4.5 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south – west / west
  • Soil: calcareous limestone with sandy veins
  • Vineyard owners: Basso, Giordano

Aldo Vacca one word review: Bright

Among the red fruit notes which are close to ubiquitous in Produttori’s wine, the Pajè has a whole rack of herbs.  This is a tangy wine which I found to be slightly shorter than the others, but very nice drinking nevertheless.

Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva “Ovello” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Ovello2013

Bottle tasted: 7,572 / 17,160

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 20.3 hectares (50 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south – west / south east
  • Soil: calcareous limestone and clay
  • Vineyard owners: Audasso, Cavallo, Cravanzola, Gonella, Grasso, Maffei, Odore, Sarotto, Unio, Vacca, Varaldo

Aldo Vacca one word review: Lively

The clay in Ovello’s soils has helped to produce a wine which has less pronounced acidity and tannin than most of its counterparts.  Instead there’s fruit – lots of fruit! – and power.  There are tannins at the end but they are fine and not drying.  This is a Nebbiolo that is delicious on its own.

Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva “Muncagota” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Muncagota

Bottle tasted: 12,892 / 13,333

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 4.5 hectares (11 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south – west
  • Soil: calcareous limestone
  • Vineyard owners: Bellora, Casetta, Lignana, Viglino

Aldo Vacca one word review: Floral

Muncagota is floral but it’s also the results of a raid on your spice cupboard.  Bright red and black cherries greet the palate, with a finish of tobacco and liquorice which are reminiscent of a Tuscan Sangiovesi.  This is no shrinking violet and would pair well with game such as venison or wild boar.

Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva “Rabajà” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Rabaja

Bottle tasted: 8,512 / 17,040

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 3.7 hectares (9.14 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south – west
  • Soil: calcareous limestone with sandy veins
  • Vineyard owners: Antona, Arossa, Casetta, Lembo, Lignana, Manzone, Rocca, Vacca, Vezza

Aldo Vacca one word review: Complete

With nine families owning a total of just 3.7 hectares (only the much larger Ovello has more owners), the Rabajà shows exactly why co-operatives can be the best choice of ownership and vinification models.  The 2013 is powerful but on the dry side, with some intriguing menthol notes, herbs and spices overlaid on the red fruit.

Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva “Montestefano” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Montestefano

Bottle tasted: 8,114 / 17,104

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 4.5 hectares (11 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south
  • Soil: calcareous limestone
  • Vineyard owners: Gonella, Maffei, Marcarino, Rivella, Rocca, Vacca

Aldo Vacca one word review: Powerful

For me the Montestefano is a great all-rounder, with the positive points from all the others rolled into once – lovely fruit and floral notes, decent but not harsh acidity and tannin, balance and poise – the full package.

Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco Riserva “Montefico” 2013 (14.0%, RRP ~€60)

Montefico2013

Bottle tasted: 11,099 / 13,333

Website info:

  • Vineyard size: 3.9 hectares (9.6 acres)
  • Vineyard exposure: south
  • Soil: calcareous limestone
  • Vineyard owners: Grasso, Rocca, Vacca

Aldo Vacca one word review: Austere

As this was the last of the wines I tasted, perhaps my palate had become well accustomed to the above average acidity and tannin in these wines – I didn’t find it austere at all and actually quite similar to the Montestefano.  In my defence they have the same calcareous limestoil soil type and southerly aspect, and they are both delicious!

Conclusions

These are all fantastic wines, and great value at each price point.  It’s a fascinating way to taste your way round a wine region, so if you have the means and opportunity I highly recommend trying as many of them as you can.

Unlike Aldo Vacca, I can play favourites, but I can’t pick just one – so my three favourite of the range would be the Rio Sordo, Asili and Montestefano.


* The precise number of growers differs throughout the website

** 7WWR eat your heart out!

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites 2019

It’s awards season, with the Golden Globes and Oscars over it’s now time for the Frankly Wines Top Tens.  So here we go, kicking off with 10 fantastic white wines that I have really enjoyed in the past 12 months, and you should try to get hold of if you haven’t already:

10. Luigi Baudana “Dragon” Langhe Bianco 2017

Luigi Baudana Dragon

14.0%, RRP €23.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

This wine could well have topped the list on the Frankly Wines Top Ten Value Whites, such is the bang you get for your buck, bitcoin, or other currency of choice, but for me it’s just a great wine full stop.  To stand out amongst the Langhe’s great reds is a great achievement.

9. Chalk Hill McLaren Vale Fiano 2017

Chalk Hill Fiano

12.0%, RRP €21.95.  Distributed by Tindal Wine Merchants.  Also see related article here.

McLaren Vale is one of the key Australian regions where Italian varieties are being treated seriously, not just as a novelty but as a serious alternative to international (i.e. French) varieties.  Mandrarossa’s Sicilian Fiano was a revelation when I first tried it a few years ago, but Chalk Hill have pushed the bar even higher.  Try this tropical citrus beauty and you will become a convert too.

8. Ovum Wines Oregon Big Salt 2017

ovum big salt

12.9%, RRP €33.95.  Distributed by Le Caveau.  Also see related article here.

In my notes below I state that there are no Alsace wines in my Top 10 whites this year, and while that is true it does not preclude Alsace-style whites from elsewhere.  The long, cool growing season of Oregon’s coast is perfect for aromatic varieties: Muscat, Riesling and Gewurztraminer combine elegantly to make Oregon’s very own Gentil.

7. Domaine Marc Sorrel Hermitage Blanc “Les Rocoules” 1999

domaine-marc-sorrel-hermitage-les-rocoules-white

14.5%, RRP €98.45.  Distributed by Karwig Wines.

Producers who make wine in Hermitage number less than a score so it is something of a rarity (especially compared to Crozes-Hermitage); the whites are rarer still.  They can be made from any combination of Marsanne and Roussanne, with the former usually dominant or alone.  Marc Sorrel is a modest man who makes wines that aren’t flashy, but very long-lived and interesting.  This is from a single plot called Les Rocoules; it is intensely aromatic with herbs, elderflower and honeysuckle on the nose.  The palate is a little drier than expected but reflects the herbs and honey notes of the nose.  It’s round and savoury – obviously well developed at twenty years old – with an interesting tang and even some crisp green vegetal notes.  White Hermitage is rare enough, but to try a two decade old single vineyard wine is a real treat.

6. Au Bon Climat “Wild Boy” Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2017

au bon climat wild boy chardonnay

13.5%, RRP €39.95.  Distributed by Berry Bros & Rudd.  Also see related article here.

Jim Clendenen is rightly a legend of Californian wine, particularly those made from Burgundian varieties, so it’s fitting that a god-like portrait appears on the front label of this wine.  This wine has a slightly different sensibility to ABC’s regular bottlings, best summed up by the legend (in the other sense) at the bottom of the label:

Instructions to winemaker: I said “Hey dude, Make a wine on the Wild Side”

5. Domaine Stéphane Ogier Viognier de Rosine 2016

Viognier de Rosine

12.5%, RRP €31.95.  Distributed by Tindal Wine Merchants.

Viognier almost disappeared in the 20th Century, with just a small amount left in Condrieu.  It is now planted in many parts of the Rhône and further afield in California, Australia and elsewhere.  This wine is from the northern Rhône but outside the boundaries of the Appellation Controllée areas, making it an IGP.  Such is the quality of the terroir at Rosine and the wines made there, that I reckon it might well gain an AOC of its own in the future.  This is textbook Viognier, full of rich apricot, peach and pineapple fruits, and better than many more expensive Condrieus.

4. L.A.S. Vino Margaret River Chardonnay 2016

LAS Vino MR Chardonnay

13.5%, RRP €59.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

When we think of “natural” or “low intervention” wines we often think of the new wave of winemakers in Europe who have rejected the use of excessive chemicals in the vineyard and reverted back to their grandfathers’ methods.  In my eyes, Australia didn’t have the same issues, partly due to a drier climate and partly due to a more technical approach in bigger vineyards.  However, the focus on making wines that are consistent (vintage indifferent) and technically correct (starbright, clean, no trace of brett or VA) has sometimes encouraged wines which are lacking in character.

This Margaret River Chardonnay has character for days!

3. Rafael Palacios Valdeorras “As Sortes” 2016 

As Sortes

14.0%, RRP €46.00.  Distributed by Vinostito.

From the famous Palacios Spanish winemaking family, Rafael Palacios is the “God of Godello”, based in Valdeorras, Galicia.  He takes the grape to heights that have to be tasted to be believed, with low yields from seven plots totalling only 4.6 hectares and judicious use of oak.  There is tropical , soft stone and citrus fruit, all elegantly framed by a mineral, saline streak.  This is the type of wine which appeals to lovers of Chardonnay and Albariño alike.

2. Domaine JB Ponsot Rully “En Bas de Vauvry” 2016

jean-baptiste ponsot rully

13.0%, RRP €29.90.  Distributed by Nomad Wines.  Also see related article here.

Rully is on the rise – as land in the Côte Chalonnaise is significantly cheaper than the Cote d’Or (for now, at least) more vineyards there are getting serious attention and investment.  If you want excellent white Burgundy without a second mortgage, this is for you.

1. Julien Brocard La Boissonneuse Chablis 2017

CHABLIS-BOISSONNEUSE-JEAN-MARC-BROCARD

13.0%, RRP €28.45.  Distributed by O’Briens.  Also see related article here.

When whittling down my longlists to get to the shortlists of ten wines, quality considerations are paramount – balance, concentration and complexity, for example. This wine has all those, plus something else – it redefines how good a certain type of wine can be – in this case AOC Chablis.  There’s a long established hierarchy in Chablis with Petit Chablis at the bottom, then Chablis, a multitude of Chablis Premiers Crus with the seven (or eight, depending on who you ask) Grands Crus at the top – but this wine’s vast array of aromas and flavours show that, with care and dedication, anything is possible.

The bar for AOC Chablis has been significantly raised. The rest of Chablis – it’s over to you!

 


As this is the first of my Top 10s to be published, I first ought to mention a few obvious things:

  1. The timing of the articles is better in the first quarter of the new year rather than racing to get them all done at the end of a year, hence no 2018 edition.
  2. There will be no Alsace wines in the “Top 10 Whites” or “Top 10 Value Whites” categories – but do not adjust your sets, Alsace wines will have their own dedicated pieces.
  3. These lists are entirely subjective and are based on my personal opinions of the wines I’ve tasted, not an inclusive list of the best wines in the world (funnily enough I didn’t get sent any DRC or Bordeaux First Growth samples this year), so if you think there are obvious errors or omissions then please feel free to write about your own favourites on your own blog.

 

The Frankly Wines 2019 Top 10s:

  • Top 10 Whites
  • Top 10 Fizz
  • Top 10 Reds
  • Top 10 Sweet
  • Top 10 Value Whites
  • Top 10 Value Reds
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Ireland
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Alsace
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

DNS host Wilson on Wine (Part 1)

It has become something of a tradition at DNS Wine Club for one of our events every year to be a fun event based on Irish Times wine columnist John Wilson’s annual book, “Wilson On Wine”.  Here’s the post I did on our first such event back in 2015 which explains how it works in more detail.  If you have a wine tasting / drinking group of six or more people then I highly recommend giving it a go.

John Wilson

For the first time, DNS were joined by the main man himself.  John is a complete gentleman, and was unfailingly polite despite the far-fetched tales told about each wine by the club (which is all part of the fun of “call my wine bluff”).  As I was keeping tight control of the answers he was left to guess the wine along with the rest of the gang, but of course he was spot on every time.

This first article will focus on the less expensive wines which shone on the night – all of course featured in Wilson On Wine 2019.

Aldi Exquisite Collection Crémant du Jura 2014 (12.0%, RRP €11.99 at Aldi)

Aldi Exquisite Cremant du Jura

This fizz will be familiar to many as it’s a reliable, great value for money crémant which is perfect for parties.  So much so, in fact, that it has appeared in every edition of Wilson On Wine to date.  During our tasting it suffered from following a more sophisticated (and more expensive) Champagne, but I’d rather drink this than the vast majority of Prosecco on the market.

Pequenos Rebentos Vinho Verde 2017 (11.5%, RRP €15.50 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

Vinho Verde

For me Vinho Verde usually falls into one of two categories – cheap and cheerful blends of local grapes or slightly more serious varietal Alvarinho, with the latter coming from the premium subregion of Monção & Melgaço.  This is one of the cheap and cheerful types in terms of price and grapes, but for me rises above its lowly origins.  The typical citrus and saline notes are present, but the fruit is so damn juicy!  It has a certain je ne sais quoi which makes it one of the best Vinho Verdes I’ve ever tried.

Bairrada Messias Bairrada Selection 2014 (13.5%, RRP €12.65 at Karwig Wines)

bairrada messias selection family wines tinto

Here we have another inexpensive Portuguese wine which rises above its modest origins.  In decades past Bairrada was mainly a source of rough and ready bulk wine that was sold by the carafe in restaurants, but like many “lesser” European wine regions, quality has increased significantly with modern equipment and a firm eye on quality.  The clay soils here are best known for the Baga grape, but this wine is actually more of a Douro (or Port) blend as it’s made with Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barroca.  Red and black fruits abound, but again with a nice dash of acidity.  This is a really well put together wine that I’d be happy to drink any time of the year.

Ingata Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.5%, RRP €18.00 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

Ingata SB

Outside of a few brands such as Villa Maria and Brancott Estate, less expensive Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is something I tend to avoid.  It tends to be overly aromatic and intensely acidic – it gets plenty of attention with the first few sips but even a second glass is often too much.  Trading up to the likes of Tinpot Hut, Mahi or Greywacke more than pays back the price differential.  Here is one that breaks the mold -it’s a true but gentle expression of Marlborough Sauvignon, with all its components in balance.  In fact, this is even worth a try for folks who “don’t like New Zealand Sauvignon” -they might be pleasantly surprised

 

Apart from the Aldi Crémant I hadn’t tasted any of these wines before, yet they really shone above and beyond their price tags.  That’s one of the real positives of being able to rely on someone pre-tasting wines for you!

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 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

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 1)

With apologies to Keats, autumn is the time when many light wines are forsaken and more substantial wines are poured in their stead, especially fruity and more generous reds.  Rhône Valley reds fit the bill perfectly!

This first part looks at some of the best northern Rhône reds, while part two will consider a selection from the southern Rhône.

Domaine Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2016 (13.0%, RRP €35.00 at SIYPS)

Domaine Graillot Crozes Hermitage

Crozes-Hermitage often lives in the shadow of Hermitage proper, both literally and quality wise.  There are often good value wines to be had but they can be disappointing compared to their big brother on the hill.  Domaine Graillot is an exception – an exceptional wine no matter how humble its origins.

This is a rich, dense, chewy wine full of black fruits, spice and tapenade savoury character.  It’s closer to a serious Saint-Joseph than any other Crozes I’ve tried!

Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin Côte Rôtie Champin Le Seigneur 2012 (13.0%, RRP €49.99 at JN Wine)

Gerin Cote Rotie

Côte Rôtie is the most northern of the northern Rhône’s eight crus and possibly the most famous.  It is also the origin of adding a dash of Viognier into Syrah to soften it and add floral aromas to the wine – a practice that has been followed in the new world, particularly South Africa.  Traditionally, the two grapes were planted together, then harvested and vinified together – extracting more from the Viognier skins than if they had been fermented as white wine and then blended in.

Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin was set up as recently as 1983 but the family has lived in Ampuis for six generations.  The first vines planted were in Côte Rôtie but the Domaine has since expanded beyond that appellation’s boundaries.  Champin Le Seigneur is the more affordable of Gerin’s Côte Rôtie wines, though obviously everything is relative!  With 5% Viognier added to the Syrah it has an ethereal quality – that indefinable lightness and sophistication that makes wine so special.

Cave de Tain “Grand Classique” Hermitage 2007 (13.0%, RRP €55.00 at O’Briens)

Cave de Tain Hermitage

From the only co-operative in Hermitage, this 2007 is absolutely à point, a perfect example of northern Rhône Syrah.  Relatively light, it still has some fine tannins and plenty of acidity – a fine structure.  There’s still plenty of fruit, too – both red and black – but also savoury notes which enhance its appeal.  Get yourself a thick piece of rib-eye steak and a super evening awaits.

Domaine Marc Sorrel “Le Gréal” Hermitage 1997 (13.0%, RRP €98.65 at Karwig Wines)

Marc Sorrel Hermitage

Those who have read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code book or seen the subsequent film may remember that “Le Gréal” is “The [Holy] Grail” which is possibly Marc Sorrel’s way of telling us that this wine is rather good – though more prosaically it is also a portmanteau of  Les Greffieux and Le Méal, two of the best plots from which grapes are sourced for this premium bottling.  Sorrel is a traditionalist, with mainly whole bunch fermentation in old oak, and his wines need some age before they are at their best.

The 1997 here has had plenty of time, but is still lively and has some years ahead of it.  10% Marsanne was added in the 1997 vintage (15% being the maximum per AOC regulations) which adds elegance.  There’s still power, but tempered by time, resulting in one of the smoothest wines known to man.

Single Bottle Review

Wayne Thomas McLaren Vale Dry Riesling 2006 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #15]

Wayne Thomas McLaren Vale Dry Riesling 2006 (12.5%, €18.46 down to €16.61 at Karwig’s)

Disclosure: bottle kindly provided as a sample, opinions my own

When I think of Aussie Riesling I think of Clare Valley, Eden Valley and Great Southern – in that order.  As Australia has a fairly warm climate, higher altitude sites are often best for Riesling as it likes to be fairly cool.

But here’s one from McLaren Vale which is probably best known for its GSM blends.  The grapes are from the sandy Oliver Creek Vineyards of McLaren Flat.  Unfortunately, the winemaker Wayne Thomas passed away around ten years ago so there is no more of this wine being produced; his son is also in the wine business, but making quite different wines up in the Hunter Valley.

On the nose this shows lots of development: petrol and kerosene with a little tropical fruit.  The palate is textured and racy, with chalky, mineral notes and fresh lime and grapefruit.  The back label suggests 3 – 6 years ageing but this is still going very well – and an absolute bargain at the reduced price!