Tasting Events

Fresh Italian Reds [GrapeCircus 2020 Round 3]

No Shake n’ Vac required here, the freshness is already there – it never left!  Here are three of my favourite Italian reds that I tried at the GrapeCircus portfolio tasting earlier this year.

Fattoria San Lorenzo Rosso Piceno “Burello” 2013

Yes there’s a pretty bunny on the front label but this is far from a “critter wine”.  Rather than simply to look good on a shelf, the picture represents Natalino Crognaletti’s love of the animals which reside on his family’s estate and are part of the wholistic view they take.  Based in the Marche, San Lorenzo produces whites made from Verdicchio and a range of red blends using Montepulciano and Sangiovese.  All are organic and biodynamic.

The Burello is made from Rosso Piceno DOC fruit in the proportion 60% Montepulciano and 40% Sangiovese.  Fermentation is with indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks but maturation is for 18 months in stainless steel for the Sangiovese and oak for the Montepulciano.  The size and age of the oak vessels is not given but this is not an oak dominated wine so we’re not talking 100% new barriques here.

It may be just my perception but I tend to think of Sangiovese being a more noticeable or expressive variety than Montepulciano, so it shines through in this blend, though tamed by the Montepulciano.  The nose has dark fruit and tobacco; black berries and black cherries dominate the palate with hints of herbs and tobacco again.  There’s lovely texture here and high-ish acidity which keep the whole thing fresh.

Cantina Sampietrana Primitivo del Salento “I Saraceni” 2018

Cantina Sampietrana has been making wine in Puglia since 1952.  They very much follow their maxim “Loyal to tradition, but always moving with the times”, with the local varieties Negroamaro, Primitivo and Malvasia to the fore, trained in the “alberello pugliese” method (which they translate as “Apulian small tree”).  They also have smaller plots of Susumaniello, Aglianico, Montepulciano, Lambrusco, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Fiano and Verdeca.

This Primitivo is a fruit-driven wine, full of plums, prunes and blackberry.  The palate is mouth-filling and warming, a real winter wine.  In fact there’s so much big juicy fruit that it tastes more like 14% than 13% abv, though it doesn’t finish hot.  This is a great value, crowd pleasing wine that deserves a try.

Cantina Sampietrana Salento Negroamaro “Parnanio” 2018

Another from Cantina Sampietrana, this Negroamaro is the big brother of the Primitivo above.  Despite these varieties’ propensity to produce lots of sugar and hence alcohol, the location of the vineyards close to the coast helps to keep things cool and balanced.  We’re a long way from Cali Zins with 16% and upward of (potential) alcohol.

True to its name, this Negroamaro is black and bitter!  It has smooth, voluptuous black fruit with spicy and a savoury, herby edge.  This would be a very versatile food pairing wine – anything from charcuterie, winter stews, steaks or Moroccan lamb.


GrapeCircus 2020:

Make Mine A Double

Domaine Les Yeuses [Make Mine a Double #64]

Domaine Les Yeuses is located in the heart of Picpoul de Pinet country, only eight minutes drive from the village of Pinet itself.  Lying between the coast and the Mediterranean heartland gives it plenty of sun but not too much heat.  It was the Knights Templar who constructed the Domaine on the site of an old Roman villa, though the buildings were put to several different uses over the centuries.  The name comes from a forest of evergreen oaks, “les yeuses” in French (not to be confused with “les yeux” which means eyes).

The Domaine and its wines are nowadays in the hands of the Dardé family, with brothers Jean-Paul and Michel Dardé looking after both viticulture and winemaking, plus JP’s son Sylvain and Michel’s daughter Magali also on board.  Land under vine extends to over 80 hectares, mainly on limestone.

The Domaine makes a wide range of wines:

  • Whites: Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon, Vermentino, Muscat à Petits Grains, Ô d’Yeuses (Viognier/Chardonnay blend), Délicieuse (Colombard/Viognier blend)
  • Rosés: Ô d’Yeuses (Syrah/Grenache/Cinsault blend), Délicieuse (Grenache), Cuvée la Gazelle (Grenache/Syrah blend), Rosé Muscaté (Muscat Hamburg), Cinsault
  • Reds: Ô d’Yeuses (Marselan/Cabernet Franc blend), L’allée d’Oliviers (Merlot/Syrah/Cabernet Franc blend), Syrah Les Epices, Grenache Les Fruits Mûrs, La Soure (Merlot/Syrah blend), Carignan, Délicieuse (Merlot/Syrah/Cabernet Franc blend), La petite Syrah, Le petit Merlot

Here are two Les Yeuses reds that I tried and enjoyed recently:

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly provided as samples, opinions remain my own

Domaine Les Yeuses Pays d’Oc Merlot Réserve 2017

One of the things I noticed when researching this piece is that the Merlot Réserve does not feature on Les Yeuses’ website – whether it is a new or recently discontinued wine, or just an oversight, I do not know.  However, as it costs slightly more than the Syrah below – a variety which is usually regarded as more prestigious – it merits our consideration.  In fact, there is a Merlot varietal on the Domaine’s website but it is their “Petit Merlot” which (to me at least) signifies younger vines and a simpler wine.  This Réserve is therefore from older vines and is kept a little longer before release.

On the nose there are ripe red and black fruits, but also a strong graphite tang – which is often present in Cabernet Sauvignon and / or vines planted on gravel, but obviously neither of these are true for this wine.  These notes continue onto the super-smooth palate with hints of leather.  Fine tannins add structure and make this a well-rounded wine.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €16.95
  • Stockists: Boutique Wines; Barnhill stores Killaney/Dalkey; Mortons, Ranalagh; Listons, Camden street; The Wine House Trim; Emilie’s, Glenbeigh Co. Kerry; Pat Fitzgerald’s (Centra), Dingle Co. Kerry; Grape and Bean, Portlaois; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil Street; Blackrock Cellars; Gleeson’s, Booterstown Ave

Domaine Les Yeuses Pays d’Oc Syrah “Les Epices” 2017

The eagle-eyed among you may well have noticed that this post is not the first appearance of this wine on my blog; however, as it was the delightful Avril Kirrane McMorrough who wrote that piece I can legitimately say I’m not repeating myself.  Les Epices is a selection from the Domaine’s oldest and lowest yielding Syrah parcels.

The nose is pure Syrah – spicy, red and black fruit, pepper and black olive, (parma) violets.  The palate has more red fruit than I expected from the nose – the coastal breezes keeping the wine fresh, but without the outright savouriness of the northern Rhône.  There’s a definite softness to this wine, without the jammy fruit of new world Shiraz; it’s eminently drinkable, yet doesn’t overwhelm your palate so much that you’ll hesitate at a second (or third!) glass.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €15.95
  • Stockists: Boutique Wines; Barnhill stores Killaney/Dalkey; Mortons, Ranalagh; Listons, Camden street; The Wine House Trim; Emilie’s, Glenbeigh Co. Kerry; Pat Fitzgerald’s (Centra), Dingle Co. Kerry; Grape and Bean, Portlaois; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil Street; Blackrock Cellars; Gleeson’s, Booterstown Ave; Nectar Wines, Sandyford

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Kiss From a Rosé [Make Mine a Double #63]

Wine drinkers’ thirst for rosé appears to be boundless, with pink wines from all major wine producing nations experiencing growth.  In French supermarkets there are far more rosé wines than whites on the shelves, and rosé is even the category driving growth in Champagne.

The increase in rosé volume has also been accompanied by an increase in the number of premium rosés on the market.  Some are made with a firm eye on quality, some are marketing-led trendy wines with celebrity producers getting in on the game.  Provence rosé is the most fashionable style at present: pale in colour, lightly fruity and dry, with mineral and / or herbal notes.  Producers from other areas are emulating this style; of course they can’t call it “Provence rosé” but they can mention it is similar in style.

I’m a rosé skeptic; I’m very hard to please when it comes to rosé and I am suspicious of wines with a hefty advertising budget behind them.  There are two styles I have found myself enjoying in the past:

  1. simple, fruit forward (though still dry) rosés, especially Pinot Noir rosés
  2. serious styles which are made to age and come close to a light red, such as Bandol’s Domaine Tempier.

Among many that I’ve been luck to try recently, two in particular stood out for me.  One is from Provence and the home of the very trendy Whispering Angel – Château d’Esclans – and the other is from further west in the Languedoc, south west of Monpellier.  Below is a map showing their respective locations on the French coast.

Morin-Langaran and Château d’Esclans in the South Of France: Languedoc to the left and Provence to the right (Source: Google Maps)

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly given as samples, opinions remain my own

Domaine Morin-Langaran IGP Pays d’Oc Rosé Prestige 2018

Domaine Morin-Langaran is in Picpoul de Pinet country, right by the Étang de Thau between Béziers and Montpelier.  In fact, the vineyard’s borders are entirely within the Picpoul de Pinet AOC limits, with 36 hectares of the total 58 being planted to white grapes and the remaining 22 black.  The vineyard was created right back in 1330 by a religious order who eventually lost it during the wars of religion.  After changing hands several times over the centuries, it was bought by the Morin family in 1966.  They themselves had been making wine down the generations since 1830.

The vines for the Rosé Prestige are mainly Syrah plus a few Cinsault, all on limestone-clay soils.  Harvesting takes place in the cool of night and the must is cold-settled after pressing.  Bâtonnage is used to add creaminess and body to the wine without the need for excessive extraction in the press.

On pouring, the wine is a little darker than the ultra pale rosés which are so en vogue at the moment, but all the better for it. The nose shows strawberry and redcurrant plus some brioche notes from the bâtonnage.  The palate is full of sweet red fruits, but finishes crisp and clean.  This is an unpretentious wine which goes down well on its own or perhaps with lightly spiced food.

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RRP: €14.95
  • Stockists: Boutique Wines; Barnhill stores Killaney/Dalkey; Mortons, Ranalagh; Listons, Camden street; The Wine House Trim; Emilie’s, Glenbeigh Co. Kerry; Pat Fitzgerald’s (Centra), Dingle Co. Kerry; Grape and Bean, Portlaois; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil Street; Blackrock Cellars; Gleeson’s, Booterstown Ave

Château d’Esclans Rock Angel Côtes de Provence 2018 

Sacha Lichine was born into Bordeaux royalty – his family owned the Margaux Châteaux Prieuré Lichine and Lascombes – but also became an entrepreneur in the USA where he studied at university.  His big move into rosé was the purchase of Château d’Esclans in 2006, which he transformed with the help of the late Patrick Léon (a consultant winemaker and formerly the Technical Director of Mouton Rothschild).

By pricing its top wine “Garrus”at £60 in 2008, Château d’Esclans essentially created the super-premium rosé category – and prices have obviously risen since then.  From the top down, the range is:

  • Château d’Esclans Garrus
  • Château d’Esclans Les Clans
  • Château d’Esclans (ROI RRP €45)
  • Caves d’Esclans Rock Angel (ROI RRP €40)
  • Caves d’Esclans Whispering Angel (ROI RRP €25)

My presumption is that the Caves wines are from bought in fruit whereas the Château bottlings are from estate grapes.

Over the past decade Whispering Angel has become one of the trendiest rosés around, one that some people are very happy to flash in front of their friends: wine as a luxury or fashion statement.  A change of gear kicked in from the late 2019 acquisition of a 55% stake in Château d’Esclans by Moët Hennessy – part of LVMH, one of the leading luxury groups in the world (and with some amazing wines in their portfolio).

But enough about the image, what about the wine?  The 2018 Rock Angel is a blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Rolle (the local name for Vermentino).  The vines are 20 to 25 years old and are planted on clay and limestone soils.  Vinification and maturation take place in stainless steel (60%) and 600 litre French oak demi-muids, with bâtonnage of both formats then blending before bottling.

This is a very pale rosé, so the juice has had very little contact with the skins.  The nose has soft red fruits, flowers and spicy vanilla from the oak.  Red fruit comes to the fore on the palate, which is rich yet racy; fresh acidity is paired with mineral notes and even a kiss of tannin on the finish.  This is a serious, grown-up wine that belongs more at the table than on its own.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €40
  • Stockists: The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Morton’s; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; Eldons, Clonmel; Dicey Reillys, Donegal; Baggot Street Wines

Conclusion

There’s obviously a huge price difference between these two rosés, and this is after the price reductions brought on by the LVMH purchase and change in distribution.  I find both of them have more character than the junior Whispering Angel, which is around half way between the two prices.  The Domaine Morin-Langaran is excellent value for money so I heartily recommend it.  The Rock Angel isn’t quite as good value – premium wine rarely is – but it exceeded my expectations so I think it’s definitely worth splashing out on if you’re a rosé fan.

 

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Make Mine A Double

Puglia in your Pocket [Make Mine a Double #59]

Puglia Map

Like many European wine regions, Puglia has several different quality levels which overlap when shown on a map.  In general, the lower quality regions (IGP in the map above) are the largest in area and the highest quality regions are the smallest (DOCG).

In a recent post on Puglian wines I reviewed two red wines which were quite rich and even a little sweetness, so perfect for barbecues.  They were both IGT wines from Salento; now we have two DOC wines which are still fruity a little more serious:

Disclosure: bottles were kindly provided as samples, but opinions remain my own

Marchese di Borgosole Salice Salentino Riserva 2016

Marchese-di-Borgasole

The grapes for this wine – over 85% Negroamaro – are fully destemmed before undergoing seven to eight days maceration.  Alcoholic and malolactic fermentation take place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, with 24 months maturation mixed between tank and wooden barrels.

In the glass this wine is still dark in the body but is already a little light at the rim.  The nose has wonderful bramble fruit and exotic spice.  The palate is all about fresh morello cherry and raspberry, giving a pleasant tartness, and rich black fruits.  The body is full but not huge, and fine tannins help to give a savoury edge.

This is a lovely example of Salice Salentino, an easy drinking wine which is well put together.

Corte Ottone Brindisi Riserva 2016

Corte-Ortoni

From Salice Salentino we head slightly north to Brindisi.  Vinification is similar to its southern neighbour except that the 24 months maturation is entirely in wood.  Negroamaro is again the principal grape, backed up by Malvasia Nera and Sangiovese.

The nose has sweet – ripe, not sugary – black fruit such as blackberry and black cherry, with some hints of wild herbs.  The palate has a nervous energy to it; tart cherry and cranberry and lively raspberry plus some exotic spice and cedarwood.  The acidity is marked and thus the wine remains fresh.  This would be great with some charcuterie or tomato based dishes.

 

 

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Single Bottle Review

Boutique Montepulciano d’Abruzzo?

The Abruzzo region is geographically in the centre of Italy* but is considered to be part of southern Italy for cultural and historical reasons.  Grapes are grown throughout all four provinces of this hilly region: L’Aquila, Teramo, Pescara, and Chieti – with the last being the most productive, ranking as the fifth highest wine producing province in Italy.

2000px-Map_Region_of_Abruzzo.svg
Abruzzo within Italy (Credit: Gigillo83 (Wikipedia))

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is the main white wine of the region and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is the main red.  At this point I feel duty bound to include the standard remark that the latter is not to be confused with the Sangiovese-based Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Montepulciano_wine_regions_in_Italy

Under DOC regulations Montepulciano d’Abruzzo must be composed of a minimum of 85% Montepulciano with up to 15% Sangiovese for the balance.  Standard DOC wines must be aged for a minimum of 5 months prior to release with Riservas requiring 24 months, of which at least 9 months must be in wood barrels.

Although we think of Abruzzo as being the home of Montepulciano, it is in fact used throughout a large swathe of Italy from Emilia-Romagna to Puglia (see left).

It’s success is due to it being relatively easy to grow and producing high yields, yet still plenty of colour from the thin skins.  Acidity tends to be moderate and tannins are present but not too harsh.

Here’s a cracking Montepulciano d’Abruzzo which I tried recently:

Disclosure: bottle was kindly provided as a sample, opinions remain my own

Tor del Colle Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2016

TOR_DEL_COLLE_Montepulciano_DAbruzzo_Doc_Riserva

Tor del Colle is a label used for wines from Abruzzo, Molise and Puglia, three regions along the Adriatic Coast.  The brand is owned by the Botter group who trace their origins to 1928 Venice.

Grapes were fully destemmed and macerated for 7 to 8 days before temperature-controlled alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks.  Maturation is for 12 months in barrels (size & age not given) and 12 months in steel tanks.

The wine pours a bright cherry red, though not that deep.  The nose is intensely aromatic with alpine strawberries and cherry, plus cinnamon and other spices in the background.  The palate is rich and lithe, full of red and black fruit.  It’s a soft and supple wine; tannins are present but ripe.

Due to its ubiquity and relatively low price we are used to Montepulciano d’Abruzzo as a great glugging wine – probably the first wine that springs to mind when we’re asked to suggest a wine to go with pizza.  Although it’s not expensive, this wine shows that it can be so much more than that.  It retains the fresh flavours, balanced acidity and soft tannins of an everyday Montepulciano d’Abruzzo but adds additional layers of complexity which don’t weigh it down.

This is a lip-smackingly good wine, the best value red wine I’ve had so far this year!

 

*Just like the Mid-West of the USA is actually in the eastern half of the country**

**No I don’t know why either, ask them!

Make Mine A Double

Puglia Pair for BBQ Season [Make Mine a Double #56]

With the current restrictions on being able to visit restaurants in many countries, eating – and drinking – at home has become the new dining out.  As we have been lucky with the weather in Ireland so far this summer the siren call of the barbecue has been heard throughout the land.

How should we choose the wines to drink with our charcoal cooked food?  For me there are a few key criteria:

  1. Drinkability: this doesn’t mean a dichotomy between wine that is either palatable enough to be drunk or wine to be poured down the sink, it means a BBQ wine should be approachable, gluggable, and not austere.
  2. Robustness: barbecue food has lots of strong flavours and needs wines that can stand up to it and take it on.  There’s little point drinking a delicate Tasmanian Pinot Noir with flame-grilled burgers or sticky ribs
  3. Affordability: barbecues are an informal affair – you’re often eating without utensils, possibly on paper plates, and quaffing multiple glasses, so reasonably priced wine makes the most sense.

Here are a couple of wines I tried recently that perfectly fit the bill – and as it happens they are both from Puglia in Italy.

Disclosure: Both bottles kindly provided as samples, opinions remain my own.

Old True Zin Barrel Aged Zinfandel Salento IGT 2018

Old-True-Zin-Organic-Zinfandel

The name and label design of this wine are more reminiscent of a beer than a wine, and using the better known term Zinfandel rather than its Puglian name Primitivo give it an American image.  Is this misleading?  Perhaps a little, but the most important aspect of any bottle of wine is the liquid, and its that which I am assessing.

The bright purple colour in the glass gives you an idea of what you’re in for.  The nose showcases an intense collection of fruits – plum, black cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant among them – plus notes of coffee and chocolate – mocha anyone – and vanilla from the barrel ageing.  The flavours on the palate are a continuation, so no surprises there, but even given the richness of the nose the full-on explosion of flavour might take you back.  It’s the richness and sweetness together which make this such a mouthful.

On reflection, if this wine suggests that it is a Californian Zinfandel then that it is fair enough as it is exactly in that style!

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €17.95
  • Stockists: Mortons, Ranelagh; Listons Camden Street; Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Gleeson’s, Booterstown; Molloys Liquor Stores; The Old Orchard Off Licence, Rathfarnham

Bacca Nera Negroamaro Primitivo Salento IGT 2018

Bacca Nera Negroamaro Primitivo

The Bacca Nera is from the same place as the Old True Zin and is the same vintage, but differs in two main respects; firstly, it has (attractive) conventional packaging with an Italian name, and secondly that Puglia’s other main grape: Negroamaro.  It’s a little less deep in colour than the Zin, but we’re not talking Pinot Noir here.

The nose is delightfully spicy at first, then revealing dark berry fruits.  In fact “Bacca Nera” means “Black Berry” according to google translate, so the name is apt.  On tasting this wine is a big mouthful – round and powerful with sweet and rich fruit – very more-ish.  The fruit flavours are both red (strawberry, raspberry and red cherry) and black (blackberry and black cherry), tamed by a touch of bitterness (that would be the Amaro) which adds interest and partially offsets the sweetness.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €17.95
  • Stockists: Mortons Ranelagh; Listons Camden Street; Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Gleeson’s, Booterstown; Molloys Liquor Stores; The Old Orchard Off Licence, Rathfarnham

Conclusion

These wines both fit the bill perfectly.  There’s little to choose between them in quality and just a slight difference in style.  With my BBQ ribs I would narrowly choose the Bacca Nera!  Now where are my coals…

 

 

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