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.

 

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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:

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)

Lierty 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)

Picture 069

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.

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites of 2017

Here are ten fantastic whites which really impressed me in 2017 and I plan on drinking more of in 2018!

10. Les Deux Cols Côtes du Rhône Cuvée Zéphyr 2016 (14.0%, RRP €22.99)

les_deux_cols_cuvee_zephyr

“Les Deux Cols” translates literally as “The Two Hills” but also refers to the two founding colleagues Simon Tyrrell and Charles Derain.  Now joined by Gerard Maguire perhaps they will look to plant on another hill?  I’m an admirer of Les Deux Cols’ main red wine, the Cuvée d’Alizé, but for me their white blend on is another level entirely.  Made from very 100% Roussanne it manages to have richness and freshness at the same time, lovely texture and zestiness.

9. Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Riesling 2014 (12.5%, RRP €19.95)

lawsons

Marlborough started out as a fairly corporate production area, but gradually smaller grapegrowers began making their own wines.  This was the story for Ross and Barbara Lawson who began making their own wines in 1992 after twelve years of supplying others.  And what a great decision that was!  Among the many great wines they make is this delicious off-dry Riesling, full of racy lemon and lime plus elegant floral notes.

8. Turner Pageot Les Choix 2014 (13.5%, RRP €39)

les-choix

This was one of the highlights of the Winemason portfolio tasting, a skin contact wine with finesse.  Maceration is for five weeks which is much shorter than some orange wines – and personally I think it shows in that the underlying character of the Marsanne grapes still shines through.  This isn’t a wine for everyone but it’s very interesting and very drinkable at the same time – what more could you ask for?

7. Jordan Stellenbosch Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.50)

Jordan Barrel Fermented Chardonnay

Just to clarify, this wine is made by Jordan Wine Estate (of Stellenbosch, South Africa) as opposed to Jordan Vineyard & Winery (of Sonoma County, California); as it happens, both produce great Cabernet and Chardonnay, and it’s the latter which has made this list.  As the name indicates the wine was fermented (and then matured) in French oak barrels, giving a lovely biscuity creaminess.  I like this style of wine in general but this is a great example, complex yet balanced, and seriously good value.

6. Mahi Boundary Farm Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (14.0%, RRP €26)

mahi-boundary-road

A barrel-fermented style of Sauvignon from a single vineyard in Marlborough.  Like the Jordan above, this was a little tight on release in early 2017 but had really blossomed in the second half of the year.  My money would be on increasing complexity over the next three to five years.  Very good wine for the money.

5. Greywacke Wild Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (14.0%, RRP €34.99)

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2

Kevin Judd’s barrel-fermented Sauvignon has made regular appearances in this blog’s Top 10 lists over the years, chiefly because it’s so damn interesting.  I have nothing against regular Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs (in fact I often like them) but this style gives so much more, and bridges the gap to Chardonnay for those torn between the two grapes.  Wild yeast and barrel fermentation give intriguing funky and toasty notes

4. La Chablisienne Grand Cuvée 1er Cru 2015 (13.0%, RRP €34.95)

CHABLISIENNE_GRANDE_CUVEE

I’m a big fan of La Chablisienne’s range, from the everyday Petit Chablis up to the superlative Grands Crus.  The Grand Cuvée is a blend of grapes from seven different Premier cru sites with an average vine age of 25 years.  It has a fair bit of oak – more than you might expect from a Chablis – but it is integrated seamlessly, lending a bit of body plus notes of toast and spice.  This is an elegant wine which knocks spots of many more expensive wines from the Côte d’Or.

3. Blank Canvas Marlborough Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%, RRP €36.99)

Blank Canvas Chardonnay

It would be a little misleading to call Matt Thomson “the Michel Roland of the southern hemisphere” not least because his involvement as a consultant doesn’t overshadow the wines, but his advice is much in demand.  After more than 20 vintages in each of the southern (for Saint Clair and others) and northern (for Alpha Zeta and others) hemispheres, Matt decided to get off the merry go round and focus on his personal project Blank Canvas.  This 2016 is the first vintage of Chardonnay and it’s a big winner!  It has the funky notes I’d expect from a wild-yeast barrel ferment but with a gliding, ethereal finish that leaves you wanting more.

2. BlankBottle Moment of Silence 2016 (13.5%, RRP €24)

BlankBottle Moment of Silence 2016

And so to a bottle which has caused almost everyone who has tasted it to sit up and pay attention – not least for the concept of a wine whose blend can change from vintage to vintage – and not naming the constituent varieties on the front means the wine drinker isn’t thinking about them (apart from me because I’m a wine geek!)  The 2016 is made from Chenin Blanc from four different sites, plus Grenache Blanc and Viognier (Chardonnay is no longer in the mix).  After being fermented in barrel the wine rests on its lees for twelve months.  It’s a big mouthful, this wine; peach and apricot with cream and nuts.

1. Domaine Zinck Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen 2011 (13.0%, RRP €48)

gc-rangen-pinot-gris

It was difficult to choose between Philippe Zinck’s Grand Cru offerings (first world problems) but the added complexity and richness of the Pinot Gris won me over.  The Grand Cru of Rangen is the most southerly of Alsace so, when combined with the vertiginous steepness of its slopes, gives the wines considerable power.  Of course, power on its own is nothing – when combined with acidity and complexity it can make a great wine such as this.  Move over Riesling, Pinot Gris is King!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1. Domaine Zinck Grand Cru XXX Pinot Gris XX (XX%, RRP XX)

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Value Reds of 2017

Here are ten of the reds which impressed me in 2017 and represent fantastic value for money:

10. Bodegas Salentein Portillo Pinot Noir 2014 (14.2%, RRP €12.99)

portillo-pinotnoir

An unusual grape for Argentina, Pinot Noir is much more often seen on the western side of the Andes, but this is a remarkably drinkable example from Bodegas Salentein. Although it’s their entry level Pinot, it has plenty of upfront but elegant fruit, and is nicely balanced – quaffable without being either jammy or thin.  There’s more complexity further up the range but this is the ideal mid-week quaffer!

9. Loggia Della Luna Morellino di Scansano 2014 (13.5%, RRP €15.00)

 

Loggia Della Luna Morellino di Scansano

This Tuscan treat is predominantly Sangiovesi and comes from the Maremma region of coastal Tuscany.  Morellino is (yet another) synonym for Sangiovesi with differing stories over the origins of its name.  However, given the prominent cherry flavours and high acidity I think the story of it being named after the morello cherry is the most likely.  This isn’t a hugely complex wine but is more likeable than many lower priced Chiantis so it gets a firm thumbs up from me.  Would make a great party wine that you’re not afraid to drink yourself!

8. Viña Chocálan Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (14.5%, €13.95)

chocalan cab-sauv

Chilean Cab Sauv is something of a commodity nowadays, so it’s nice to find one that stands out from the crowd for its intensity of flavour and balance.  In addition to cassis so vibrant that you can almost feel the individual blackcurrants popping in your mouth, this wine also offers the cedarwood and pencil shaving that are more often associated with left bank Bordeaux.

7. Castaño “Hécula” Yecla Monastrell 2015 (14.0%, RRP €16.99)

 

Hecula

This was one of the standout value wines at Liberty’s 15th anniversary portfolio tasting.  Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre, aka Mataro) is a grape which needs plenty of heat – and gets it in south east Spain – but crucially this is grown at altitude so the vines get to rest at night and acidity is preserved.  This has some structure behind the big and bold fruit but can happily serve as a tipple on its own.

6. Frères Laffitte Le Petit Gascoûn Rouge 2016 (12.5%, RRP €13.50)

petit gascoun rouge

Yes the label is cute, but the wine is pretty nice as well – an easy drinking Tannat-dominated blend which is surprisingly quaffable (or “smashable” in modern parlance).  The lighter alcohol also suggests that this would make a great picnic wine in the warmer months – it’s exactly the wine to have on hand in case of an impromptu barbecue.

5. Casa De La Ermita Lunatico 2015 (14.0%, RRP €18.99)

Lunatico

Another Spanish Monastrell shows that there is lots of good value wine being made from the grape – and Spain is one of the few European countries with a climate hot enough for it to fully ripen.  12 months ageing in French oak adds structure to blueberries and blackberries.

4. Pagos de Labarca AEX Rioja 2011 (14.5%, RRP €22.99)

Pagos-De-Labarca_Rioja

Rioja wines are generally easy to like, but, on reflection, not all of them are easy to admire – some have have too much wood at the expense of fruit, some have a big bang of strawberry fruit from Tempranillo but not much else, and some are just plain weird.  As with most European wines, the region is most talked about but the producer is key to what’s in the glass.  This is one of the most accomplished and well rounded Riojas I have tasted at any price – wonderfully rich red fruit with delightful vanilla in support.  As an aside, it was also given the stamp of approval from DNS Wineclub!

3. Fog Mountain California Merlot 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.95)

Fog Mtn Merlot NV-corkcap

It’s sometimes said that Sideways killed California Merlot (and gave a big boost to Pinot Noir).  There’s an element of truth in that statement as the trajectory of the grapes’ sales moved in opposite directions, but the reality is that it was the poorer Merlot wines which lost out, leaving the good stuff behind.  The name of this wine alludes to the cooler sites from which the grapes are sourced helping to preserve acidity and balance.  The presence of 14% Petit Sirah in the blend adds a touch of backbone and complexity.

2. Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Rouge 2016 (11.5%, RRP €23)

montcy

The assemblage of this wine – 60% Pinot Noir, 35% Gamay and 5% Malbec – would rarely be found anywhere else but the Loire.  It’s made with minimal intervention from organic grapes, resulting in a light but fruity red which tastes more alive than almost any other wine.  It’s like having freshly squeezed orange juice after a glass of squash!

1. Château Tayet Cuvée Prestige Bordeaux Supérieur 2010 (13.0%, RRP €23.00)

de-mour-bordeaux-2010-chateau-tayet-cuvee-prestige

I had sung the praises of the contrasting 2009 and 2011 vintages of this wine during the year (with my personal preference being for the 2009), but on tasting the 2010 at SPIT Festival I found that put those both in the shade.  It’s a rare thing that Bordeaux is classed as good value nowadays, but this bottling from the De Mour group is the most superior Supérieur around!

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #6 – Jean Smullen [Guest Post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

Jean Smullen has been involved in the Irish wine trade for 26 years, including education, organising generic tastings for multitude of bodies, and communications through newspapers, TV and her radio spot on “Movies and Booze”.


This Christmas I will be drinking something fizzy from Italy that isn’t Prosecco! Franciacorta is a DOCG in Lombardy where they use French grapes to make sparkling wine using the traditional method (second fermentation in bottle The region’s reputation has been built on their outstanding bottle fermented sparkling wines. Franciacorta is Italy’s largest producer of metodo classico sparkling wines.

Remontage in Franciacorta.jpg

The different types of Franciacorta are distinguished by different dosages of liqueur de tirage added after disgorging.  For example, Franciacorta Satèn is a style unique to the region.  This blanc de blanc is made from (mostly) Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco.  A Brut dosage of sugar less than 12 g/l is added and the resultant wine has less atmospheric pressure (4.5 vs the standard 6.0 atm); this means that this unique sparking style has less mousse and a softer finish.

Alma Gran Cuveé Brut

 

Bellavista Alma Cuvée Brut RRP €45.99 at: 64 Wine; Donnybrook Fair, Green Man Wines, Jus de Vine, Terroirs, The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son, The Wine Centre (Kilkenny), Baggot Street Wines, Clontarf Wines, and Searsons Wine Merchants.

This is made from 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Nero, and is a world class sparkling wine, on a par with Champagne, it simply says quality.  The blending process is the key to this wine and hinges on the quality of the Reserve wines they use.  One of the characteristics I found in sparkling wine from Franciacorta is a lovely floral aroma of white flowers, this has that but on the palate it has a soft subtle finish and a lovely gentle mousse.  Bella Vista means “beautiful view” in this case it also means beautiful wine!

 


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

Tasting Events

Five Fab Whites from the Ely Big Tasting

I’ve already picked my five favourite reds, now here are five of the whites which stood out for me at the Ely Big Tasting:

 

Bride Valley Brut Reserve 2014 (12.0%, RRP ~ €54, Liberty Wines)

Bride Valley

Bride Valley is a producer named after a place of the same name in Dorset on the south coast of England (it’s between Hampshire and Devon (I had to check as I’m a Northerner myself).  The estate is owned by Steven Spurrier and his wife Arabella; Steven is a former wine merchant, a wine educator and a wine writer, and is perhaps most famous for hosting the “Judgement of Paris” in 1976 (though he wasn’t too happy to be portrayed by a 60+ year old Alan Rickman in Bottle Shock!).  The soil is said to be similar to Champagne, though I think it’s probably more technically accurate to say that Champagne has similar soil to this part of Dorset as the village of Kimmeridge (whence Kimmeridgian) is close by!

The blend is “typically” 50% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, the three main Champagne grapes, though not seen in these proportions that often.  It’s not the most complex English sparkler I’ve tried, though that’s understandable as it’s a very young estate – but it’s simply a delicious wine, and dangerously quaffable!

 

O Luar do Sil Valdeorras Godello Sobre Lias 2015 (13.5%, RRP ~ €30, Mitchell & Son)

o luar do sil

The Rodero Villa family had been making fine Ribero del Duero wines at Pago de los Capellanes for two decades before they set up an outpost in Galicia, north west Spain.  Valdeorras is Godello country with a cool climate that encourages a long growing season and lots of aromatic compounds in the wines.  “O Luar do Sil” apparently means “The Reflection of the Moon on the river Sil” – though I presume this only applies at night…

Anyway, the wine itself is delicious – fresh, green fruit with creamy richness from six months on fine lees.  Wines like this reinforce my view that Godello can make wines equally as good as – if not better than – Galicia’s other prominent white grape Albariño.

 

Mahi Estate Boundary Farm Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (14.0%, RRP ~ €26 Quintessential Wines)

Mahi Boundary Road

I’ve already written about this wine in 2017 but I make no excuses for repeating myself – it’s an excellent wine.  Don’t think that this is “just another Marlborough Sauvignon”, it’s far more than that: smoky, funky and citrusy all at the same time.  If anything I think this is tasting better than it did earlier in the year, but should keep on developing for several years.

 

Maison Ambroise Côtes de Nuits Villages Blanc 2013 (13.0%, RRP ~ €28, Le Caveau)

maison ambroise

Maison Ambroise are better known for their red wines (as is the Côtes de Nuits in general), with a history going back to the 18th century.  The vineyards were reinvigorated by Bertrand Ambroise in 1987 and the amount of land under vine increased to 21 hectares.  Organic certification came in 2013.

Oak is used sparingly to add complexity and mouthfeel – details weren’t immediately available but I suspect that any new oak was only a fraction of the total.  This is a superlative white – for a relatively modest outlay – so beware, it might just be the wine that gets you hooked on white Burgundy!

 

Jean Thévenet Domaine de la Bongran Viré-Clessé 2010 (14.0%, RRP ~ €33, Wines Direct)

domaine_de_la_bongran.jpg

Viré-Clessé is in the Maconnais, the southernmost sub-region of Burgundy proper before Beaujolais, so the fruit is nearly always riper than Chablis at the other (northern) end of Burgundy.  Jean and Gautier Thevenet go even further with their Domaine de la Bongran grapes – they leave them on the vine for several weeks longer than all their neighbours, resulting in powerful wines.  The high sugar levels at harvest time combined with natural yeast means that fermentation can take months and months.  Such is the richness of the wine that you might think there’s oak used along the way, but not a bit of it.  This is an unusual style of Chardonnay that really needs to be tried!