Tasting Events

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019 (part 3 – Old World Reds)

Part 1 covered French wines and Part 2 some Portuguese and NZ whites.  Now for some Italian reds, plus an interloper from Croatia – though, to be fair, made with a grape that has Venetian origins:

Matošević “Grimalda” Red 2016 (13.0%, RRP €36.99 at Blackrock Cellar; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Searsons; www.wineonline.ie)

Grimalda crna

A few firsts for me with this wine.  Firstly, it’s from the Croatian province of Istria, and although I’ve had Croatian wines before, never (knowingly) one from Istria.  Secondly, 30% of the blend is contributed by a grape I’ve never heard of – Teran – though I have heard of the Refosco family of which it is a member.  The remaining components are much more familiar –  Merlot (60%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) – as are the French barrels in which the wine is matured for 15 months.  The vineyard is located in Brdo (surely a place name with too few vowels) in Central Istria.  The winemaker is pioneer and living legend Ivica Matošević.

The French and local varieties complement each other well – the Merlot gives plum and dark chocolate notes, filling the mid palate, while the Teran gives fresh, ripe-but-tart forest fruits.  Overall, it’s velvety smooth goodness all the way.

Massolino Barolo 2014 (13.5%, RRP €54.99 at 64 Wine; The Corkscrew; Fallon & Byrne; Hole in The Wall; La Touche Wines, Greystones; Mitchell & Son; www.wineonline.ie)

Massonlino Barolo

Though I’m far from an expert in Piedmontese wines, it’s easily understandable that there are differences even within DOC and DOCG areas.  Franco Massolino sources his Nebbiolo grapes from several plots in the Commune of Serralunga d’Alba at an altitude of 320m – 360m.  The soils are mainly limestone and the vines age from 10 up to 60 years old.  Serralunga d’Alba is regarded as one of the best parts of Barolo and produces well-structured wines that can age for decades, so it’s a little surprising that this 2014 is already so accessible – softer and more approachable, in fact, than Massolino’s 2016 Langhe Nebbiolo.  The nose is floral with forest fruits and the palate has rich, smooth black and red fruits, kept fresh by a streak of acidity.

Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo “Cicala” 2014 (14.0%, RRP €162.99 at 64 Wine; Mitchell & Son; The Corkscrew)

Poderi Aldo Conterno Cicala Barolo

One of the unique things about this producer is that they have reduced their output over the last twenty years, more than halving production from 180,000 bottles to 80,000 bottles from the same 25 hectares of vines, all with an eye to improving quality.  It seems to have worked!  Established by Aldo Conterno himself in 1969, nowadays his son Stefano is the winemaker, with his other sons running the business.  The Cicala name comes from the single vineyard where the grapes are sourced from.  This 2014 is half a percent lighter in alcohol than other recent vintages, but it’s no lightweight – it’s an immense wine, though not impenetrable.  The nose is enticing and rewarding; it’s worth just enjoying the rose and tar aromas for a while before even taking a sip.  On the palate there’s still plenty of oak evident, but balanced by ripe fruits.  This is an “Oh wow” wine.

Petra “Hebo” 2016 (14.0%, RRP €25.99 at Baggot Street Wines; Cinnamon Cottage, Cork; The CorkscrewClontarf Wines; Red Island Wine, Skerries; www.wineonline.ie)

Petra Hebo

The Petra estate is large compared to the Barolos above at 300 hectares.  It was created close to the Tuscan coast by the Moretti family of Bellavista fame (particularly known for their Franciacorta).  This is Super-Tuscan territory, borne out by the blend: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Sangiovese.  However, this is not a Bordeaux copy; it has some similarities with Médoc wines but tastes Italian – whether due to terroir or the 10% Sangiovese is up for debate.  With ripe red and black fruits framed by tannin and acidity, this is a well put-together wine that offers better value than most Bordeaux at this price.

Petra “Petra” 2014 (14.0%, RRP €69.99 at Baggot Street Wines; The Corkscrew; www.wineonline.ie)

Petra Petra

This is the Petra estate’s top wine, a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot.  The must is fermented in open top 100 hl vessels, then matured in barriques, of which 30% are new.  It has a highly perfumed nose, full of violets and a whiff of vanilla.  There’s lots of structure here, but also juicy cherry, blackberry and blueberry fruit.  At five years old this is still in the flushes of youth, so I’d expect it to keep evolving and improving over the next decade or so.  A Super-Tuscan which is expensive, but doesn’t cost the earth.

 

 

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019

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Tasting Events

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019 (part 2 – other whites)

In part 1 I mentioned that Liberty’s Portfolio Tasting is the biggest on the Irish wine trade calendar, and the evidence is below in the number of independent off licences which stock the wines I’ve recommended.  This part will focus on some delicious whites, mainly from Portugal but with an excellent Kiwi Sauvignon thrown in for good measure.

Framingham Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (12.5%, RRP €23.99 at 64 Wine; Avoca; Cinnamon Cottage, Cork; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Fallon & Byrne; Green Man Wines; JJ O’Driscoll, Cork; The Wine House, Trim; www.wineonline.ie; World Wide Wines, Waterford)

Framingham Sauvignon Blanc

Unusually for Marlborough, Framingham started out producing just Riesling in 1994 and are still best known for that variety, in both dry (reviewed here) and botrytised styles.  However, here we have their Sauvignon Blanc, the variety for which Marlborough and New Zealand in general is best known.  While not in the funky wild yeast style, this is more interesting than most Marlborough Sauvignons, with real texture and depth of flavour, no doubt aided by partial maturation in acacia wood.  A special wine from a special producer.

Azevedo Loureiro / Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2018 (12.0%, RRP €16.99 at Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Bradleys, Cork; Cinnamon Cottage, Cork; Clontarf Wines; The Drink Store; Egans Wines, Portlaoise; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Grapevine, Dalkey; Myles Creek, Kilkee; The Wine House, Trim; McHugh’s; The Parting Glass; Redmonds of RanelaghThomas’s of Foxrock; Thomas Woodberry’s, Galway; World Wide Wines, Waterford; www.wineonline.ie)

Azevedo Screwcap

At a high level it’s easy to split the wines of Vinho Verde into two types – the everyday tipples, usually blends, which are pleasant but not exciting, and the more serious varietal Alvarinhos, mostly from Monção & Melgaço.  However, there are some producers who take their blends more seriously, such as this single estate blend of Loureiro (70%) and Alvarinho (30%).  Lees stirring adds a little heft and texture, though the wine is still lovely and fresh with a long, zingy finish.

Azevedo Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde Reserva 2017 (12.0%, RRP €17.99 at Clontarf Wines; Gibney’s of MalahideMcHugh’sThomas’s of Foxrock; www.wineonline.ie)

Quinta Azevedo

From the same producer, this is like the wine above but more so.  It is crafted from the best Loureiro and Alvarinho grapes on the estate, given a 24 hour cold soak before fermentation.  It may seem contradictory, but this is both finer and more textured than the regular wine, with lifted aromatics of citrus and tropical fruit.  The Quinta wine is less obvious, but more rewarding.

Morgadio da Torre Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2017 (12.5%, RRP €25.99 at Bradley’s, Cork; Clontarf Wines; www.wineonline.ie)

Morgadio da Torre Alvarinho 2014_Packshot_sem fundo  (01)

This wine is from the Monção & Melgaço subregion which I mentioned above, the furthest one from the Atlantic and therefore with the potential to show more power and concentration.  The Quinta da Torre estate was established in 1603 and is now owned by Mafalda da Cunha Guedes and her relatives; the wines are made by Antonio Braga who is also the guiding hand behind Azevedo.  This is a fabulous example of Vinho Verde, and a fabulous Alvarinho in general.  It has sublime texture with a saline edge; the palate shows soft citrus and stone fruit, all framed by fresh acidity.

Duque de Viseu Dão Branco 2018 (13.0%, RRP €16.99 at Egans Wines, Portlaoise; Gibney’s Of Malahide; Myles Creek, Kilkee; www.wineonline.ie)

Duque de Viseu Branco

You call that a blend?  Hold my glass!  This Dão is made from four local grape varieties: Encruzado (43%), Malvasia Fina (30%), Bical (17%) and Gouveio (10%).  It’s an entirely different style of wine from the Vinho Verdes above, much softer and rounder.  It does show citrus notes but they are accents around soft stone and pip fruits.  This is an enticing wine, lovely and soft, inviting, with nice texture and a crisp finish.

 

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019

Tasting Events

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019 (part 1 – France)

Earlier this year, the biggest portfolio tasting on the Irish wine trade calendar – Liberty Wines Ireland – was, for a change, held at The Westbury Hotel.  I didn’t have anywhere near as much time as I’d have liked – given that there were close to 350 bottles open – but such is the quality on show that even a limited tasting throws up lots of wines that demand a recommendation.

To keep your attention I have broken the list up into several posts.  This first post covers French whites and reds, including Les Hauts de Milly which is new to Liberty.

Domaine des Ballandors Quincy 2018 (13.5%, RRP €24.99 at Baggot Street Wines; Clontarf Wines; www.wineonline.ie)

Domaine Ballandors Quincy

The new vintage is fantastic straight out of the blocks, unlike some Sauvignons which need a little time to settle down and find their poise.  This Quincy just has so much flavour; it’s an amazing Sauvignon Blanc with luscious green and yellow fruit that is a delight to drink, and tastier than many from famous neighbours Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.

Les Hauts de Milly Chablis 1er Cru “Côte de Léchet” 2016 (13.0%, RRP €39.99 at Egans Wines, Portlaoise and good independents nationwide)

Milly Chablis Lechet

Les Hauts de Milly is a new addition to the Liberty stable, and what a coup!  They have 27 hectares in Chablis (from Didier Defaix’s side of the family) and Rully (from his wife Hélène Jaeger-Defaix’s side).  Due to an extremely challenging harvest in Chablis in 2016 they lost their organic certification but are endeavouring  to regain it.

This Premier Cru Chablis  is made with grapes from 25 separate parcels in the Côte de Léchet vineyard.  It spent eight months of its maturation in a mix of stainless steel (75%) and one to six year old 228 litre oak barrels (25%).  With a mineral streak, plenty of acidity and citrus, it is recognisably Chablis, but such is the quality here that it transcends its northern origins and is truly a great white Burgundy.

Les Hauts de Milly Rully 1er Cru “Mont Palais” 2015 (13.5%, RRP €39.99 at good independents nationwide)

Milly Rully

Now to the other side of the family, with a Côte Chalonnaise from two plots within a single hectare Premier Cru vineyard, the Mont Palais.  The soils are clay and limestone, giving power and finesse respectively.  As was the case in much of Europe, 2015 was an excellent vintage in Burgundy and the warmth of the weather is reflected in tangy tropical notes.  Four years on from vintage it is absolutely singing, a very well put together wine.

Ch Larose Perganson Haut-Médoc 2014 (13.5%, RRP €35.99 at 64 Wine; Baggot Street Wines; Clontarf Wines; Hole in The Wall; Jus De Vine; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The Vintry; www.wineonline.ie)

Larose Perganson

The Larose Perganson 2010 was drinking beautifully last year, but as stocks of that vintage are depleted, the current 2014 is worth a try.  While 2014 wasn’t as stellar a year in Bordeaux as 2010 (as previously noted here) it was still very good.  As in the norm for Haut-Médoc reds, the blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (58%) and Merlot (40%) with just a little Petit Verdot (2%) for seasoning.  The body is only medium – no 15.0% fruit and oak monster here – but it has lots of nice, classic black fruit flavours, with a smoky edge.  The second wine Les Hauts de Perganson is around two thirds the price but for me it’s definitely worth paying the extra for the Fully Monty.

François et Fils Côte-Rôtie 2016 (13.0%, RRP €61.99 at 64 Wine; Thomas’s of Foxrock; www.wineonline.ie)

François et Fils Côte Rôtie

And so we meet again, a fine ambassador for the Rhône’s most northerly appellation.  Interestingly the François are primarily dairy farmers and cheese makers, with just four hectares of vines in Côte Rôtie.  The wine is silky (100%) Syrah, with aromas so lifted they are heavenly.  Sweet blackberries are tamed by fine tannins and a savoury edge.  A superior wine which lives up to its price tag.

Domaine Barge Côte-Rôtie “Côte Brune” 2015 (13.5%, RRP €78.99 at good independents nationwide)

Barge Côte Rôtie Côte Brune

Boom! (1) 2015 was a whopper in the Rhône, so even the more subtle AOCs received plenty of heat and sunshine, translating into powerful wines like this.  Big black fruit is matched by a big structure – tannin and particularly acidity – which stop it running away with itself.  5% Viognier helps to round the edges even further and adds floral aromas.  This is a hedonist’s delight at the moment, but will age gracefully for the next decade or so.

 

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019

  • Part 1 – France, Whites & Reds
  • Part 2 – Other whites
  • Part 3 – Old World Reds
  • Part 4 – New World Reds

 


(1) An excerpt from Private S. Baldrick’s poem, “The German Guns”

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
Tasting Events

DNS taste North America

One of the recent themes we explored at DNS WineClub was North American wines.  Barefoot and Blossom Hill represent the very commercial face of North American wine, manufactured in huge facilities in accordance with simple, fruity, easy-drinking recipes.  At the top end, Cult Cabernets can be spectacular.  However, there is fairly thin coverage in Europe of the wines in between these two extremes – and they’re the ones which offer most interest to winelovers.

California is the powerhouse of the USA and therefore the whole of North America; even though wines are made in the other 49 states, together they make up just 10% of the USA total.  In these parts the most available outside of the Golden State are probably the wines of Oregon and Washington State – we see very little from elsewhere, not even the hip wines of New York State’s Finger Lakes region.

Here are the five wines which shone the most at our tasting:

Pine Ridge Napa Valley Chenin Viognier 2014 (12.5%, RRP €24.95 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

pine ridge chenin viognier

If you ask a fairly knowledgeable wine drinker what grapes they associate with the Napa Valley, Cabernet would undoubtedly come first, followed by Merlot and Zinfandel, with possibly Chardonnay thrown in as a token white.  So here we have something quite unexpected in Napa – a blend of the Loire’s Chenin Blanc and the Rhône’s Viognier.  The blend is consistent from year to year at 80% Chenin and 20% Viognier, and a little residual sugar is left in to round off the acidity.  Most importantly, it really works as a wine – fresh green apple with a little rich apricot as a counterpoint.

Ovum Wines Oregon “Big Salt” 2017 (12.9%, @RRP €33.95 at Baggot Street Wines, Le Caveau and other good independents)

ovum big salt

Ovum are named after the concrete egg fermenters they use, reflected in the shape of the label of this Alsace-style blend from Oregon.  The grapes used are Riesling, Muscat & Gewurztraminer; the relative proportions are not stated, but the fact that spicy Gewurz doesn’t dominate the nose makes me think that it is probably 10% or less of the blend, with fresh Riesling taking the lead at around 55% and the aromatic Muscat being the balance of around 35% (all my own guesswork, happy to be proved wrong!) 

Again referring to my beloved Alsace, a blend of this quality would be from a Grand Cru vineyard, with the fascinating interplay of three fantastic varieties.  The name of the wine also rings true, with lovely saline elements.  This is an unusual wine which is in fairly short supply in Ireland, but it is worth seeking out.

Au Bon Climat “Wild Boy” Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2017 (13.5%, RRP €39.95 at Baggot Street Wines and other good independents)

au bon climat wild boy chardonnay

Jim Clendenen is the star winemaker and owner of Au Bon Climat, one of the best producers in Santa Barbara County.  ABC is famous for its Pinot Noirs And Chardonnays – Jim is a Burgundy devotee – which come from a variety of different vineyards in the area.  The “Wild Boy” is less subtle than the regular wines, with lots of funk and noticeable oak, spicy pears and citrus.  Whatever magic he uses, this is a highly impressive wine!

The Four Graces Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2014 (13.1%, RRP €40.00 at Sweeney’s and other good independents)

the four graces pinot noir

Perhaps because I’d only tried a couple of lesser quality examples, my preconception of Oregon Pinot Noir was that it could be a bit thin and weedy, rarely living up to its price tag.  While this is no Central Otago clone, it nevertheless has plenty of body and an amazing velvety smoothness to it.  Dundee Hills are one of the best subregions of the Willamette Valley – on this evidence I will be looking out for it again.

Inniskillin Niagara Estate Sparkling Ice Wine 2015 (9.5%, RRP €56 (375 ml) at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin and other good independents)

inniskillen sparkling ice wine

And now for something completely different – something I didn’t even know existed before I put together the wines for this tasting.  Yes, Niagara is famous for its Icewine, often made with the hybrid grape Vidal (which has a very complicated heritage that I’m going to skip over), but a sparkling version?  I didn’t know there was such a thing!  Once pressed, with the ice removed from the juice, specific yeast is added to the juice in a charmat tank so that the CO2 produced from fermentation is dissolved into the wine.  This is such a treat of a wine, with amazing tropical mango, guava and peach notes.  For many tasters, this was the wine of the night.  I really liked it but would probably prefer the still version for myself.

 

Tasting Events

Free Pour (Part 4 – Reds)

With Liberty Wines’ strength in Italian wine, there is no surprise to see that country well represented in my review of their red wines, but Chile and Australia also fly the flag for the southern hemisphere.

Vignetti Zabù “Il Passo” Nerello Mascalese 2017 (13.5%, RRP €19.99)

Il Passo Nerello Macsalese

Extra richness in Italian reds has become a major trend over the past few years, often with a degree of drying the grapes before fermentation to give extra alcohol and / or sweetness in the finished wine.  Like many trends in wine there are volume manufacturers who jump on the bandwagon but, for all the boxes ticked by the wines they are often unbalanced and unsatisfying.

After getting my fingers (palate?) burned a few times I tend to stay clear of these wines, but this is one that really breaks the mold and hangs together really well.  The increased concentration is achieved by partially cutting the vines and letting the grapes dry by around 15% before harvesting and fermenting.  The finished wine has 9 g/L of residual sugar, but the acidity from the Nerello Mascalese grape balance it perfectly.

There’s also a version made from 100% Nero d’Avola and there was previously a blend of 60% Nerello Mascalese with 40% Nero d’Avola, but this is the one that really does it for me.

Cadbury Cherry Ripe

With cherries, chocolate and coconut it instantly reminded me of my favourite chocolate bar from Australia – Cherry Ripe!

Principe Pallavicini “Rubillo” Cesanese 2016 (13.0%, RRP €19.99)

Rubillo

Cesanese is a new grape for me, though like many Italian varieties it has an ancient history and could date back to Roman times.  It is one of the best grapes indigenous to the Lazio, the region which includes Rome.  Here it is very smooth, but interesting rather than bland – in fact it’s drop dead gorgeous.  Its ripe red and black fruit make it perfect for a winter tipple.

Donnafugata Sherazade Nero d’Avola 2017 (13.0% RRP €22.99)

DonnaFugata Sherazade Nero d Avola

Donnafugata are one of the premier producers in Sicily and retain a special place in the heart of all those who taste their wines.  The Sherazade is a bigger, smoother, juicier Nero d’Avola than most in the Irish market.  The price means that it’s perhaps a weekend rather than weekday treat, but its spicy black fruits are well worth your consideration.

Outer Limits by Montes “Wild Slopes” Apalta CGM blend 2016 (14.0%, RRP €31.99)

Outer Limits Wild Slopes CGM NV

Montes are a leading producer in Chile, managing to make everyday wines that are very drinkable plus their premium Alpha range wines which have long been a favourite of mine.  The Outer Limits wines are more premium still, but are in a finer, more ethereal style than the Alphas.  This is a blend of 50% Carignan, 30% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre – which might be termed a “Languedoc Blend” for want of a better term – all from the company’s own vineyard in Apalta.

On pouring and even before tasting, berries jump right out of the glass.  It’s a big wine (14.0%) but not humongous – the fruit is fresh and complemented by restrained oak.  If you know anyone that “doesn’t like Chilean wine”, let them try this blind!

Balnaves Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (14.5%, RRP €42.99)

Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon NV

Coonawarra is in South Australia, not too far from where the border with Victoria hits the sea.  The southerly latitude and greater exposure to coastal breezes give the area a significantly cooler climate than the Barossa Valley which is 250 miles / 400 kilometres further north (a short distance in Australian terms!)  Add in the famous iron-rich red Terra Rossa topsoil over limestone, and you have probably the best place for varietal Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia – and a candidate for best in the world.  Keep your eyes peeled for a forthcoming in-depth feature on the area.

This 2012 is showing a little maturity and lots of great Cabernet character – black fruit with graphite and tannins.  In fact it’s probably more Cabernet than stereotypically Coonawarra in character, with mint and eucalyptus notes definitely in the background. Gorgeous wines like this show why Coonawarra is my favourite red wine region in the world!

San Polo Brunello di Montalcino 2013 (14.0%, RRP €63.99)

San Polo Brunello di Montalcino

Brunello is one of those wine regions which really needs some time to be understood – and given the premium prices, that’s well worth doing.  San Polo is owned by Marilisa Allegrini of the Valpolicella producing family – she has undertaken significant investment to further improve quality.  For me this wine isn’t really about Tuscany or Sangiovesi, it’s about power with finesse – just a very accomplished wine.

Montes “Purple Angel” 2015 (15.0%, RRP €68.99)

MontesPurpleAngel fs

Trying this wine at first made me think of my friend Joey Casco’s brilliant meme from his wine blog TheWineStalker.net:

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Whether this says more about the (necessary) drawbacks of such tastings or my lack of familiarity in appraising such wines is debatable, but after being open for over 24 hours this angel really spread its wings.  Consisting of 92% Carmenère (Chile’s signature grape) with 8% Petit Verdot, this is a big, oaky wine that’s set for the long haul.  Intense black fruit has a halo of violets and mocha – a combination that might sound strange but really works.  Probably the best Carmenère around?

The Free Pour Series:

Tasting Events

Free Pour (Part 2 – Other Whites)

One of the other great strengths of Liberty Wines’ portfolio is its antipodean selection – so much so that they seem to have the largest number of wines open for tasting at both the NZ and Australian trade tastings in Ireland.  However, I’ve covered many of them before on Frankly Wines, so this article will review a few that I tried for the first time plus some fantastic European whites.

Domaine Laguilhon Jurançon Sec 2017 (13.0%, RRP €19.99)

Jurancon Sec

Jurançon wines are among the most under-rated in France, both the sweet (“Jurançon”) and dry (“Jurançon Sec”) styles.  Don’t base your opinions on the bottles available in French supermarkets, though – they tend to lack concentration and be pleasantly innocuous at best.  This is one of the best examples I’ve come across in Ireland, especially at a fairly moderate price.  Split 50/50 between local varieties Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng, It shows plenty of ripe stone fruit, almost fleshy, but a crisp dry finish.

Maximin Grünhaus  “Maximin” Mosel Riesling 2016 (11.0%, RRP €19.99)

Maximin Grünhaus, Maximin Riesling

Mosel Riesling is one of the great wines of the world, but it’s rarely “cheap”.  This one is very reasonably priced and serves as a great introduction to the area.  The grapes are partly from the producer’s own estate and partly from contract growers in the Mosel region.  It shows white flowers, stone and citrus fruit plus minerality – a great example of Mosel Riesling, and/ great value for money!

Château Moncontour Vouvray Sec 2017 (13.0%, RRP €21.99)

Moncontour Vouvray Sec

Many of my comments above about Jurançon also hold true for the Chenin-derived wines of the Loire.  This Château Moncontour helpfully says “Sec” on the label, and it is dry – but not bone dry or austere.  There’s a touch of residual sugar (apparently 6.7 g/L for those who are interested in such things) but lots more fruit sweetness, balanced by fresh acidity.  Such a more-ish wine!

Blank Canvas Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2013 (13.0%, RRP €22.99)

Gruner Veltliner 2013

Matt Thomson is a legend in the world of wine – but he’s also a top bloke.  After doing both northern and southern hemisphere vintages for 20 years, he finally decided to make his own wine, partnered by his wife Sophie.  The Blank Canvas Chardonnay featured in my 2017 Top 10 whites so I was keen to try the Grüner.  The long, cool growing season in Marlborough is perfect for GV, as it is for other aromatics such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Gris.  This is a  cracker – smooth yet textured, nicely balanced between fruit sweetness and refreshing acidity.

Framingham Marlborough Classic Riesling 2015 (12.5%, RRP €23.99)

Framingham Wine Company Limited

Framingham are unusual in Marlborough – actually in the whole of New Zealand – in that Riesling is their biggest focus.  And boy, does it show!  The Classic is their “entry level” Riesling, but it gives a flavour of what the rest of the range holds.  This is particularly true of the 2015 as 10% of the grapes were botrytised, with nobly rotten grapes normally going into a special cuvée.   This is a lovely wine to drink but just AMAZING on the nose.  It has that hard-to-define “otherness” which only Riesling has (“Rieslingness”?)

Kaiken Ultra Mendoza Chardonnay 2016 (14.0%, RRP €24.99)

KAIKEN ULTRA CHARDONNAY

Rather than go west – which would have taken them into the Pacific, Montes headed east from Chile to Argentina and created Kaiken.  The fruit is sourced from the Uco Valley in Mendoza, mostly in cooler parts which give freshness and minerality – despite the 14.0% alcohol and partial (35%) maturation in new oak, this is far from the butter-bomb new world Chardonnays of the 1990s.  It has lots of tangy, tropical flavours, but mainly from the grapes rather than the oak.

Santiago Ruiz “O Rosal” Rías Biaxas 2017 (13.0%, RRP €24.99)

Santiago Ruiz BS NV

From the O Rosal subregion of Galicia’s Rías Biaxas, this is an Albariño blend with several other local varieties playing supporting roles: it consists of 76% Albariño, 11% Loureiro, 5% Treixadura, 4% Godello and 4% other.  I like Albariño as a grape, but – for all its popularity – it’s wines are more often simple than complex.  Simple doesn’t necessarily mean bad or boring, but there is definitely a place for interesting.  The O Rosal is quite long and serious; it’s a cerebral rather than obvious wine which definitely deserves a try.

Domaine des Ballandors Quincy 2017 (13.5%, RRP €24.99)

Domaine des Ballandors Quincy

After Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Quincy was the second Appellation Controllée created in France.  Since then it hasn’t really been at the forefront of drinkers’ minds – Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé stole the limelight and the column inches.  The upside is that quality wines from Quincy can offer great value for money.  The nose is very grassy, the palate herby with quince (no relation) and gooseberry notes.  This Sauvignon Blanc for adults.

L.A.S. Vino Margaret River Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%, RRP €59.99)

LAS Vino MR Chardonnay

Margaret River is well known for its Bordeaux blends – Cabernet-Merlot reds and Semillon-Sauvignon whites – but also for some fantastic Chardies.  L.A.S. is actually an acronym, standing for “Luck of the weather, the Art of creating and the Science that underpins this creativity.”  This is world class, amazing stuff.  You need to try this wine.  Sell an organ.  Sell your car.  Even sell your house, but don’t sell your soul as this Chardonnay will capture it.

 

The Free Pour Series:

Tasting Events

Free Pour – Part 1 (Italian whites)

Liberty Wines have a very varied portfolio – at a guess I’d say they cover over 40 countries – but Italy was one of their founding strengths and continues to be well represented in their range.  Here are brief notes on some of the Italian whites that impressed me this year:

Vigneti del Vulture “Pipoli” Greco / Fiano 2017 (12.5%, RRP €17.99)

Vigneti del Vulture Pipoli Bianco

The Vulture region of Basilicata in southern Italy is best known for its Aglianico, but here we have a blend of two white grapes which are also late-ripening and have Greek origins shrouded in time.  Produced by the well-respected cooperative, this Greco-Fiano blend has lovely fresh fruit and is far more interesting than I expected for a relatively inexpensive wine – a definite bargain.

Franz Haas Pinot Grigio 2017 (13.0%, RRP €22.99)

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Regular readers might be perplexed by the inclusion of an Italian Pinot Grigio – after all I Don’t Like Pinot Grigio, I Love Pinot Gris.  To be honest the quality of this wine was quite unexpected – perhaps I just hadn’t been paying attention and should have known better – but it tasted nothing like a regular Italian Grigio.  It has LOTS of texture with lots of lovely pear and citrus flavour – a grown up, sophisticated wine.

Luigi Baudana “Dragon” Langhe Bianco 2017 (14.0%, RRP €23.99)

Luigi Baudana Dragon

Wowser!  My wine of the tasting – elegant and clean but with some decent body and texture.  An unusual blend with both international and local grapes: 45% Chardonnay, 30% Nascetta, 20% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Riesling.  The Luigi Baudana estate is now owned and run by the Vajra family whose wines I have really enjoyed in the past.  This is quite herby, with plenty of acidity but a broad textured palate.

La Giustiniana “Lugarara” Gavi di Gavi 2017 (12.5%, RRP €23.99)

Lugarara 2017

When you come across the cheap as chips versions, just like Pinot Grigio, Gavi can be quite dilute and dull.  This has far more character than the stereotype of Gavi – more concentrated flavours and a balance between pip fruit and stone fruit.

Specogna Friulano 2017 (13.0%, RRP €23.99)

Specogna Friulano

There are rumours as to why Friulano was known as Tocai, but, just like Tokay d’Alsace, the name had to give way for Tokaji from Hungary after that country’s entry into the EU.  The other synonyms are Sauvignon Vert and Sauvignonasse which obviously lack the link to Friuli where this variety flourishes.  If you haven’t tried it before then this is a great example to start with.  It’s a good match for a wide range of food but would be pleasant on its own.

Cà dei Frati “I Frati” Lugana (13.5%, RRP €24.99)

I Frati Lugana.jpg

Gimme!  This beauty from Lugana in Lombardy is 100% Turbiana, a grape variety that I wasn’t familiar with until I found out that it is the same as Verdicchio grown in the Marche.  It’s a very fresh style so would partner very well with seafood, but to be honest it should be on every Italian restaurant’s wine list!

Vie de Romans Chardonnay 2016 (14.5%, RRP €43.99)

Vie di Romans Chardonnay

Italy has hundreds and hundreds of fantastic indigenous grapes, so why bother with foreign varieties?  If ever there’s a case for international grapes in Italy, this is it.  It’s very tangy and leesy but not particularly oaky – this is due to nine months maturation on the lees in barriques of which only 20% were new.  In my opinion it has just moved into its drinking window now but would benefit from being laid down for a few years (if you can resist!)

 

The Free Pour Series:

Make Mine A Double

Indian Wines for an Indian Summer? [Make Mine a Double #35]

Akluj

Ten years ago my (now) wife took me to India, specifically Kerala in the far south. After finding that a few of the hotels on our itinerary were Muslim-owned – and therefore dry – it was a pleasant surprise to be given a bottle of Indian wine by the local representative of the tour operator. It wasn’t fine wine, but it was drinkable. A decade on, Indian wine is being taken more seriously, so I jumped at the chance to try these wines which are being imported into Ireland by Liberty Wines.

M/S is a joint venture between Fratelli owners Kapil and Gaurav Sekhri and Italian Piero Masi and Englishman Steven Spurrier. They were obviously unable to use their initials joined by an ampersand as retailer Marks & Spencer already have that moniker, and simply reversing the order could have led to all sorts of misunderstandings…

Among Piero Masi’s former roles, the acclaimed producer Isole e Olena stands out. Steven Spurrier is probably best known as a writer and former merchant, but also has his own Bride Valley vineyard in Dorset and founded the Wine Society of India

Akluj in Maharashtra
Approx location of Akluj within Maharashtra (credit: Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa))

I wonder what a wine map of India will look like in another decade or two…

M/S Akluj Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (12.5%, RRP €19.99 at Blackrock Cellar, The Corkscrew, Michaels of Mount Merrion, Baggot Street Wines and wineonline.ie)

M-S_WHITE NV FS

The challenges of making a wine in a sub tropical climate are countered through planting at altitude and blocking malolactic fermentation – of course it could be argued that adding 20% Sauvignon Blanc also helps.

It’s unusual to find these two grapes blended together, either in their home country of France or in the new world countries where they have also prospered – but perhaps the key here is the Italian influences on the wine, as Chardonnay / Sauvignon Blanc blends can be found in northern Italy – viticultural colonists from Napoleonic times.

As well as avoiding MLF the winemakers also eschew oak barrels, though there’s an overt tanginess which I suspect comes from some lees work. In fact, if this is tasted straight from a domestic fridge the tanginess ramps up to tartness – pour it into a big glass and swirl away, or even decant the bottle if you can, and the wine really opens up. There’s a refreshing fizziness on the tongue from the acidity, with lemon and quince flavours to the fore.

M/S Akluj Sangiovese / Cabernet Franc / Shiraz 2017 (12.5%, RRP €19.99 at Blackrock Cellar, The Corkscrew, Michaels of Mount Merrion, Baggot Street Wines and wineonline.ie)

M-S_RED NV FS.jpg

If Italian influences on the white had to be deduced then they are writ large on the M/S red – the champion black grape of Tuscany is still very much linked to that region.

The Sangiovesi is present from the attack to the finish, with notes of leather, tobacco and smoke. It’s soon joined by juicy blackberry and plum from the Shiraz, followed by blackcurrant and a touch of green pepper from the Cab Franc. Then the Sangiovesi has the finish to itself. There’s plenty of acidity and tannin – no fruit bomb here – so medium rare rib eye steak straight off the barbie would be just perfect!

Given the paucity of Indian wines available in this part of the world I don’t have any others to compare this pair to, but they seem quite Italian in sensibility to me – which is no bad thing! Both are worth a try, with the red shading the white in my view.

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2017

Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and Syrah make up a good proportion of the reds I really enjoyed last year and will be looking to enjoy again soon:

10. Urlar Gladstone Pinot Noir 2014 (14.5%, RRP €23.95)

Urlar-Pinot-Noir

When it comes to New Zealand Pinot Noir a lot of the bottles available in Ireland are from Marlborough.  Although some are very good, for me a lot of them are just a bit average.  One alternative is to head for Central Otago’s bigger, bolder Pinots – but they often come with a serious price tag.  Instead, why not head to one of the first Pinot producing areas in the country – Wairarapa at the bottom of the North Island.  Martinborough is the most famous sub-region (particularly as it’s easier for us to pronounce), but Gladstone is also worth checking out.  Urlar’s Pinot shows black fruit and spice but with savoury notes – none of the jam or cherry cola than can appear in Marlborough.  It’s quite a powerful wine but well balanced and equally at home with dinner or on its own.

9. Dominio de la Vega Paraje Tournel Utiel-Requena Bobal 2014 (14.0%, RRP €23.95)

paraje-tornel-bobal-2014

Neither the DO Utiel-Requena wine region nor the Bobal grape are particularly renowned, and the two are intertwined.  The DO is in the province of Valencia in the east of Spain and has traditionally been known for its bulk wine, three quarters of which was made from Bobal.  Some more quality conscious producers realised that careful viticulture, keeping yields low (the antithesis of bulk wine production!) and good treatment in the winery could allow Bobal’s hitherto hidden quality to shine through.  I haven’t tasted many examples of Bobal but this was fantastic – a nice change from the standard Tempranilli, Garnacha and Monastrell.  It’s aged for 12 months in new French oak barrels then 12 months in bottle before release.  This is darker and more full bodied than many Spanish reds, full of blackcurrant and blueberry with hints of vanilla.  The acidity keeps the fruit fresh and adds to the long finish.

8. Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2015 (13.0%, RRP €32.50)

Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage Rouge 2015

Unlike some, I’m often wary of buying Crozes-Hermitage.  Yes they can be good value, pleasant drinking, and often good with food, but rarely do they have the “wow factor” – so I’m more likely to trade up to a Saint-Joseph.  However, here is one that does have the wow factor, or more accurately, the WOW FACTOR – it’s easily the best Crozes I’ve ever tried.  It’s everything that Northern Rhone Syrah can be – intensely savoury, smoky and spicy, with juicy red and black fruits, black pepper and black olive.  It’s still young at the moment with lots of tannin, but this is a wine to buy a dozen or two of and drink them over the next decade.

7. Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2004 (14.5%, RRP €35 for current releases)

Penfolds-Bin-28-Kalimna Shiraz

 

Unless you’re very familiar with the Penfolds range, it’s not that obvious where each particular wine fits in to the hierarchy.  Bin 28 just squeezes into the “Penfolds Collection”, the flagship range which goes all the way up to Grange, Bin 707 and Yattarna.  I had no idea of this when I bought a few bottles of the 2004 vintage several years ago for €20, but the current RRP of €35 and the sheer quality of the wine make me believe it deserves its status.  Intense black (and blue!) fruit are joined by black olive and liquorice notes.

6. Ziereisen Rhini Baden Spätburgunder 2011 (12.5%, RRP €49)

ziereisen-rhini

If you want to see how good German Pinot Noir can be, try this producer from the country’s warmest wine region, Baden.  Compared to many other Spätburgunders this has more of everything – more fruit, more oak, more tannin and more body.  That might not necessarily be a successful recipe but the quality of the fruit from the Rhini vineyard and gentle winemaking have resulted in a delicious, well-balanced wine.  It’s far from cheap, but better value than many Burgundies of the same quality (and yes, it deserves to be spoken of in the same sentence).

5. Mourchon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 (15.0%, RRP €50)

Mourchon Chateauneuf du pape

2017 was the year that I really rediscovered Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  For casual drinkers that might be something of a surprise, as it’s a very well-known wine.  However, negociants who buy the bottom of the barrel or the cheapest grapes in the appellation have done it a disservice – there’s lots of very average Châteauneuf out there which trades on the name.  A few over the past several years have restored my faith and then the Big Rhône Tasting at Ely in November 2017 there was an abundance of great CNDP.  This example from Mourchon impressed me without a stratospheric price.  The blend is 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre and 10% Syrah which is a slight variation on the usual GSM order, but the extra Mourvèdre helps to add more backbone and darker fruit notes.

4. GD Vajra Bricco delle Viole Barolo 2013 (14.0%, RRP €83.99)

GD Vajra Barolo Bricco Delle Viole 2013

While many Barolos can be acidic, tannic and unapproachable in their youth, G.D. Vayra’s eschew that “playing hard to get” style.  The Bricco delle Viole vineyard is 4.79 ha in total area and runs from 380m – 470m; the altitude makes for a long growing season so complex flavours can develop while preserving freshness.  Although 14.0% abv this is not a heavy wine; it has body but is light enough to dance on the tongue.  It shows typical rose and tar notes on the nose with raspberry and blackberry on the palate.  Above all, it’s a smooth, complex but accessible wine.

3. Château-Gris Nuits-Saint-George 1er Cru “Château-Gris” Monopole 2015 (cask sample) (13.5%, RRP €73)

Chateau Gris

Château-Gris is part of the Albert Bichot portfolio and is a monopole appellation, i.e. a single producer owns the whole vineyard – and when the appellation is named after the producer that’s no surprise.  Depending on the vintage the wine is matured for 12 – 15 months in oak, of which 25% is new; the oak was quite prominent on this cask sample but didn’t overpower the sweet red and black fruit.  Some people cite red Burgundy as the holy grail of wine – this wine manages to be so good, powerful yet ethereal, that I’m starting to be a believer.

2. Ar.Pe.Pe. Valtellina Superiore Sassella Riserva “Rocce Rossa” 2007 (13.5%, RRP €76.95)

arpepe-sassella-rocce-rosse-2007

Valtellina in Lombardy is far less celebrated than Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco, yet its best producers can produce some very fine wines indeed.  And fine is actually a very apt descriptor as the wines are lighter and more ethereal than their counterparts to the west.  It’s not a case of which is better, but rather which one prefers or is in the mood for. This lovely Sassella from the Rocce Rossa vineyard was ten years old when tasted but was still in the earlier stages of development.  Cherry and herbs were the key notes in a fabulous wine.

1. D’Arenberg Coppermine Road McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (14.5%, RRP ~€50 for current releases)

darenberg-the-coppermine-road-cabernet-sauvignon-2002

D’Arenberg is an iconic producer in McLaren Vale and this is one of their three icon wines – the other two being the celebrated Dead Arm Shiraz and the less well known Ironstone Pressings GSM blend.  The 2002 was only the eighth release under this name, though d’Arenberg have been releasing fine Cabernet Sauvignon from their High Trellis vineyard for over four decades (winning the 1969 Jimmy Watson Trophy).  I opened this wine at my birthday meal out with my wife and a couple of good friends – and it was stupendously good!  Although somewhat mature at fifteen years old it was nowhere near over the hill.  Tannins were gentle and round and the big smack of cassis had been joined by cedar and graphite notes – just a perfectly balanced, à point, wonderful wine.