Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

A Pair of Pretty Pinots [Make Mine a Double #58]

Pinot Noir can be tricky to make well.  It is very particular about the climate it’s grown in – not too hot, not too cold.  Here are a pair of antipodean cool climate Pinots that are worth your hard-earned:

Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2018

Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir

The Yarra Valley is part of the Port Philip zone which surrounds Melbourne in Australia.  Its proximity to Melbourne makes it a popular wine tourism destination; indeed, my first trip there was on a day trip wine tour from Melbourne.  That should not detract from its status as one of the best cool climate regions of Australia, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir starring – both still and sparkling.

Innocent Bystander was founded in 1996 by Phil Sexton after selling his previous Margaret River venture Devil’s Lair.  Innocent Bystander (IB) wines are often blends from multiple sites to achieve complexity and balance at a reasonable price point.  Alongside IB, in 1998 Sexton also began creating single vineyard wines under the Giant Steps label.

The Pink Moscato explosion in Aussie wine led to a large increase in volumes being made and sold by IB, so Sexton sold it to another family owned Victorian wine producer – Brown Brothers of Milawa – in order to concentrate on Giant Steps.  Once picked IB’s grapes now make a three hour journey in refrigerated trucks to be crushed at Brown Bros’ winery.  Sexton’s Yarra Valley tasting room wasn’t part of the transaction so Brown Bros bought and converted a brewery – formerly run by Phil Sexton!

The wines in the Innocent Bystander portfolio include the following:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Chardonnay
  • Moscato
  • Pinot Gris
  • Gamay
  • Gamay / Pinot Noir blend
  • Syrah
  • Tempranillo
  • Arneis

It’s the last two which are the most unusual for Australia, and therefore piqued my interest, though sadly they haven’t yet made their way to Ireland.

In the main this Pinot Noir is fruit-driven: raspberry, blackberry and tart red cherries dominate the nose and palate, though there are also herb and spice notes in the background.  It is not, however, a “fruit-bomb”; acidity and gentle tannins provide a framework against which the fruit can sing, and boy do they sing!

Framingham Marlborough Pinot Noir 2017

Framingham Pinot Noir

Marlborough’s Framingham is probably the most respected producer of Riesling in New Zealand, but has added additional varieties across its three ranges:

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Gris
  • Chardonnay
  • Viognier
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Montepulciano
  • Pinot Noir

Their wines are all very well crafted and offer a substantial step up from everyday Marlborough wines, but prices are sensible.  The firm’s winemaker for 18 years was Dr Andrew Hedley, who was then succeeded by the returning Andrew Brown at the beginning of this year (what a year to join!)  In between his stints at Framingham, “Brownie” had worked in several cool climate regions including Alsace, so he has great experience with Riesling.

Framingham’s own vineyards and those of partner winegrowers are all in the Wairau Valley, the central open plain of Marlborough which is on a mixture of alluvial and clay soil.  Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately, with grapes from clay soils in particular receiving more time on the skins.  MLF and maturation takes place in new (20%) and used French oak barrels, before final blending and bottling.  No fining or filtering is carried out to preserve flavour and mouthfeel.

When speaking to Jared Murtha (Framingham’s Global Sales Manager) earlier this year  I remarked that the Pinot Noir seemed more like a Martinborough Pinot than a typical Marlborough one to me.  This was meant as a compliment and taken as one, as I find many Marlborough Pinot Noirs to be light, simple and less than interesting.  Jared replied diplomatically that Framingham aren’t aiming to make a “smashable” wine, but rather one which is a little more serious and gastronomic.

And hell have they succeeded!  It has typical Pinot red fruit notes – cherry and wild strawberry – but also layer upon layer of smoky, spicy and savoury characters.  There are lovely round tannins giving the wine additional structure.  Umami fans will love this wine!

Conclusion

These two wines are made from the same grape variety in neighbouring countries (yeah, still quite a journey) and are close in price, so a like for like comparison is perfectly fair.  The most obvious difference, though, is their style.  The Innocent Bystander is a great, fruit-forward all-rounder and would really appeal to the casual wine drinker.  The Framingham is a different proposition, more savoury and serious, and would shine the brightest in a setting with food – though it’s not a “this needs food” wine.  My preference would be to spend the extra €4 on the Framingham … but if someone offers me a glass of Innocent Bystander I would be delighted.

 

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Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

Making Wine Amid Moving Borders [Make Mine a Double #56]

European Borders

For those of us living in the UK or Ireland it is rare to think of international borders moving.  Yes, there’s the Northern Ireland border between the two sovereign states, but that hasn’t moved since its inception a century ago and is hopefully fading away.  Because we live on islands even the concept of driving to another country seems a little strange for many, never mind that border moving over time.

The movement of borders has created some unusual situations for wine folk, such as the Becker family in Germany’s Pfalz – whose vineyards run into Alsace – and also the Gravner family – whose lands were in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at one point but now lie (just) in Italy.

This all came to mind as I was thinking about a pair of wines I tasted earlier in the year.  They are based on the same geological set of hills (Gorizia Hills in English, Collio Goriziano in Italian or Goriška Brda in Slovene) but in different countries.  The drive between them is less than an hour an a half:

map 1

So now for that pair of wines:

Gašper Rebula 2016

Gasper Rebula

First things first: Gašper is the name of the producer (literally, as Gašper Čarman is the gentleman who own and runs the place) and Rebula is the grape variety.  The latter is better known to most of us as Ribolla Gialla in Friuli but it is a major variety in Brda.

Gašper’s vines are planted in “opaka” soil (silica-calcite sedimentary rock) on terraces between 80 and 200 metres above sea level.  Both altitude and proximity to the sea help to retain aromas and freshness in the wine.

This Rebula is made with 16 hours skin contact – far more than more white wines but nowhere near as long as orange / amber wines.  Fermentation is in huge (4,000 litre) casks, temperature controlled to preserve fruit characters and freshness.  Maturation takes place first in old French barriques (1 year) then in old, large big format Slavonian oak casks.

The time spent on skins adds a real depth of colour to the wine – it deserves the “Gialla” (yellow) descriptor in its Italian name.  The nose shows bright citrus – lemon, grapefruit, orange – and mixed citrus peel.  The palate is soft, not too shouty with great texture.  The fresh and dried fruits are joined by a certain creaminess and they resolve in a clean, fresh finish.

Gašper himself told me that the wine has great ageing potential – and I have every reason to believe him.

 

Livio Felluga “Illivio” Pinot Bianco / Chardonnay / Picolit 2017 

Livio Felluga Illivio

After two World Wars Friuli’s agriculture and viticulture was significantly diminished and almost abandoned by the flight from countryside to city.  Livio Felluga was one who had a great vision of restoring Fruili’s proud tradition of winemaking.  He bought up old vineyards planted new ones and over the course of decades reinvigorated the region.  He has long been acknowledged as the driving force behind the restoration of Friuli and as an ambassador for its wines.

Illivio was created as by Livio’s children to celebrate his 85th birthday.  It’s a blend of Pinot Bianco (60%), Chardonnay (30%) and indigenous variety Picolit (10%).  Picolit was traditionally used for sweet wines as it has a good balance between sugar and acidity,  with a flavour profile not too far form Viognier, and had a cult following in the 1960s and ’70s.

The wine is fermented in small oak casks then left on the lees in those barrels for 10 months.  While oaked Chardonnay is of course very common internationally, oaked Pinot Blanc is mainly an Italian thing – but it can make for excellent wines.

Illivio pours yellow in the glass, though not from skin contact as the Gašper Rebula above, but rather from the influence of oak.  The nose is intense, as floral and fruit notes compete with rich smoky notes from the oak.  The palate is rich yet tangy, with buttered brioche and juicy fruit exquisitely mixed.  This is a serious wine, but seriously nice!

 

 

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Single Bottle Review

Vigneti del Salento”I Muri” Primitivo 2018

Puglia
Puglia within Italy.  Salento is the southern peninsular part of Puglia.

The Farnesi Vini group – itself a part of the Fantini Group – has three separate wineries in Puglia: Cantina Sava, Luccarelli and Vigneti del Salento.  The Salento crowd have different labels within their range, including the “I Muri” for the less-well-heeled (sorry!) and “Zolla” ranges.

The I Muri Primitivo is a long-standing favourite of mine since I first tried it at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin.  It is widely available in Ireland, though of course in these difficult times not many wine retailers are open.  Still, if you like the sound of this wine then put it on your list to buy when things return closer to normality.

Vigneti del Salento”I Muri” Puglia Primitivo 2018

I Muri Primitivo

Consultant winemaker Filippo Baccalaro is not a native of the area – he is from Piedmont – but has spent several decades in the area which make it a second home for him now.  The grapes are bought in but from growers with whom Filippo has a long term relationship and don’t dilute concentration in the hunt for maximum yields.

Winemaking is modern, with inoculated yeasts, temperature controlled fermentation and maturation in stainless steel tanks.

Primitivo is of course one of the key grapes of Puglia, along with Negroamaro, and it’s a real sun-worshipper.  Ripeness is a key feature of the wines down here and this shows immediately on the nose; intense black and red berries vie for attention, along with exotic spices.  Those berries continue through to the palate, which is soft and generous.  There’s a rich, luxurious feel to this wine which belies its modest price.  Yes, this is still a winner!

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €15 – €17
  • Stockists (*indicated currently closed): Baggot Street Wines*; Blackrock Cellar*; Cashel Wine Cellar; Donnybrook Fair; JJ O’Driscoll; McHughs Kilbarrack Road & Malahide Road; Mortons Dunville Avenue; Sweeneys D3; wineonline.ie; 64 Wine  
Single Bottle Review

Cà dei Frati I Frati Lugana 2018

Lugana is one of Italy’s lesser-known white wine jewels.  The vines are grown close to the southern shores of Lake Garda in Lombardy, northern Italy, across from Bardolino and neighbours in the Veneto’s eastern part of the lake.  The grape used is normally known as Trebbiano di Lugana, or Turbiana by locals, but it is not the same variety as the Trebbiano (aka Ugni Blanc) which accounts for a full third of all Italian white wines; instead it is actually the same as Verdicchio from the Marche!

In addition to its location close to a large body of water, the Lugana wine region also has soils which are mainly clay, and hence are poor-draining.  The vineyards are therefore prone to flooding, which is countered by creating a dome shape to the contours of the land (encouraging water to run off) and by giving the vines long, bare stems to encourage ventilation.

As well as dry whites there are also late harvest whites and sparkling wines produced in the region, though they are far less common than even the dry whites.

The Cà dei Frati estate differs from its neighbours in several respects: the vines are actually trained lower than normal (using single or double Guyot), are planted more densely (as is the modern way, so that vines compete for nutrients) but yields are kept down.

Cà dei Frati I Frati Lugana 2018

I FRATI LUGANANew

I have recommended this wine before bu I make no apology for repeating myself – it’s an excellent wine that offers a lot of flavour at a fairly modest price point. The nose is fairly expressive, with peach and some apricot notes.  The palate is tangy, full of peach and pear.  There’s a lovely rounded aspect to the palate, helped by a little residual sugar (6.3 g/L), but a crisp, fresh finish.  This wine doesn’t need food – it’s eminently quaffable all by itself – but it would be a good partner for a wide variety of dishes – pan-fried scallops would be perfect!

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €24 – €26
  • Stockists (*indicate currently closed): Baggot Street Wines*; Blackrock Cellar*; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Fresh Outlets, Dublin; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; La Touche Wines, Greystones; Sweeneys D3; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; wineonline.ie; World Wide Wines; Whelehans Wines; 64 Wine 
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

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:

151224_arnold

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: