Tag: Languedoc

Another Brick In The Wall – Part 1

WineMason is an Irish wine importer run by husband and wife team Ben Mason and Barbara Boyle MW.  They specialise in wines from Germany, Portugal and Austria, but their expanding portfolio now encompasses France, South Africa, Spain and Italy.

Here are a pair of outstanding wines from the Languedoc that I tried for the first time earlier this year:

Domaine Turner Pageot “Le Blanc” Coteaux du Languedoc 2015 (14.0%, RRP €23, though currently only in restaurants)

Le Blanc

At first the name of this producer might mislead you in to saying “Turner” with French pronunciation, just like Palmer of Margaux, but in fact it is the surname of anglophone Karen Turner, the Australian lady who is half of this partnership.  The other half is her other half, Frenchman Emmanuel Pageot.  After over ten years of making wine around the world, they set up a domaine together in the Languedoc of just 3.5 hectares, now expanded to 10 Ha.  These 10 Ha are split over 17 different parcels, mainly facing north or north west (which makes sense in these southerly latitudes.  Viticulture is biodynamic – they even feature quotations from Rudolf Steiner on their website.

Le Blanc is a blend of 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne, though the latter punches above its weight due to 30 days of fermentation on skins to extract as many varietal aromas as possible.  This wine therefore gives an introduction to the orange wine category.  It’s quite full bodied for a white and combines stone fruit (apricot, peach) with nuts, beeswax and tropical fruits.  A very impressive wine.

Domaine Turner Pageot “Les Choix” Vin de France 2014 (13.5%, RRP €39, though currently only in restaurants)

Les Choix

If Le Blanc was an introduction into orange wine, then Les Choix is at the forefront.  This is 100% Marsanne from steep north – north-west slopes, fermented in whole bunches.  The juice spends five weeks being macerated on the skins, including regular pigeages (punching down the floating cap of solids) and wild yeast fermentation is not temperature controlled – this helps to bring the funk!

Perhaps showing the power of suggestion, I did imagine some orange notes when tasting this orange wine – and what a great ambassador for the category it is!  It has texture and tannin but fruit too – an incredibly complex wine that deserves serious consideration and contemplation.  Orange wine is still something of a rarity, but wines like this show what they can do; they really do belong in their own category beside red, white and rosé!

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The Fifth Element – Part 1

Quintessential Wines are are specialist wine importers, distributors and retailers based in Drogheda, just north of Dublin, and with an online store.  Here are a few of their wines which really took my fancy at their portfolio tasting in April:

Doran Vineyards Paarl Arya 2015 (13.0%, RRP €18.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

Doran Vineyards Arya

Doran Vineyards is the baby of Irish born Edwin Doran, partnered by South African winemaking legend André (“Adi”) Badenhorst.  “Baby” is actually quite apt as the winery was redeveloped as recently as 2012.

This wine is quite an unusual blend, one that could only really be from South Africa: 57% Chenin Blanc, 22% Grenache Blanc and 21% Roussanne.  The nose has citrus, herbs and floral notes; the wine is soft and supple in the mouth with fresh apple, stone fruit, citrus and a hint of nuts.  This blend is lovely to drink on its own but is also very food friendly.

Clos Cazalet Tursan Carpe Diem 2015 (12.5%, RRP €16.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

carpe-diem-clos-cazalet-blanc-sec 2

Tursan is one of the lesser known appellations of south west France, spanning the border between the new regions of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitanie.  It also has a lesser known grape at the heart of its white wines – the delightfully named Baroque which must be between 30% and 90% of the blend.  The balance is made up by a combination of Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc.  Reds are based on Tannat (40% maximum), Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Clos Cazalet is one of the few independent producers in Tursan.  Their Carpe Diem comprises 60% Gros Manseng, 30% Baroque and 10% Petit Manseng.  This blend gives a full “here comes the Lilt man” tropical experience – pineapple, peach, pear and grapefruit.  it’s soft and round in the mouth,  a perfect summer drink!

Mas des Agrunelles Barbaste 2016 (13.0%, RRP €22.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

barbaste-2015

We’re on a go-slow here – well a go-sloe to be exact, as Agrunelles are sloes which are common round this area.  And what an area – a part of the Languedoc traditionally not used for viticulture given the cool micro-climate, and instead given over to sheep grazing and charcoal production.

The Domaine was set up by Frédéric Porro of Domaine La Marèle and Stéphanie Ponson of Mas Nicot as the antithesis of bulk cooperative grape production – each small plot is harvested and vinified separately so production is spread over a large number of different wines, though volumes of each are small.  It is also worthy of note that Mas des Agrunelles is both organic and biodynamic.

Barbaste is a blend of Chardonnay, Roussanne and Marsanne; it’s a thing of beauty, tangy yet soft (some oxidative softening, perhaps?) with spicy pear and fennel flavours.  Very moreish!

Mas des Agrunelles Camp de Lèbre 2015 (12.5%, RRP €27.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

mas-des-agrunelles-camp-de-lebre-2

Another wine from Mas des Agrunelles…whereas Barbaste means “white frost” in Occitan (the local language), Camp de Lèbre means “Field of hares”, as the local varmints help themselves to the tasty wine buds in spring.  This is a varietal wine, being 100% Carignan Blanc planted on clay and limestone.

The first line of my tasting notes was: “What the hell is that?  it’s Magnificent!”  There’s lots of texture and roundness in the mouth (possibly from some time in oak?).  Aniseed and herbs partner soft pip and stone fruit – deliciously tangy!

 

O’Briens Fine Wines Sale – My Selection

Leading Irish off licence chain O’Briens have some excellent premium wines and some are on sale (in store only) for a short time.  Here is a selection of my favourites:

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Viognier 2012 (14.5%, €31.95 down to €25.56)

 

viognier

I had tried this wine previously and, although it was pretty good, I wasn’t overly impressed.  Tasting is such a subjective pastime that I’m always ready to give a wine another try – and I’m so glad I did!  I didn’t find this as oily as some Rhône Viogniers but it was peachy and rich – the abv of 14.5% should be a hint that it’s on the dry side.  More of a food wine than a quaffing wine, but very well crafted.

Henri Bourgeois Sancerre d’Antan 2014 (13.5%, €45.00 down to €36.00)

antan

This upmarket Sancerre is not for the casual drinker; it’s pricey but excellent.  If I bought it I’d stick it away for a few years at least – it’s still fairly tight and closed up, but undoubtedly has fabulous potential.

La Comtesse de Pazo Barrantes Albariño 2013 (13.5%, €42.00 down to €33.60)

comtesse

This is a fine wine to sit and sip, and to reflect upon the world.  It has lees work and some oak, so it’s unlike most Albariños on the market, but it’s no Chardonnay clone either. Probably my favourite Albariño ever tasted!

Chanson Puligny-Montrachet 2013 (13.5%, €55.00 down to €44.00)

puligny

Top class Burgundy isn’t cheap, so why not try it when it’s on offer?  This is another youngster that really needs putting away for a while, or at least decanting for a few hours if drinking now.  Oak is noticeable on the nose (which I like, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) and adds depth to the palate.  Don’t drink it too cold, and only share with friends who appreciate good wine!

Caro 2013 (14.5%, €50.00 down to €40.00)

caro

This is a serious Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon blend which is the result of collaboration between Bordeaux’s Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite and the Catena family.  At this young age it still has lots of oak and tannin and primary plum and blackcurrant fruit characters, but also cedar and sandalwood notes.  Far better value than most posh Bordeaux reds, keep it for as long as you can bare!

Marqués de Murrietta Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €34.95 down to €24.95)

marques

When it comes to Rioja I normally go for a Crianza or Reserva style where the fruit is more prominent than the longer aged Gran Reservas.  They can be too dry and “woody” (for me “oaky” can be good but “woody” rarely is).  Marqués de Murrietta have a beauty on their hands with the 2007 – it’s exactly how Gran Reservas should be: lots of fruit (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry) with vanilla,  all in a soft and cosseting package.  Get in!

Delheim Grand Reserve 2013 (14.0%, €36.95 down to €29.56)

delheim

This is of course a South African wine but – tasted blind – does a great impression of a classy left bank Bordeaux.  The main difference is that it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape which never ripens sufficiently to be used as a varietal in Bordeaux (though can be a very high percentage of some Pauillacs).  It’s definitely a dry wine, with pencil shavings and cedar notes that you’d associate with a more mature wine – so treat yourself to a bottle and a big steak!  More info here.

Gérard Bertrand Cigalus 2014 (14.5%, €38.95 down to €29.95)

cigalus

Probably the best wine in Gérard Bertrand’s portfolio, this is a biodynamically produced blend using both Bordeaux and Languedoc varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Caladoc (a cross between Grenache and Malbec). Interestingly, the Syrah and Carignan undergo whole berry carbonic maceration (similar to Gamay in Beaujolais) which adds a little approachability – it’s a big wine, but not too intimidating.

A Walk on the Wild Side [Make Mine a Double #25]

There are lots of trends in wine which compete for our attention at the moment – orange wines, natural wines, organic, biodynamic, lutte raisonnée, skin contact, wild ferment, pet-nat, and many more.  Some are almost interchangeable and some are ill-defined.

Against this backdrop, many producers continue to improve quality by taking care in the vineyard, first and foremost, and allowing the terroir to be expressed in the wine.  One of the key ways of doing this is to use “wild” yeast, i.e. the yeast which occurs naturally in the vineyard, rather than commercial or cultured yeast.

Here are two wild yeast fermented wines from France which I tried recently:

Domaine des Chezelles Touraine Sauvignon 2015 (12.5%, €13.85 at Wines Direct)

dom-chezelles

Touraine Sauvignon is a banker for me, always fresh and fruity, great value for money…in a word, reliable.  Although this might sound like damning with faint praise, it isn’t; while not hitting the heights of Loire neighbours Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, it’s the appellation I actually buy the most of.

Domaine des Chezelles practises wild yeast fermentation and organic techniques but haven’t been certified (which can be an expensive process).  They’re using organic methods because they think it’s the right thing to do, rather than a sales tool.

In the glass it’s recognisably a Touraine Sauvignon, with lots of pleasant green flavours – gooseberry, grapefruit, green pepper and grass – but more exuberantly fruity than the norm.  Drink as an aperitif or with dishes containing asparagus or shellfish.

Château La Baronne Corbières “Les Chemins” 2013 (14.5%, €22.75 at Wines Direct)

labaronnechemins

Corbières was one of the first Languedoc appellations that I became familiar with, but quality has certainly increased over the past 20 years or so.  The reds (which are over 90% of all Corbières wines produced) are generally a blend composed of some or all of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault – what I call GSM-CC.

Les Chemins (“The Paths” or “The Ways”) is particularly interesting as it’s a naturally-produced wine from Corbières, but can’t be labelled as “natural” because of the sulphur levels – though no sulphur is added, the amount which occurs naturally is just over the threshold.  The blend is Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvère – the Lignères Family who own the Château are particularly fond of Carignan so it is the biggest component of the wine.

On pouring the wine has a wonderfully fruity nose – fruits of the forest in particular.  On the palate there are wondrous red and (mainly) black fruits – red and black cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant.  It’s the sort of wine that autumn really calls for!

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

 

 

SuperValu French Whites [Make Mine a Double #20]

Here are a couple of lovely French whites from the excellent 2015 vintage, both fairly moderate in alcohol at 12.5% but very different in style:

Saint Auriol Chatelone Corbières 2015 (12.5%, €12.99 at SuperValu / Centra)

St Auriol Chatelaine Corbieres small

Corbières is the biggest Appellation Contrôlée within the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region of France, the central part of southern France stretching from the Spanish border across the Mediterranean coast up to Provence.  It’s obviously a sunny place so has long been the source of easy-drinking, fruity reds which are produced in abundance.  It is very much a region on the up, with a new wave of quality-conscious producers making their own wines with low yields rather than selling grapes to the local co-operative.

This is a white Corbières, which makes up only around 2% of the AOC’s production, so it is something of a rarity.  The wine is a blend of grapes popular in the Rhône, Provence and Languedoc – Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache BlancBourboulenc.  The vines face south-east so they get plenty of sun but not too much heat in the afternoon.

Each of the grapes adds something to the wine – there’s soft pear, apple and stone fruit, a touch of citrus and nutty notes – and a delightful texture.  The back label suggests drinking between 10C and 12C – so make sure it’s not served straight from a domestic fridge which would be too cold.

The back label also has another surprising snippet: the producer reckons the wine will keep for 6 years or more if stored well – if you are the sort of person who likes to see how a wine evolves and gains in complexity over time then this would be a great bottle to try it with!

La Vigne Des Sablons Vouvray 2015 (12.5%, €14.99 at SuperValu / Centra)

La Vigne de Sablons Vouvray small

Still in France but further north, Vouvray is made in the Touraine region around the city of Tours.  Touraine region wines can be red, white, rosé or sparkling; reds are made from Gamay, Pinot Noir, Côt (Malbec) and Breton (Cabernet Franc), amongst others with Sauvignon Blanc and Pineau Blanc de la Loire (Chenin Blanc) the main white grapes.

Vouvray is east by north east of Tours and is predominantly Chenin country.  The sweetness of the wines varies considerably from producer to producer, and particularly from vintage to vintage – warmer years mean more sugar in the grapes and usually more sugar in the finished wine.

This bottle by La Vigne des Sablons is off-dry or perhaps a touch sweeter, but doesn’t taste overtly sweet due to Chenin’s naturally high acidity.  The main notes are fresh and baked apple, drizzled with a touch of honey.  It’s dangerously drinkable!  A great introduction to Vouvray from which you could explore others.

 

Disclosure:  both wines kindly provided for review

 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

A February Feast, part 2

Following on from A February Feast, part 1, here are some of the reds which really impressed me at the Tindal’s portfolio tasting in February.  In my dash round the hall I only got to taste one wine from the Tyrrell’s table – as they have just partnered up with Tindal’s they were new to the portfolio and hence probably the busiest table there!

 

Craggy Range Martinborough Te Muna Road Pinot Noir 2012 (€39.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown))

Te Muna Road

Although Central Otago gets most of the column inches nowadays, Martinborough remains one of the top regions for Pinot Noir within New Zealand.  Like all Craggy Range’s …erm … range, this is a single vineyard bottling.  The Te Muna Road vineyard is pictured above, and as this is New Zealand it is obviously bigger than some Burgundian Clos.

The 2012 is a serious wine, with concentrated red and black fruit, balanced tannins and a very smooth finish.  I could see this still tasting lovely into the next decade.

Château Pesquié Ventoux Les Terrasses Rouge 2014 (€19)

Vue_du_Ventoux

Fred Chaudière’s family estate is considered to be among the best of the Ventoux in the Southern Rhône.  Although Château Pesquié has a range of bottlings from the everyday to very serious (see some more of the latter here), it’s the Terrasses Rouge which stands out as a great buy.  Certified organic from 2014, it consists of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, with minor traces of Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre.  Buy a magnum and book a day off!

Château Spencer La Pujade Corbières “Le Millésime” 2008 (€27.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Cashel Wine Cellar (Cashel))

diapo1

Winemaker Sebastien Bonneaud loves his beret and loves his Carignan, being one of its fiercest supporters.  This cuvée is an unusual departure for him in that it is made from 80% Mourvèdre and 20% Syrah.  After fermentation the wine is matured from 14 to 16 months in 100% new 300 and 600 litre French oak barrels, as befits an upmarket cuvée (“Le Millésime” literally translates as “The Vintage”).

At over seven years old the oak is now very well integrated, and though its influence is felt it does not stick out or jarr at all.  It’s big, round and powerful, but also elegant.

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2013 (€26.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Nolans Butchers (Kilcullen))

Badia

Badia a Coltibuono – literally translated as “Abbey of the Good Harvest” – has existed for a millennium, with the monks gradually expanding their landholdings, until significant change arrived under Napoleonic secularisation in 1810.  This Chianti Classico is made from 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo (which softens the edges).  Wild yeast are used for fermentation and it then spends a year in cask before bottling.  Chianti’s signature notes are all present – sweet / sour red and black cherries, tobacco (highlighted by the tannins) and vanilla from the oak.

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2009 (€39.50, Searsons (online & Monkstown)

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This was one of the highlights of the tasting for me.  It has a noticeable family resemblance to the standard Chianti Classico above, but more depth of flavour and even smoother. The wine is made from the best selection of grapes, then the best barrels spend a further 12 months ageing on top of the standard bottling’s 12.  A serious wine which is seriously drinkable!

Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana 2011 (€58.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown))

Sangioveto is the old local name for the Sangiovese grape, a nod to tradition for Badia a Coltibuono’s top red.  Only made in the best vintages, with extra ripe fruit and maturation in French oak barrels, it is arguably Super Tuscan in style, even though it is a varietal Sangiovese – this is also hinted at by the IGT Toscana classification.  Some might decry the break from tradition, but then Chianti used to contain 15% Malvasia Blanca!

This is a powerful but soft wine, lots of black fruit supported by soft tannins and 15% alcohol.  Lovely to drink now, especially if decanted, but it would be worth stashing a few of these away for 2020.

 

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2015

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2015

As I said at the beginning of my review pieces, for me 2015 was an excellent year for wine.  If one region really stood out for me in 2015 it would be Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France; already well known for bulk wine and subsequently good value bottles, it has a growing reputation for excellence in the hands of dedicated producers.

Here are ten of the reds which most impressed me in the year:

10. Château de Rousselet Côtes de Bourg 2009 (€12.99, Lidl)

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For about 17 years my parents lived close to La Rochelle in the Charente Maritime department – much better known for Cognac than wine.  But happily it was close enough to Bordeaux that day trips were quite easy, and so at least once a summer I would head down in the car for some tasting and buying.

Heading south, the first subregions encountered are the Côtes de Blaye (now renamed) and Côtes de Bourg.  Touring around with a visitors booklet I would try new vineyards every year, plus return to a chosen few of the best.  Château de Rousselet was one I returned to year after year, as Francis Sou and son Emmanuel continued to gradually improve the quality of their wines.  Here are a few of the older bottles I still have:

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So I was surprised and delighted to see a fairly recent vintage being sold through Lidl! The 2009 vintage was outstanding in Bordeaux, and even modest areas such as the Côtes de Bourg produced some crackers – classic claret, still great for food, but also round and fruity enough to be drunk by itself.  Sadly the Lidl stores close to me didn’t have any stock when I visited!

9. Château Paul Mas Clos de Mures Coteaux du Languedoc 2013 (€16.99, Molloys)

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Paul Mas is one of the star estates of the Languedoc. There are several different quality levels of which Château Paul Mas is around the top – “Everyday luxury”.  The equivalent white also featured in my Top 10 whites of 2015.

As it common in the Languedoc this is a blend, comprising 83% Syrah, 12% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre – so it’s a GSM blend of sorts, though showing more black than red fruit due to the higher Syrah content.  This wine was one of the surprise stars of the (as yet unpublished) DNS tastings on Syrah and Shiraz – both for the absolute quality and the value for money at €16.99.  

8. Condado De Haza Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2011 (€23, JN Wine and others)

Condado de Haza

Pesquera’s sister property in a warmer part of the Ribero del Duero shares much in terms of ethos and quality but has a different sensibility – it’s more fun and accessible, with an emphasis on fruit and pleasure rather than refinement.  Plum, blackcurrant and black cherry are rounded off by vanilla from 18 months in American oak.

There’s no doubt that Tinta Pesquera is the senior sibling but this crowd-pleaser is a lot of wine for sensible money, and is the one I would chose to drink on its own.  

See this article for more details.

7. Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block 21 “Viento Mar” Pinot Noir 2012 (€19.99 from O’Brien’s Wines, Mitchell & Sons, Redmonds of Ranelagh, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin, Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Bradley’s and O’Driscoll’s of Cork)

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Cono Sur do a great range of Pinot Noirs from the everyday Bicicleta up to the prestigious Ocio.  This is a single vineyard release Pinot which sits roughly in the middle of the range; there are also seven other varietal single vineyard releases including Riesling, Carmenère and Syrah – I’d like to try them at some point as well!

The vineyard itself is nicknamed the Spanish for “Sea Wind”, invoking the coastal breezes which help keep the temperature relatively cool in San Antonio Valley – ideal for Pinot Noir.

Luscious black and red fruits combine with a hint of vanilla – it’s got lots of fruit but fresh rather than confected fruit.  Amazingly drinkable, and knocks spots off Burgundy (and most other regions’) Pinot at this price.

See this article for more details.

6. Domaine L’Ostal Cazes Grand Vin Minervois La Livinère 2011 (€23.49, O’Briens)

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The general Minervois appellation has around 800ha planted to vines and the smaller, more prestigious, Minervois La Livinière appellation is around a quarter of that, with lower yields and a higher proportion of better-regarded grapes such as Syrah.

The JM Cazes group of Château Lynch-Bages fame first ventured outside of Bordeaux when they acquired this property in 2002.  The Grand Vin composes 70% Syrah, 15% Carignan, 10% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre and weighs in at 14.0%, so in weight terms it’s somewhere in between northern and southern Rhône.

Although it doesn’t have the stature of its more well-known stablemates, it’s more accessible than most of them – especially those from Paulliac and Saint-Estèphe – and would be the one I reached for most often given the choice of all of them.

5. Alpha Zeta Amarone della Valpolicella 2011 (€35, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)

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Amarone is one of the first Italian wines that people fall in love with, enjoying its big rich flavours and textures, though they come at a premium price.  It’s a wine that’s easy to love.  Sometimes it can get a bit too much, with jammy fruit and high alcohol making too much of a mouthful for a second glass.

This example from Alpha Zeta is one of the most well-balanced I’ve come across, and while it might still be too fruit forward for Barolo loving masochists it doesn’t intimidate. Also, compared to many it is (relatively) inexpensive at €35 a bottle (many others go far north of €40).

This was the bottle I took along to a meal with fellow wine blogger friends at Dada Moroccan restaurant in Dublin.  The touch of sweetness and richness turned out to be a perfect match for the lamb and apricot tagine I ordered – probably the favourite wine of the evening.

4. Uno de Mil Tempranillo & Petit Verdot (€23.95, Cases Wine Warehouse)

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A pretty label and a stunning wine, which happens to be organic and biodynamic.  Such is the explosion of fresh fruit and vanilla in the mouth that it instantly made me think of a blueberry muffin!  Made from a blend of Tempranillo (from Rioja and Ribero del Duero) and Petit Verdot (a small part of some Bordeaux reds), it’s from the less well-known region of La Mancha – but knocks spots of plenty of Rioja that I’ve had!

3. E.Guigal “Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph” Saint-Joseph 2005 (2009: €46, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)

Saint Joseph

 

Saint-Joseph has become my go-to Rhône appellation, with its lovely blackberry, black olive and sour black cherry flavours.  What I hadn’t appreciated was that the appellation was named after an actual vineyard, itself named after Holy Joe himself who was reputed to have lived there.

Now in the hands of famed Rhône producer Guigal, the “lieu-dit” Saint-Joseph produces both red and white wines of superlative quality.  2005 was an exceptional year in the northern Rhône (10/10 according to The Wine Society) and this wine was at its peak.  It showed all the trademark Saint-Joseph notes but with a polish and complexity that stood out.

2. D’Arenberg The Dead Arm McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005 (2008: €54.99 from O’Briens and independent merchants)

Dead Arm

D’Arenberg are one of the standout producers of McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide in Australia.  Led by the colourful (in several senses) Chester Osbourne,  they have a wide portfolio of wines with different quality levels and varieties.  The Dead Arm is one of their three Icon bottlings, along with The Coppermine Road (which I once realised I was driving on!) Cabernet Sauvignon and Ironstone Pressings Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre.

And the unusual name?  From the d’Arenberg website:

Dead Arm is a vine disease caused by the fungus Eutypa Lata that randomly affects vineyards all over the world. Often affected vines are severely pruned or replanted. One half, or an ‘arm’ of the vine slowly becomes reduced to dead wood. That side may be lifeless and brittle, but the grapes on the other side, while low yielding, display amazing intensity

The 2005 is beautifully mature, though far from over the hill.  It has the blackberry and plum fruit, pepper and spice plus vanilla notes as you’d expect from an Aussie Shiraz, but these flavours are all now interwoven and settled in; they are speaking in harmony rather than shouting individually.  I just wish I’d bought more than one bottle!

1. Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1996 (~€115, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin and other independents)

Bin707

And so for the third year running my favourite wine of the year is a Penfolds red!  In 2013 it was the 1998 Bin 707, then in 2014 I was lucky enough to try the Grange 2008.  The former would have has a good shout again in 2015 but the bottle of 1998 I had planned to open with Christmas dinner didn’t actually get opened until 2016.  I did, however, open both 1996 and 1997 and it was narrowly the former which I favoured.

The biggest surprise was that although it showed signs of maturity in the brick red rim, the nose and palate still showed lots of fruit – overwhelmingly blackcurrant, of course, given that this is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  There were some touches of cedar and pencil shavings that pointed to its age, but they were knitted in.

Bin 707 stands second to Grange in the Penfolds hierarchy, but for my tastes it runs it very close or even beats it sometimes!

 

Also check out the Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites, Top 10 Fizz and Top 10 Sweet wines of 2015.

 

 

DNS Wine Club *FUN* Tasting

After a show of hands at the previous meet, the theme of the most recent DNS Wine Club tasting was FUN! Wine can be a very technical and complicated subject, and as something of a geek that often appeals to me, but at the end of the day the main point of wine is pleasure.

So how do you make a tasting more fun? Play games! But which games? I divided the DNS gang into two teams, opened some fizz and gave them their first task.

{All the wines tasted over the evening are reviewed in the articles Le Tour de France and Around The World in Eighty Sips on TheTaste.ie}

ROUND 1 – Match the Critic

John Wilson
John Wilson, scholar and gentleman

I reviewed John Wilson’s book “Wilson On Wine 2015 – The Wines To Drink This Year” here and refer to it frequently. For each wine reviewed there are lots of details, especially on the background of the wine, along with a fairly short tasting note. As tasting is such a subjective thing (and taste too, but that’s for another day) I wondered how easy it would be to identify wines from their tasting note alone…

Example of a wine featured
Example of a wine featured in the book

Each team was given a sheet with two columns; the first had ten wine names and the second had ten tasting notes taken from John’s book. Two wines were sparkling, four white and four red. Each column was in alphabetical order and the objective was to match the tasting notes to the correct wine.

Wine Name   Tasting Note
1 Bernhard Ott Fass4 Grüner Veltliner 2013 A A superb, light, elegant wine, with piquant dark cherry and blueberry fruits.
2 Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Extra Brut NV B Almond blossoms on the nose; light, elegant, sophisticated crisp green fruits with excellent Minerality. A perennial favourite.
3 Coca y Fito DO Terra Alta Jaspi Blanc 2012 C An exuberant, fresh wine bursting with pineapples and tropical fruits.
4 Jeio Prosecco DOCG Valdobiadenne Spumante Brut NV D Bracing and herby with an inviting texture and a snappy dry finish.
5 Kasarí Zorah Areni Noir 2012 E Delectably light and tangy but with rosehips and fresh, piquant red fruits. Great with food.
6 Moric Burgenland Blaufränkish 2012 F Fresh pear and peach fruits with a good lively citrus edge
7 Pieropan Soave Classico 2013 G Intriguing, lifted fragrant black cherries with good acidity and a light earthiness, finishing on a smooth note. Different and delicious wine.
8 Quinta Milú Ribera del Duero 2013 H Pure piquant damson fruits, good acidity and a lightly tannic finish. Delicious.
9 Santa Rita Medalla Real Leyda Valley Chardonnay 2011 I Restrained peach and apple fruits with subtle toasted nuts and a core of citrus acidity.
10 Thymiopolous Naoussa Xinomavro 2013 J Succulent ripe fruits cut through with a delicious minerality and great length.

You might want to try this at home.  Bear the following hints in mind that were given on the night:

  • As both columns are in alphabetical order it is possible that a wine may still be lined up opposite its true tasting note, though most aren’t.
  • The longest tasting note belongs to (probably) the most expensive white wine.
  • The Prosecco note should be very easy to identify as it nearly always tastes of one particular fruit.
  • One of the wines includes a colour in its name (though not in English) which is included in the corresponding tasting note (in English).

Yes, most of these hints are fairly esoteric / tenuous / difficult – but that’s how I roll!

ROUND 2 – Call My (Wine) Bluff

For those know aren’t familiar with it, Call My Bluff is a long-running UK game show where celebrity contestants on a team take it in turn to give three definitions of an obscure word, only one of which is correct. The other team then tries to choose the correct definition and discard the bluffs.

The wine version has a similar structure, but instead of word definitions the guessing team has to divine which of three tasting notes they are given match the wine in their glass and their mouth!

For five white wines and three red wines, these are the choices which were proffered:

White 1
(A) Famille Bougrier Les Hautes Lieux Vin de France Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(B) José Pareinte Rueda Verdejo 2014
(C) Marqués de Riscal Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2013

White 2
(A) Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Chardonnay 2012
(B) Les Auzines Fleur Blanches Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014
(C) Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014

White 3
(A) Frantz Saumon Minérale+ Montlouis 2012
(B) Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014
(C) Trimbach Cuvé Frédéric Emile Alsace Riesling 2004

White 4
(A) Dog Point Section 94 2008
(B) Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
(C) Greywacke Marlborough Wild Sauvignon 2012

White 5
(A) Frantz Saumon Minérale+ Montlouis 2012
(B) Les Auzines Fleur Blanches Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014
(C) Marqués de Riscal Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Red 1
(A) Atlantico Sur Reserve Tannat 2011
(B) Château Bouscassé Madiran 2007
(C) El Castro de Valtuille Bierzo 2013

Red 2
(A) Aldi Lot 01 Uco Valley Malbec-Cabernet 2013
(B) Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Supérieur 2012
(C) Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011

Red 3
(A) Château Milhau-Lacugue “Les Truffières” Saint Chinian 2010
(B) Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
(C) Taltarni Heathcote Shiraz 2008

For the guessing team, some of the choices were more difficult if there was a similarity between the choices, e.g. for White 1 there were 2 regions and 2 grapes over 3 wines.

It was actually easiest to bluff when the reader didn’t know if they were giving the note for the correct wine or not! I suppose it is good to know that most people aren’t good liars, even if it’s just for fun.

ROUND 3 – Match the Critic (Encore)

A Book, A Bottle, A Glass
A Book, A Bottle, A Glass

Now the kicker to see if everyone had been paying attention! A double list – similar to that handed out in Round 1 – was given to each team, this time with eight wine names and tasting notes. But these weren’t just any wines taken from John’s book – they were the eight that everyone had tasted in Round 2! So of course, this final round had double points awarded.

Wine Name   Tasting Note
1 Atlantico Sur Reserve Tannat 2011 A A delicious modern style of Bordeaux with light creamy cassis fruits and a smooth easy finish.
2 Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Supérieur 2012 B A subtle and delectable blend of citrus and green fruits with a touch of honey
3 Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011 C Exhilarating precise acidity with pristine green fruits.  Inspiring, thrilling wine.
4 Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013 D Fresh, tangy, lemon and grapefruit, balanced out by clean green fruits, and a dry finish.
5 Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Chardonnay 2014 E Good, deeply satisfying wine with firm, dark ripe fruits and a dry finish.
6 José Pareinte Rueda Verdejo 2013 F Light toasted nut aromas, fresh textured pineapples fruits and excellent length. Great wine at a very reasonable price.
7 Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches G Lightly toasted notes combined with peaches, almonds and honey.  Unusual and perfectly formed.
8 Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014 H Succulent and ripe, filled with dark cherry fruits dusted with spices

Conclusions

Blind tasting, even single blind, is difficult. Tasting notes are subjective, and, unsurprisingly, it’s much easier to understand someone else’s when you’re tasting the same wine they had. Context is very important so knowing the background to a wine can give you a lot of clues about why it tastes a certain way and where it’s headed.

Above all, it’s a fun journey!

Valentines Wines (I) The Tasting Panel

For the first of my posts on Valentine’s Wines I thought I would try something a little bit different from the norm. My wife and I invited her elder brother Andrew and his girlfriend Paula round for dinner to and to try some different wines in advance of Valentine’s Day.

It’s good to hear the opinions of other people – wine tasting can be very social and lots of fun. I heartily recommend you try forming your own tasting panel now and again, with friends from absolute novices to MWs.

Before we get into the wines, here is the delicious meal they accompanied:

Starter:

Cantaloupe Melon drenched in Pineau des Charentes

Main:

Slow Roasted Loin of Pork with a Bramley apple glaze, server with roasted potatoes, julienne carrots and petits pois, roasted root vegetables, apple and citrus jus

Dessert:

Apple Strudel with Cornish Vanilla Ice cream and / or Homemade Vanilla Custard

Cheese:

Selection of: Brie de Meaus, Abbaye du Mont des Cats, Diliskus semi-soft Herbed.

The wines

Disclosure: the wines tasted below were kindly provided by O’Briens, but opinions are entirely our own.

Rizzardi Prosecco DOC Spumante Extra Dry NV (€20.99, currently €17.99)

Valentine’s connection: who doesn’t like popping the cork on some fizz?

Rizzardi Prosecco DOC Spumante Extra Dry NV
Rizzardi Prosecco DOC Spumante Extra Dry NV

The label “Extra Dry” on Prosecco is usually a misnomer – the wine is often on the sweet side. A little sweetness can make Prosecco very easy to drink and is one of the factors behind its current boom in sales. However, Rizzardi’s style is actually dry on the palate. Being a Spumante it had a proper cork and was fully sparkling.

On tasting the main flavours we noted were pip fruit such as Granny Smith’s apple and pear, citrus (even Lemon Sherbet) and a sour sweetness (if that makes any sense) – a bit like the sensation from Sour Squirms sweets.

A little sweetness did come through on the finish once it had warmed up a little in the glass (it was served straight from a domestic fridge).

Panel Votes:

  • Andrew 5 [not a fan of fizz]
  • Paula 8 [can I have another glass please?]
  • Jess 4 [found it too dry]
  • Frankie 7 [preferred it to most other Proseccos]

Verdict:

This wine clearly divided opinion on the panel, but that’s no bad thing. Hopefully the comments give you the information to decide whether this Prosecco is for you, or perhaps try a sweeter one.

Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches Vin de France 2013 (€14.49, currently €12.99, O’Briens)

Valentine’s connection: say it with (white) flowers

Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches Vin de France 2013
Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches Vin de France 2013

Although labelled as a Vin de France, which could come from almost anywhere in France, this was made in the Corbières region of the Languedoc, quite close to the Mediterranean coast.  The name property name “Les Auzines” comes from the Occitan meaning “little leaves from the oak tree”, owned by Laurent Miquel and his Irish wife Neasa Corish.

The blend is based on Grenache Gris, with perhaps a dash of Grenache Blanc.  It is classed as an oaked white as 85% was fermented and aged in second and third-use oak barrels, but although it has gained texture and complexity it doesn’t taste typically “oaky”.

Smooth and rich but tangy, it shows flavours of Macadamia nuts, lime, gravel and mineral, fennel, lavender and other herbs – it’s really interesting.  Alcohol is surprisingly modest at 11.5% – it doesn’t feel lacking in any way.

Panel Votes:

  • Andrew 7 [Nuts and gravel]
  • Paula 8 [Soft and easy-drinking]
  • Jess 7 [A white wine for red wine drinkers]
  • Frankie 8 [what a find!]

Verdict:

Fleurs Blanches was an amazing match for the main course – perhaps helped by the dash of Fleurs Blanches which went in the jus.  O’Briens’ notes reckon that it “bears a closer resemblance to fine Burgundy than to Corbiéres” – I would clarify that by saying it could double for mature fine Burgundy – it’s that good!

Henri Bourgeois La Porte Caillou Sancerre 2013 (€22.99, currently €19.99, O’Briens)

Valentine’s connection: woo your Valentine with a classy, classic white wine.

Henri Bourgeois La Porte Caillou Sancerre 2013
Henri Bourgeois La Porte Caillou Sancerre 2013

Sancerre was the first wine region famous for varietal Sauvignon Blanc, but as is the way with Appellation-based fame, it is open to use and abuse.  If you’ve ever bought a Sancerre in a French supermarket then you will know that quality can be very variable…

So what to do?  Find a good producer, of course – or a great producer, such as Henri Bourgeois.

Minerality is a buzzword in wine at the moment, but the chalk soils of HB’s vineyards impart a magnificent flint character to his wines.  The very name “Porte de Caillou” means Pebble Gate, so that should give you an idea!

As well as the minerality (liked by one taster to sucking on gravel!), there’s lots and lots of fruit: very green, but ripe, fruit such as gooseberry and grapefruit, plus a little restrained tropical fruit.  There’s lots of acidity but it’s smooth rather than spiky, with more body and texture than you might expect from a Sauvignon.

Panel Votes:

  • Andrew 8 [An integrated continuum from the nose though to the palate]
  • Paula 7 [Lovely and fresh]
  • Jess 6 [Prefer fruity Sauvignons]
  • Frankie 8 [Classic Sancerre!]

Verdict:

Food friendly Sauvignon that the Kiwis are now trying to emulate.  This shows how Sancerre should be done, and why it became a classic in the first place.

Ars Nova Navarra Gran Reserva 2007 (€17.49, O’Briens)

Valentine’s connection: an appeal to the finer things in life – and seductive in the glass.

Ars Nova Navarra Gran Reserva 2007
Ars Nova Navarra Gran Reserva 2007

Named after the Mediaeval Latin for “New Art” (as in New Technique), this is a blend of 40% Tempranillo (well known in Rioja and elsewhere in Spain), 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot (both from Bordeaux).  Its home region of Navarra had non-native (mainly French) varieties planted from the 1980s onwards, so now winemakers have a wide choice of ingredients.

As a Gran Reserva it has spent eighteen months maturing before being bottled – the producer mentions nine months in French oak so I’m guessing a further nine in a larger format of vessel.  Alcohol is punchy but not overblown at 14.0%.

It shows smoke rather than vanilla characters from the oak, followed by red fruit (strawberry) moving into black fruit (blackberry, blackcurrant, blueberry) and a savoury finish.  There’s perhaps an edge of leather and liquorice but they don’t dominate.  Overall the impression is of fruit sweetness, plenty of tannin, well balanced.

Panel Votes:

  • Andrew 8 [My kind of wine, fruit and tannin together]
  • Paula 9 [My favourite wine of the night]
  • Jess 9 [Easy going, smooth, could drink this every day]
  • Frankie 8 [Spain meets Bordeaux, incredible value]

Verdict:

Perfectly poised between (fruit) sweet and (tannin) savoury, this was a big hit with everyone.  It was a good match for the cheese but would also be great with beef, lamb or venison.  Without the renown of Rioja, the winemakers of Navarra have really upped their game.  The only downside to this wine was that a Lussac St-Emilion tasted afterwards was dry and thin in comparison!

More Valentine’s Wines to come!