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
The history of Bodegas Protos is inherently entwined with that of Ribero del Duero. While the world famous Vega Sicila estate was founded before Protos (1864 versus 1929), Protos allowed its brand name “Ribera Duero” to be used for the Denominación de Origen when it was established in 1982.
Protos had already built a monumental ageing cellar in the previous decade. Over 2km of tunnels were bored into the side of a mountain to give them the perfect place for long ageing of wine in barrel and bottle. Four years after the creation of the DO, the Bodega built a new wine making facility closer to their Ribero del Duero vineyards in Anguix. Not resting on their laurels, they also built their own winery in the (principally) white wine DO of Rueda in 2006. Although white Ribera del Duero does exist – made in very small quantitiies from Albillo – it is the nearby Rueda which is the natural place Ribera del Duero producers look to for white wines.
Here are two of the Protos range which impressed me recently.
Protos Rueda 2020
Protos’s Rueda vineyards have free draining gravel soils at an altitude of 800 to 900 metres above sea level, so cool night time temperatures help to preserve acidity in the grapes. The Verdejo grapes are machine harvested at night from vines over 15 years old. (Possibly coincidently, the grape which Verdejo is often compared to is Sauvignon Blanc, and night harvesting by machine is very much in vogue in Marlbourgh.)
Fermentation is carried out at cool temperature to preserve fresh flavours and then the must is aged on fine lees for around three months (“Criado sobre lias finas” as it says on the front label.)
In the glass this Rueda is a bright lemon with green flecks. The nose is expressive with lemon, lime, quince and a touch of gooseberry. These notes continue through onto the palate, but also leesy and tangy characters. In the mouth there’s also some decent texture from its time on the lees. The finish is crisp and pleasantly bittersweet. This is a superior Rueda!
RRP: €15 – €17
Stockists:Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Mortons Food Stores; Fine Wines; La Touche Wines, Greystones; On the Grapevine, Dalkey; wineonline.ie; theallotment.ie
Protos Ribera del Duero Crianza 2017
Protos make several different bottlings in their home of Ribero del Duero. The youngest is the Roble which is aged for six months in a combination of French and American oak (hence the name: Roble is Spanish for oak) and six months in bottle. The Crianza spends 12 months in barrel then 12 in bottle, for the Reserva it’s 18 and 24 months respectively, and for the Gran Reserva the periods are 24 and 36 months.
The ageing regime is not the only thing that distinguishes the wines from each other; the age of the vines and the proportion of new oak also increases as we rise up the quality ladder. The Crianza therefore comes from Tinta del país (aka Tempranillo!) vines of 30 to 35 years. The year it spends in barrel is split into three parts: a third new French oak, a third one year old American and French and a third two year old American and French, with the thirds being blended back together before bottling.
So what are the results of this complex process? The wine is ruby red in the glass as one would expect for its age. The nose has rich dark fruits and a little vanilla. These are reflected on the palate which is smooth and velvety. It’s a powerful yet approachable wine, tasty yet elegant.
For me this wine is the sweetspot of the Protos range; a delicious wine that won’t break the bank, complex yet not too arcane.
RRP: €24 – €26
Stockists:Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Mortons Food Stores; Fine Wines; La Touche Wines, Greystones; On the Grapevine, Dalkey; wineonline.ie, theallotment.ie
When it comes to naming New Zealand’s wine regions, the significant region which is most often forgotten or overlooked is North Canterbury, close to the major city of Christchurch on the South Island. North Canterbury includes the sub-region of Waipara which is more often seen on wine labels (though not to be confused with Wairarapa which is at the bottom of the North Island and includes Martinborough). I’m not sure why Canterbury is overlooked – perhaps because it doesn’t specialise in Sauvignon Blanc? – but some great wines are made here.
Not too dissimilar to Marlborough which is further north on the South Island, Waipara is situated in the rain- (and wind-) shadow of the Southern Alps and is close to the sea, giving temperate summers with cool nights and dry autumns which allow grapes to achieve full phenolic ripeness as their own pace. The most important varieties here are Riesling and Pinot Noir, though other aromatic whites and Chardonnay also do well.
To show how the terms can be used interchangeably, note that the sign above mentions Waipara whereas the website banner states “Fine North Canterbury Wine” under “Pegasus Bay”
Background to Pegasus Bay
It started with a doctor reading a book. The doctor was Neurologist Ivan Donaldson and the book was one of Hugh Johnson’s wine books, “Wine”, given to him by his then girlfriend Christine. The book lit a fire within him; he journeyed round many of Europe’s well-established wine regions, and on his return he planted Canterbury’s first vines in 1976. This first vineyard was in Mountain View, just south west of Christchurch, and was very experimental in nature. Ivan managed to fit in his wine hobby in between hospital and private consulting work.
Almost a decade later, Ivan and Chris decided to make the jump from a hobby to a proper enterprise. By now they had four sons, so it was a combined family effort to plant vines in the Waipara Valley. They named their winery Pegasus Bay after the large bay running from the City of Canterbury up to the mouth of the Waipara River.1
The first vintage was 1991 which Ivan made in his garage. The family gradually expanded the winery, cellar door, restaurant and gardens. All four sons are now involved in the winery, with the eldest – Matthew, a Roseworthy graduate – being chief winemaker. As well as estate wines under the Pegasus Bay label the Donaldsons also make Main Divide wines from bought in fruit.
Pegasus Bay Wine Styles and Philosophy
In a nutshell, Pegasus bay wines have something of a Burgundian sensibility but they reflect Waipara and the vintage in which they are made. In a interview that Ed Donaldson gave for the Wine Zealand Project2 in 2016 he expounds the family’s philosophy:
So what drives us is – hopefully – making better wine all the time
One of the advantages [we have is that] my brother Matt’s taken over the winemaking so he has a lot of time to experiment, and to tweak, and to change, and see the wines age, and the vines getting some vine age, and just seeing what works and what doesn’t work, and continually trying to evolve and make better wine.
Our winemaking style is to be true to ourselves, not trying to emulate anything. We have a lot of respect for the old world and its wine styles. We as a family drink a lot of wine from all over the world but we’re not necessarily trying to emulate them, we’re trying to make the best example of what we think expresses the region and the season as best we can. Trying not to follow trends, we try to make the best wine we can and find a home for it.
We’ve been members of the Sustainable Winegrowers Programme pretty much since its inception, and we make wine as naturally as possible.
Pegasus Bay Wine Ranges
There are two main ranges, Estate and Reserve. The Estate wines are (obviously) made only with their own fruit, and although they are perhaps the junior wines in the Pegasus Bay portfolio they are not what you or I would call “entry level”, which has connotations of lower quality, simpler wines for drinking very young. Make no mistake, the Estate wines are seriously good.
The Reserve range is a significant step up again, in both quality and corresponding prices. This range includes two botrytis sweet wines; a Semillon Sauvignon blend reminiscent of Sauternes and a Riesling which evokes the Rhine. The Reserve wines are named with an operatic theme as Chris Donaldson is an opera devotee.
The Vengence range has just two experimental wines whose composition varies from year to year. They are totally different in style from the main two ranges; they are fun and quirky rather than being serious. They give the winemakers the opportunity to play around with different vineyard and winery choices that they couldn’t just jump into with the main ranges.
Reserve: Bel Canto Dry Riesling, Aria Late Picked Riesling, Virtuoso Chardonnay, Prima Donna Pinot Noir, Maestro Merlot/Malbec, Encore Noble Riesling, Finale Noble Semillon Sauvignon
Vergence: Vergence White (Semillon blend), Vergence Red (Pinot Noir)
Wines in bold are reviewed below
Pegasus Bay Chardonnay 2017
As with most of Pegasus Bay’s vines, this Chardonnay is harvested from vines which are mainly ungrafted. The vines now average 30 years old and are planted on rocky soils which are free draining and low in fertility. These facts all lead to lower yields but with concentrated flavours. The climate is warm, rather than hot, yet with cool nights, so the growing season is long.
I mentioned above that there’s a Burgundian sensibility to Pegasus Bay wines, but in the case of this Chardonnay the winemaking is definitely Burgundian in nature. Multiple passes were made to hand harvest the fruit at optimum ripeness. The grapes were whole bunch pressed then transferred to 500 litre oak barrels, 30% new and 70% used. Spontaneous fermentation took place in these puncheons and the young wine was left to mature on its lees over winter and spring. Malolactic fermentation started naturally into the summer months, with the winemaking team halting it based on regular tasting to get the balance between fresh malic and round lactic acids.
When poured this Chardonnay is a normal lemon colour. On the nose there are citrus fruits but they initially take a side seat to outstanding “struck-match” reductive notes. There are also soft yellow fruits and a stony mineral streak. The palate is magnificent, a really grown up Chardonnay that balances fruit, tanginess, minerality, freshness, texture and roundness. This is one of the most complete Chardonnays I’ve had the pleasure of trying in many years.
Stockists: Donnybrook Fair, Donnybrook; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.
Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 2016
This 2016 pours a medium intensity ruby red, consistent across the glass. The nose has lots of fruit, more black than red; the black fruits appear at first (blackberry and black cherry) but gradually cede attention to red (red cherry and pomegranate). Enticing savoury notes and spice complete the olfactory picture. It’s a very sophisticated and complex nose that deserves – nay demands – frequent revisits.
The palate is savoury and fruity in taste. Those same black fruits come to the fore but with black liquorice and black olive counterpoints, Fine grained tannins and acidity provide a fantastic structure, but this is a supple and sappy wine, not austere.
The alcohol is little higher than we usually see in a Pinot Noir, but the 14.5% does not stick out at all when tasting. This is a well-balanced wine, albeit a powerful one. When it comes to food pairing, Pinot Noir is often matched with mid level meats such as veal or pork – and to be fair this would be excellent with charcuterie – but this has the weight and intensity to match well with game, lamb or even beef.
Stockists: 64 Wine, Glasthule; World Wide Wines, Waterford: The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Donnybrook Fair, Donnybrook; La Touche Wines, Greystones; D-Six, Harolds Cross
Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling 2008
Pegasus Bay have four Rieslings in their portfolio, as befitting a top Waipara producer:
The Estate Riesling is produced every year
The Bel Canto (Reserve) Dry Riesling has a little botrytis and is made in two out of every three years, depending on vintage conditions
The Aria (Reserve) Late Picked Riesling is a late harvest style that often has a small proportion of Botryis grapes and is made roughly one on two years, vintage dependent
The Encore (Reserve) Noble Riesling is only made with fully botrytised berries, often requiring multiple passes, and of course when there are sufficient grapes in a particular vintage.
Only in very exceptional years such as 2008 and 2014 are all four styles made. The Riesling vines are on a rocky outcrop which has warm days but very cool nights, helping to maintain acidity and thus preserve freshness.
As the pure botrytis (and therefore sweetest) Riesling in their range, Pegasus Bay liken it in style to a Séléction de Grains Nobles (SGN) from Alsace or a Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) from Germany. When harvested the grapes are totally shrivelled and so produce a very small amount of juice – but such luscious juice! After clarification the juice is allowed to ferment naturally; when the yeast finishes its task there is plenty of residual sugar, though the precise figure is not published.
On the nose it’s instantly identifiable as Riesling, but with honey and tropical fruits to the fore. In addition to the pineapple, mango and grapefruit there are also hints of mushroom. The palate is beautiful but perhaps confounding for the uninitiated – it’s rich and sweet yet full of acidity, giving your palate a smorgasbord of experiences. The finish is amazingly long.
At 13 years of age this bottle has had plenty of development, possibly rounding off the acidity slightly while also tapering the apparent sweetness to some degree (the mechanism for which is not yet understood). It still has plenty of life left though – it could easily keep to the end of this decade.
RRP: €35 for 2016 vintage (375ml bottle)
Stockists: currently no retail stockists, but available in some restaurants
Source: own cellar
Other Pegasus Bay Wines available in Ireland
In addition to the three wines reviewed above there are three further Pegasus Bay wines available in Ireland
Sauvignon / Semillon: RRP €29, Stockists: Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; The Corkscrew; Jus De Vine, Portmarnock
Bel Canto Dry Riesling: RRP €35, currently no retail stockists, but available in some restaurants
Prima Donna Pinot Noir: RRP €75, Stockist: The Wine House, Trim
Frankly Wines and Pegasus Bay
Now, those who follow me on Instagram may realise that I live in the Dublin suburb of Glasnevin, also home to the National Botanic Gardens, the Irish Met office and the large Glasnevin cemetery. It was therefore a huge surprise when, while touring New Zealand on honeymoon, we suddenly realised that we were driving through Glasnevin, Canterbury. And where was our first stop? Pegasus Bay, of course!
1Ironically Pegasus Bay was originally known as “Cook’s Mistake” – I’m glad I didn’t find that out on my honeymoon!
As we roll on towards the festive season, despite the pandemic. many of us are starting to plan which wines we want to have in stock for drinking over the Christmas period (Christmas don’t care ’bout Covid!) Here are five wines that you should consider this Yule:
Disclosure: bottles were kindly sent as samples, but opinions remain my own
Perelada Cava Reserva Brut
I reviewed this wine just over three years ago and the salient points of that article remain valid:
There’s a lot of very ordinary Cava out there, at very low prices (often €12 or less)
Small-scale, renowned producers such as Llopart and Raventos i Blanc are available from around €30 upwards in Ireland (and are usually better than any Champagnes down at that price)
That leaves a big gap in the market between the two price points which is neatly filled by Perelada
This Reserva Brut bottling is made from the traditional three Cava grapes: Macabeo (30%), Xarel·lo (45%) and Parellada (25%) with 15 months maturation on the lees – significantly more than the nine months minimum for Cava. It’s highly aromatic, just a delight to sniff, but very attractive on the palate with apple, pear and citrus notes. The finish is crisp, perhaps a little dry for some tastes (though not mine).
When to drink: This would be a great start to Xmas morning, good enough to sip on its own, with nibbles or even a smoked salmon starter.
Stockists: The Drink Store, Stoneybatter D7 / Higgins Off Licence, Clonskeagh / Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Fine Wines O/L Group.
Fontanafredda Gavi di Gavi 2019
Amongst a group of my friends we have a running joke that one (Gosia) would often select Gavi di Gavi from a wine list when there were other, more interesting, options available. This wine shows that joke to be hollow as it’s a cracking wine, full of flowers and spicy pear on the nose, sensual texture on the palate and soft stone fruit flavours. There’s a racy acidity to the wine but it isn’t lean, just refreshing.
When to drink: With shellfish, white fish or even lighter poultry.
RRP: €20 – €21
Stockists: Redmonds of Ranelagh; Martins Off Licence, Fairview; D-SIX Wines, Harolds Cross
Trapiche Malbec Reserva Malbec 2019
Trapiche have several different quality levels within their line-up, including the excellent Terroir Series Ambrosia Single Vineyard Malbec which I reviewed here. This Reserva is a more of an everyday wine, but is true to its variety with bold plum and blackberry fruits and a touch of vanilla. It’s an easy-going red that doesn’t hit the heights but hits the spot with a steak.
When to drink: With red meat or just with your feet up in front of the TV
Fleurie is Ireland’s favourite Beaujolais Cru by some distance, perhaps helped by the easily pronounceable name. It’s a relatively light Cru so sits as a happy medium in depth of colour. The nose shows a variety of cherries, blueberries and red table grape skins. On the palate we find freshly-made home-made jam from a variety of red and black fruits, a little garden thyme and pencil shavings. On it’s own I thought it a good but not great wine, but when my wife tried it with extra mature cheddar she though it magnificent – the fruit of the wine counters the saltiness of the cheese and the cheese softens the acidity of the wine. As a non-cheese eater I will take her word for it!
When to drink: With hard cheese, charcuterie, wild boar sausages, venison, duck, or nut roast
RRP: €18 – €20
Stockists: Fine Wines Off Licence; The Drink Store, Stoneybatter; Nolans Supermarket, Clontarf; Kellers Carry Out, Nenagh.
Boutinot La Côte Sauvage Cairanne 2017
Cairanne only became a named village or Cru in its own right a few years ago, though 20% of the land was effectively demoted at the same time (1,088 hectares of the original 1,350 survived the increased standards). Being in the Southern Rhône this is a GSM blend, consisting of Grenache Noir (60%), Syrah (20%), Mourvèdre (10%) and Carignan (10%). The minor grapes add considerable colour as the wine is darker than many Grenache based wines. Their influence is felt on the nose, too, which has rich black fruit and spice, something like blackberry crumble in a glass. These notes continue through to the palate which is velvety and powerful. This is heady stuff, perfect for Xmas or winter celebrations.
When to drink: With friends, family, or on your own. Treat yourself!
Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; La Touche Wines, Greystones; Martins, Fairview; The Drink Store, Stoneybatter; Fine Wines O/L Group
While the Remelluri estate’s origins hark back over six hundred years, the Rodríguez family’s involvement started relatively recently in 1967 when Jaime Rodríguez bought the key vineyards. They lie on the high slopes of the Sierra de Toloño mountains – at a high altitude, but with a southerly exposure and protected from overly harsh weather. Significant diurnal temperature swings help the grapes to become fully ripe yet retain flavour and acidity.
Chemicals have never been used in the vineyards but the organic approach has been extended to a holistic system; far from being a monoculture, the estate has fruit groves and hedges to maintain a natural balance.
After decades spent raising the bar in Rueda, Ribero del Duero and Galicia, prodigal son Telmo Rodríguez returned to Rioja in 2010 and set about further developing the Remelluri estate. Amongst his initiatives are reexamining old training systems and evaluating the best variety for each specific plot and microclimate.
There are currently five wines in the Remelluri range:
Lindes de Remelluri ‘Viñedos de San Vicente’
Lindes de Remelluri ‘Viñedos de Labastida’
Granja Remelluri Gran Reserva
The two Lindes wines are made from the grapes of growers in the surrounding villages. Now we turn our attention to the top wine in the stable:
Remelluri “Granje Remelluri” Gran Reserva 2012
The “Granje Remelluri” Gran Reserva is made only in the best years, and then only in very small quantities. The blend for 2012 breaks down as 70% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha and 5% Graciano.
The vines selected for the Gran Reserva vary in age from 40 to over 90 years old and are at elevations between 480m and 705m. Vinification takes place in small wooden vats with ambient yeasts, followed by maturation for 24 months in a variety of seasoned oak vessels from 225L barriques up to 2,000L foudres. After bottling the wine is kept in Remelluri’s cellars for a further five years before release.
This is an epic, immense wine still in the early stages of youth. The nose has a cornucopia of fruit: blackberries, plums, black cherries and wild strawberries joined by cedar, exotic spice and vanilla from the oak. It is warming and powerful in the mouth, with dark fruits and vanilla, yet with elegance and freshness. No shrinking violet this, it’s a substantial wine that would be best with hearty food now or to be kept for the long haul. If I had the spare readies I’d be opening one every couple of years.
Like many European wine regions, Puglia has several different quality levels which overlap when shown on a map. In general, the lower quality regions (IGP in the map above) are the largest in area and the highest quality regions are the smallest (DOCG).
In a recent post on Puglian wines I reviewed two red wines which were quite rich and even a little sweetness, so perfect for barbecues. They were both IGT wines from Salento; now we have two DOC wines which are still fruity a little more serious:
Disclosure: bottles were kindly provided as samples, but opinions remain my own
Marchese di Borgosole Salice Salentino Riserva 2016
The grapes for this wine – over 85% Negroamaro – are fully destemmed before undergoing seven to eight days maceration. Alcoholic and malolactic fermentation take place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, with 24 months maturation mixed between tank and wooden barrels.
In the glass this wine is still dark in the body but is already a little light at the rim. The nose has wonderful bramble fruit and exotic spice. The palate is all about fresh morello cherry and raspberry, giving a pleasant tartness, and rich black fruits. The body is full but not huge, and fine tannins help to give a savoury edge.
This is a lovely example of Salice Salentino, an easy drinking wine which is well put together.
From Salice Salentino we head slightly north to Brindisi. Vinification is similar to its southern neighbour except that the 24 months maturation is entirely in wood. Negroamaro is again the principal grape, backed up by Malvasia Nera and Sangiovese.
The nose has sweet – ripe, not sugary – black fruit such as blackberry and black cherry, with some hints of wild herbs. The palate has a nervous energy to it; tart cherry and cranberry and lively raspberry plus some exotic spice and cedarwood. The acidity is marked and thus the wine remains fresh. This would be great with some charcuterie or tomato based dishes.
My love for Alsace wines – especially its Rieslings – is without parallel, yet even I am forced to concede: Other Rieslings Are Available! Given the grape’s Germanic origins and it’s position as the most widely planted grape there (23% of vineyard area as of 2015) it is only fair to look to Germany. Of all Germany’s 13 wine regions, for me the most synonymous with quality Riesling is the Mosel.
The Mosel wine region had Saar–Ruwerappended to its name until 1st August 2007, and those two names still account for two of the six Mosel Districts (Bereiche). Also, adjacent to Luxembourg, the Obermoseland MoseltorDistricts are home to modest wines – still and sparkling – made from Elbing and other “lesser” grapes. The final two Mosel Districts are the most important. The Berg Cochem District is also known as the Terraced Mosel (Terrassenmosel) as many of its slopes are incredibly steep and are terraced so that they can be worked. The final District is Bernkastelwhich includes the famous sundial vineyards.
The Haag family have run their estate in Brauneberg, Bernkastel District, since 1605. I have previously reviewed their Brauneberger Juffer Grosses Gewächs Riesling and Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel. Now I turn to their “entry level” dry Riesling.
Disclosure: bottle was kindly given as a sample, opinions remain my own
Fritz Haag Mosel Riesling Trocken 2018
Weingut Fritz Haag hand pick their Riesling grapes for this wine from their slate-soil vineyards around their home base of Brauneberg. Fermentation takes place in both large wooden vats (for a touch of roundness) and stainless-steel tanks (for freshness). As many who are fluent in wine know “Trocken” means dry in German, so the fermentation is not stopped early to make the wine sweet (although Fritz Haag does make some brilliant sweet wines).
This estate Riesling pours a light lemon in the glass. The nose is full of citrus with lifted mineral tones – and unmistakable Riesling character.
The measured residual sugar is 7.5 g/L which would be creeping into off-dry territory for some grapes, but set against this Riesling’s acidity it merely tames the zing a little and brings out the fruitiness of the wine.
On the palate we find fleshy lime, grapefruit and peach combined – you don’t taste them individually but there’s a new super-fruit that combines all their characteristics! Light and lithe, a wine that dances on your tongue before disappearing down your throat. Once in your stomach it sends a direct signal to your brain for another taste! The finish is dry as you’d expect from a Trocken wine, but the fruit sweetness in the mid-palate banishes any thoughts of this being too dry.
The TL;DR review: tastes of deliciousness!
RS: 7.5 g/L
Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf wines; F.X. Buckley Victualler & Grocer; Jus de Vine; McHugh’s Off-Licences, Kilbarrack Rd & Malahide Rd; Nectar Wines; The Vintry; The Wine Pair; Sweeney’s D3; Avoca Ballsbridge; The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Drink Store Stoneybatter; Grapevine, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Lotts & Co.; Martins Off Licence; Terroirs, Donnybrook
The Abruzzo region is geographically in the centre of Italy* but is considered to be part of southern Italy for cultural and historical reasons. Grapes are grown throughout all four provinces of this hilly region: L’Aquila, Teramo, Pescara, and Chieti – with the last being the most productive, ranking as the fifth highest wine producing province in Italy.
Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is the main white wine of the region and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is the main red. At this point I feel duty bound to include the standard remark that the latter is not to be confused with the Sangiovese-based Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Under DOC regulations Montepulciano d’Abruzzo must be composed of a minimum of 85% Montepulciano with up to 15% Sangiovese for the balance. Standard DOC wines must be aged for a minimum of 5 months prior to release with Riservas requiring 24 months, of which at least 9 months must be in wood barrels.
Although we think of Abruzzo as being the home of Montepulciano, it is in fact used throughout a large swathe of Italy from Emilia-Romagna to Puglia (see left).
It’s success is due to it being relatively easy to grow and producing high yields, yet still plenty of colour from the thin skins. Acidity tends to be moderate and tannins are present but not too harsh.
Here’s a cracking Montepulciano d’Abruzzo which I tried recently:
Disclosure: bottle was kindly provided as a sample, opinions remain my own
Tor del Colle Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2016
Tor del Colle is a label used for wines from Abruzzo, Molise and Puglia, three regions along the Adriatic Coast. The brand is owned by the Botter group who trace their origins to 1928 Venice.
Grapes were fully destemmed and macerated for 7 to 8 days before temperature-controlled alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Maturation is for 12 months in barrels (size & age not given) and 12 months in steel tanks.
The wine pours a bright cherry red, though not that deep. The nose is intensely aromatic with alpine strawberries and cherry, plus cinnamon and other spices in the background. The palate is rich and lithe, full of red and black fruit. It’s a soft and supple wine; tannins are present but ripe.
Due to its ubiquity and relatively low price we are used to Montepulciano d’Abruzzo as a great glugging wine – probably the first wine that springs to mind when we’re asked to suggest a wine to go with pizza. Although it’s not expensive, this wine shows that it can be so much more than that. It retains the fresh flavours, balanced acidity and soft tannins of an everyday Montepulciano d’Abruzzo but adds additional layers of complexity which don’t weigh it down.
This is a lip-smackingly good wine, the best value red wine I’ve had so far this year!
With the current restrictions on being able to visit restaurants in many countries, eating – and drinking – at home has become the new dining out. As we have been lucky with the weather in Ireland so far this summer the siren call of the barbecue has been heard throughout the land.
How should we choose the wines to drink with our charcoal cooked food? For me there are a few key criteria:
Drinkability: this doesn’t mean a dichotomy between wine that is either palatable enough to be drunk or wine to be poured down the sink, it means a BBQ wine should be approachable, gluggable, and not austere.
Robustness: barbecue food has lots of strong flavours and needs wines that can stand up to it and take it on. There’s little point drinking a delicate Tasmanian Pinot Noir with flame-grilled burgers or sticky ribs
Affordability: barbecues are an informal affair – you’re often eating without utensils, possibly on paper plates, and quaffing multiple glasses, so reasonably priced wine makes the most sense.
Here are a couple of wines I tried recently that perfectly fit the bill – and as it happens they are both from Puglia in Italy.
Disclosure: Both bottles kindly provided as samples, opinions remain my own.
Old True Zin Barrel Aged Zinfandel Salento IGT 2018
The name and label design of this wine are more reminiscent of a beer than a wine, and using the better known term Zinfandel rather than its Puglian name Primitivo give it an American image. Is this misleading? Perhaps a little, but the most important aspect of any bottle of wine is the liquid, and its that which I am assessing.
The bright purple colour in the glass gives you an idea of what you’re in for. The nose showcases an intense collection of fruits – plum, black cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant among them – plus notes of coffee and chocolate – mocha anyone – and vanilla from the barrel ageing. The flavours on the palate are a continuation, so no surprises there, but even given the richness of the nose the full-on explosion of flavour might take you back. It’s the richness and sweetness together which make this such a mouthful.
On reflection, if this wine suggests that it is a Californian Zinfandel then that it is fair enough as it is exactly in that style!
Stockists: Mortons, Ranelagh; Listons Camden Street; Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Gleeson’s, Booterstown; Molloys Liquor Stores; The Old Orchard Off Licence, Rathfarnham
Bacca Nera Negroamaro Primitivo Salento IGT 2018
The Bacca Nera is from the same place as the Old True Zin and is the same vintage, but differs in two main respects; firstly, it has (attractive) conventional packaging with an Italian name, and secondly that Puglia’s other main grape: Negroamaro. It’s a little less deep in colour than the Zin, but we’re not talking Pinot Noir here.
The nose is delightfully spicy at first, then revealing dark berry fruits. In fact “Bacca Nera” means “Black Berry” according to google translate, so the name is apt. On tasting this wine is a big mouthful – round and powerful with sweet and rich fruit – very more-ish. The fruit flavours are both red (strawberry, raspberry and red cherry) and black (blackberry and black cherry), tamed by a touch of bitterness (that would be the Amaro) which adds interest and partially offsets the sweetness.
Stockists: Mortons Ranelagh; Listons Camden Street; Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Gleeson’s, Booterstown; Molloys Liquor Stores; The Old Orchard Off Licence, Rathfarnham
These wines both fit the bill perfectly. There’s little to choose between them in quality and just a slight difference in style. With my BBQ ribs I would narrowly choose the Bacca Nera! Now where are my coals…
An Englishman, and Irishman and a Frenchman climb up a mountain…and make some great wine! Domaine des Anges was established on the slopes of Mont Ventoux by English couple Malcolm and Janet Swan in 1973. At that point grapes were mainly being processed by the local cooperative, so it was a bold venture, but help and advice was surprisingly forthcoming from the famous but less-than-approachable Jacques Rayas of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
The Swans had variable levels of success, and after 20 or so years they sold the estate to Irishman Gay McGuinness. He increased investment and hired professional winemakers – fellow Irishman Ciaran Rooney and after a decade Florent Chave. Quality has continually increased and Domaine des Anges has received a plethora of praise from critics and consumers.
I recently had the opportunity to taste through the Domaine des Anges range thanks to a kind invitation from Boutique Wines, their Irish representative. The wines were presented by historian and oenophile Giles MacDonogh – a close friend of the proprietors – and whose notes I have cribbed for background information. While I liked all the wines I tried, two in particular stood out for me: the white and red AOC Ventoux “Archange” wines:
Domaine des Anges Archange Ventoux Blanc 2016 (14.5%, RRP €21 at La Touche, Greystones; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; Blackrock Cellar; Grape and Grain, Stillorgan; The Winehouse, Trim; Browns Vineyard, Portlaoise; Bakers Corner, Kill of the Grange; Mortons, Ranelagh)
Whereas the regular Domaine des Anges Ventoux Blanc is a third each of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Bourboulenc, the Archange is 100% Roussanne – a grape that rarely gets the limelight all to itself. In fact the winemaking is as much the star of the show here, with techniques very reminiscent of Burgundy. The wine is aged in small oak barrels, giving notes of toast, toffeeand vanilla. Malolactic fermentation is blocked to preserve freshness, and regular lees stirring gives a wonderful creamyaspect. The varietal character does come through the middle of all of this as an intriguing peachy tanginess…it’s like Burgundy but with a bit more going on. The only downside to this wine is that it’s perhaps too good to drink every day – perhaps just save it for the weekend?
Domaine des Anges Archange Ventoux Rouge 2015 (14.5%, RRP €21 at La Touche, Greystones; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; Blackrock Cellar; Grape and Grain, Stillorgan; The Winehouse, Trim; Browns Vineyard, Portlaoise; Bakers Corner, Kill of the Grange; Mortons, Ranelagh)
Although the Rhône Méridional is known for its Grenache-based blends, in the cooler heights of Mont Ventoux Syrah can play a much bigger role. In this blend it accounts for a full 90% with the balance being Grenache. As the 14.5% alcohol indicates this is a powerful wine, but it does not have the sweetness of a Barossa Shiraz, for example. There’s a distinct richness, but with smoky notes, black pepper, black fruits and leather, with an altogether savoury finish. My “go-to” Rhône appellation is Saint-Joseph with its savoury Syrahs, but this Ventoux presents a great alternative – and at a great price.
These two wines are an outstanding pair and really over-deliver for the price tag. They won’t fade in a hurry, either, so it would be well-worth putting a few (dozen) down to see how they evolve over time.
And for you film buffs out there, here’s a clip from the film which inspired part of the title of this post: