Leading Irish off licence chain O’Briens have some excellent premium wines and some are on sale (in store only) for a short time. Here is a selection of my favourites:
Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Viognier 2012 (14.5%, €31.95 down to €25.56)
I had tried this wine previously and, although it was pretty good, I wasn’t overly impressed. Tasting is such a subjective pastime that I’m always ready to give a wine another try – and I’m so glad I did! I didn’t find this as oily as some Rhône Viogniers but it was peachy and rich – the abv of 14.5% should be a hint that it’s on the dry side. More of a food wine than a quaffing wine, but very well crafted.
Henri Bourgeois Sancerre d’Antan 2014 (13.5%, €45.00 down to €36.00)
This upmarket Sancerre is not for the casual drinker; it’s pricey but excellent. If I bought it I’d stick it away for a few years at least – it’s still fairly tight and closed up, but undoubtedly has fabulous potential.
La Comtesse de Pazo Barrantes Albariño 2013 (13.5%, €42.00 down to €33.60)
This is a fine wine to sit and sip, and to reflect upon the world. It has lees work and some oak, so it’s unlike most Albariños on the market, but it’s no Chardonnay clone either. Probably my favourite Albariño ever tasted!
Chanson Puligny-Montrachet 2013 (13.5%, €55.00 down to €44.00)
Top class Burgundy isn’t cheap, so why not try it when it’s on offer? This is another youngster that really needs putting away for a while, or at least decanting for a few hours if drinking now. Oak is noticeable on the nose (which I like, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) and adds depth to the palate. Don’t drink it too cold, and only share with friends who appreciate good wine!
Caro 2013 (14.5%, €50.00 down to €40.00)
This is a serious Malbec – Cabernet Sauvignon blend which is the result of collaboration between Bordeaux’s Domaines Barons de Rothschild-Lafite and the Catena family. At this young age it still has lots of oak and tannin and primary plum and blackcurrant fruit characters, but also cedar and sandalwood notes. Far better value than most posh Bordeaux reds, keep it for as long as you can bare!
Marqués de Murrietta Gran Reserva 2007 (14.0%, €34.95 down to €24.95)
When it comes to Rioja I normally go for a Crianza or Reserva style where the fruit is more prominent than the longer aged Gran Reservas. They can be too dry and “woody” (for me “oaky” can be good but “woody” rarely is). Marqués de Murrietta have a beauty on their hands with the 2007 – it’s exactly how Gran Reservas should be: lots of fruit (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry) with vanilla, all in a soft and cosseting package. Get in!
Delheim Grand Reserve 2013 (14.0%, €36.95 down to €29.56)
This is of course a South African wine but – tasted blind – does a great impression of a classy left bank Bordeaux. The main difference is that it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape which never ripens sufficiently to be used as a varietal in Bordeaux (though can be a very high percentage of some Pauillacs). It’s definitely a dry wine, with pencil shavings and cedar notes that you’d associate with a more mature wine – so treat yourself to a bottle and a big steak! More info here.
Gérard Bertrand Cigalus 2014 (14.5%, €38.95 down to €29.95)
Probably the best wine in Gérard Bertrand’s portfolio, this is a biodynamically produced blend using both Bordeaux and Languedoc varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Caladoc (a cross between Grenache and Malbec). Interestingly, the Syrah and Carignan undergo whole berry carbonic maceration (similar to Gamay in Beaujolais) which adds a little approachability – it’s a big wine, but not too intimidating.
Honest 2 Goodness – H2G for short – recently held their summer wine tasting event at their base in Glasnevin. A contingent from the DNS Wine Club (for which I am chief bottle washer) was in attendance and we were entertained by a jazz band as we drank tasted.
Here are the top 3 whites and top 3 reds which piqued my interest:
Domaine de Valensac Chardonnay Vin de Pays d’Oc 2015 (13.5%, €14.95 at H2G)
Although lying much further south than Chardonnay’s spiritual home of Burgundy, being situated just 10 km from the Mediterranean means that Domaine de Valensac’s vineyards are well cooled by the sea influence. Perfectly ripe fruit gives both citrus and tropical notes – definitely more like the Mâconnais than Chablis – but nicely balanced by acidity and texture. No oak is used so it might surprise you if you don’t like the taste of “Chardonnay”.
Betomish Blanco Tarragona 2015 (11.0%, €15.95 at H2G)
Irish brothers Tom and Eoin Gallagher have created a modern wine brand aiming to offer well made wines that reflect their Catalan origins without being tied down by too much tradition. At present their wines are just a white from Tarragona and a red from Priorat (see below), though they do have plans to increase their range.
The bulk of the white consists of 70% local favourite Macabeo, to which 20% Muscat (for aromas) and 10% Sauvignon Blanc (for freshness) are added. The Muscat certainly comes through on the fragrant nose, while orange, grapefruit and lemon hit the palate. It’s a well made wine that’s more than the sum of its parts, enjoyable to quaff on its own or pretty handy with dinner.
Mandrarossa Ciaca Bianca Fiano Sicilia 2015 (13.5%, €15.95 at H2G)
Fiano is probably most well regarded in Campania where it makes up at least 85% of the DOCG Fiano di Avellino, but it also performs well in Sicily. It has come back into favour over the last decade or so as it has more character than many of the higher-yielding but more neutral grapes which are widespread in Italy (you know the ones I mean).
Mandrarassa’s vines are situated on the south west corner of Sicily, almost touching distance from Africa. This is a 100% Fiano with aromas and flavours of all manner of citrus and mouth-watering stone fruit. It’s the finest Fiano I’ve tasted to date!
Also check out the Mandrarossa Nero d’Avola if you like blueberries!
Cuarto Dominio Chento Reserva Malbec 2013 (14.0%, €21.95 at H2G)
This is undoubtedly a Malbec, but an elegant and perfumed one at that – I wonder if the vineyards are at a significant altitude? More research required! Although €6 more than its unoaked little brother, I found this to be the better value for money of the pair. Plum, blackberry and blackcurrant are on show here, with a little cinnamon spice for extra interest. Doesn’t have to be drunk with a steak, but probably will be!
BeTomish Tinto Priorat 2013 (14.5%, €23.50 at H2G)
The Gallaghers’ red is a blend of local and international grapes: 60% Garnacha, 20% Merlot, 10% Syrah and 10% Samso. Priorat is one of the trendiest wine regions of Spain, but its wines can sometimes be very tight and unapproachable in their youth. This is an open book of a wine – lots of dark black fruit and spice, but accessible and easy to like. It’s not a frivolous wine, but has a very modern sensibility – a winner for me!
Corte Adami Valpolicella Superiore 2014 (13.5%, €21.95 at H2G)
A blend of local grapes Corvina, Corvinoneand Rondinella. To receive the Superioretag the wine has to be a minimum of 12.0% and spend a year in barrel. Valpolicella wines are traditionally quite light (hence the qualifying alcohol level for Superiore is still fairly modest). To boost the body and intensity of flavour, the producer of this wine actually dry some of the grapes for a short time before fermentation, as is done on a larger scale for Amarone.
However they got there, it works! The nose had enticing spice aromas which follow through to the palate with ripe cherry and black fruits, plus a little vanilla. This is probably the finest Valpolicella I’ve ever had!
You might also want to check out these previous articles on Honest 2 Goodness wines:
If Argentina’s wine producers can be said to have a certain nobilityabout them, then Bodega Achaval Ferrer is royalty.
To my shame I hadn’t tasted their wines before the Wines of Argentina event earlier this year, but they made a big impression. More precisely, they didn’t make an impression by just being *big* (though there are very few 12% light-bodied Malbecs made in Argentina), but rather due to their elegance – probably the most elegant wines I tasted at the whole event.
Elegance doesn’t come without a cost, of course; apart from the pair featured below the range includes more expensive wines such as:
Quimera, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (RRP around €35)
The Fincaseries, three single vineyard expressions of Malbec with a RRP of €85 – €90
The Mendoza series are blends from different vineyards across the Mendoza wine region. Based on the idea that blends can be more than the sum of their parts, they are designed to highlight the qualities and characters of their varieties rather than be a transparent window onto the terroir where they are grown. Though to be honest, given the strength and power of Malbec, wouldn’t translucent be more appropriate?
This is a 100% Malbec wine made from 60 hectares of vines in the Perdriel (3,150 ft), Medrano(2,790 ft) and Uco Valley (3,608 ft) subregions. Close to opaque in the glass, it has a highly perfumed nose, with a range of red and black fruits and a twist of spice. The fruit is also present and correct on the palate, but elegantly presented rather than the punch in the gob which most Malbecs give you. It’s hard to describe accurately, but this is a classy wine.
The companion Cabernet Sauvignon is also a 100% varietal, but made from just 15 hectares in the Agrelo (3,215 ft) and Medrano(2,790 ft) subregions of Mendoza. It also has a beguiling nose, outrageous amounts of elegant fruit coming through. On the palate it could almost be mistaken for a serious Pauillac, with black and red fruit plus hints of cedar and tobacco – though I don’t think a Pauillac of this class could be drunk so young! Fine grained tannins also add a bit backbone against which the fruit is framed.
Conclusion:Yes, this pair do showcase their respective varieties as intended – but I think far more than that, they showcase the care and attention taken in the vineyard, low yields and high altitude setting. These are wines fit for a king!
Altitude is even more important than latitude in Argentina – in terms of the weather patterns in the vineyard and the perceived quality of the wine. The search for good vineyard sites continues in Argentina, with new parts of the wine heartland Mendoza Valley being tried, plus further north in Salta such as in the Colchaqui Valley (pictured above).
The DNS Wine Club met to examine both whites and reds from Argentina, both varietals and blends. The whites were published on The Taste here: Hi Ho Silver(I wonder how many people got the pun in the title?) Now it’s the turn of the reds:
Susana Balbo Crios Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (Mendoza) (€16.25 down to €14.65, Wines Direct – Arnotts & online)
14.0%, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Susana Balbo is the most recognised and celebrated oenologist in Argentina and has been at the forefront of innovation and quality improvements for decades. Key notes are plum and redcurrant (surprisingly more than blackcurrant), joined by a touch of vanilla from oak barrels. The soft tannins and silky smooth texture make this a delicious wine to enjoy in front of a roaring fire, or perhaps with a big juicy steak. Great value.
Amalaya produce a fantastic range of wines (also check out their Torrontés Riesling blend) of which this is a fairly modest member. Based in the highlands of Salta, the vineyards start at a mile high (1,600m) and keep climbing. Warm days and cool nights promote thicker skins than in lower vineyards (giving more intense flavours) and help maintain acidity (making the wines taste fresher).
This blend is more than the sum of its parts – ripe plum from the Malbec, pepper and spice from the Syrah plus a savoury edge from the Cabernet. Narrowly missed out on the best red of the tasting.
At “only” 850m – 1,100m the vineyards for this wine are considered to be in the foothills (for reference, Croagh Patrick’s summit is 764m). Although located in what is usually referred to as the New World, the Estate dates back to 1895 which makes it fairly old in my book. The vines for this bottle are 15 years of age or older giving classic Malbec characters.
If anybody, anywhere, tells you that “all Malbecs taste the same, there’s no point spending more than xx Euros on one” then you have my permission to shoot them (not that I think it would be a valid defence in a court of law). The Colomé winery dates back to 1831 – older than many Rioja Bodegas, for example. There are actually four separate estates at altitudes between 1,700m and 3,111m, each adding something to the blend of the Estate Malbec.
For such a big, alcoholic wine it is remarkably refined, delicate and long. Blackberry, blackcurrant and black cherry characters are the key, with supple tannins supplying the structure. A fantastic wine!
Honest 2 Goodness (H2G for short) are a small family wine importers based in Glasnevin, Dublin. They specialise in family owned wineries throughout Europe, and in particular those with an organic, sustainable or biodynamic philosophy.
Here are a few of their wines that I enjoyed at their most recent Organic & Low Sulphite Tasting:
Domaine de Maubet Côtes de Gascogne 2014 (€14.95, 11.5%)
Typical South West France blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard, Ugni Blanc and Gros Manseng. Ripe green and red apples, fresh pears. Crisp acidity, light and fruity – so easy to drink on its own, but versatile with food.
Borgo Paglianetto Verdicchio di Matelica 2014 (€18.45, 12.5%)
Restrained nose; soft but textured on the palate, lemon and grapefruit combined. Tangy, don’t drink too chilled. Marche wines are really coming to the fore at the moment.
A favourite producer that I’ve covered several times. Grapefruit again, though not as juicy. A grown up wine that would excel with food.
Château Canet Minervois Blanc 2014 (€17.95, 13.0%)
50% barrel fermented; blend of Roussanne and Bourboulenc, both well known in the Rhône. Tangy, textured, pleasantly sour (Haribo Tangfastics). Plenty of mouthfeel and soft stone fruit. Moreish.
Casa Benasal by Pago Casa Gran Valencia 2012 (€18.95, 14.0%)
The Spanish equivalent of a GSM blend: Monstrell, Syrah and Garnacha Tintorera. Plum, blackberry, and blueberry on the nose, following through onto the palate. A full-bodied winter wine; lots of fruit with a light dusting of tannins on the finish. Perfect with stew or casserole (depending on where you heat the pot, apparently).
Château Segue Longue Monnier Cru Bourgeois Médoc 2010 (€25.95, 13.5%)
A trad Médoc blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Very perfumed on the nose, showing black fruits, spice and parma violets. Soft and voluptuous in the mouth – definitely from a warmer vintage. Classy.
The first grape that many people (especially my friend Ciaran) suggest for a barbecue red is Malbec, particularly the fruit-driven style Malbecs that come out of Argentina. Others take a different view and insist that Cabernet is King, and the extra tannin of Cabernet Sauvignon is required to tame a protein feast.
Well of course neither are wrong – it’s personal preference after all – but there is a way to keep both parties happy – a Malbec Cabernet blend, the best of both worlds:
Lot #01 Mendoza Malbec Cabernet 2013 (€12.99, Aldi Wine)
This is a foray upmarket for Aldi, the discount Supermarket chain. Now that we are gradually emerging from the depths of despair recession, wine drinkers are gradually willing to spend a little more, but still keeping an eye on value for money.
Aldi recently launched their Lot Wines collection, premium wines with a limited production of 25,000 – 35,000 bottles per wine. That might still sound a lot, but in the context of the number of outlets they have in Ireland and the UK (at least) then it’s actually not that many. Each wine in the series has its own label designed by artists local to the producing region and a tag with information about the consulting winemaker for each one. Each bottle is individually numbered which adds to the premium look and feel.
For Lot #01 the man with the plan was José ‘Pepe’ Galante, head winemaker at Bodégas Salentein. Most of the grapes are sourced from higher altitude sites in the Uco Valley subregion of Mendoza – the altitude gives cooler growing conditions enabling the vines to produce grapes with ripe flavours and a balance of acidity and sugar (sites further east at lower altitude might be too warm and produce jammy wines). The grapes are hand-picked from selected parcels and matured after fermentation for twelve months in oak.
As well as the two hero grapes, there’s also a dash of Petit Verdot in here (less than 15% otherwise it would be on the front label). As in Bordeaux, it’s added for seasoning and a bit of extra backbone – as a grape it’s very high in tannin.
So how does the wine taste?
This wine has lots and lots of fruit, plum and damson from the Malbec intertwined with blackcurrant and blackberry from the Cabernet. But it’s no fruit bomb, the tannin and acidity keep it well balanced. It’s smooth to drink, but not so smooth that the taste jades after a glass or two. The oak is there but accompanies rather than dominates the fruit, adding vanilla and spice notes.
I shared this bottle with French and Irish friends at a barbecue and it was very well received – one French lady almost falling off her chair in delight!
Disclosure: Sample was provided, but opinions are entirely my own (and Sabrina’s)
Being a bit of a geek (in wine, but other things as well) and possibly with a few ADHD tendencies, I’m a sucker for patterns and lists. On my recent holiday in Portugal I started jotting down the different colours associated with wine, whether often used in descriptions, grape names or something else, and came up with A LIST.
Now, this is only from my own thoughts, so I’ve very happy to add any suggestions that you may have (leave a comment or send a Twitter message).
And did I mention I’m partially colourblind? That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…
So, in alphabetical order…
A WSET term for a deep dark gold colour, often apt for aged / oaked / sweet wines.
Georgian Amber Wine is made in the traditional way in clay pots (a bit like amphorae) called Quevris which are buried underground.
As a general rule, the grapes that make red wine are black, not red.
Some always have black as part of their name – e.g. Pinot Noir – where there are different versions of the grape in different colours.
Some black grapes don’t usually need the suffix “Noir” as they are far better known than their siblings, unless a comparison is being made – e.g. Grenache is assumed to be the black version (as opposed to Blanc or Gris), but sometimes it is annotated as Grenache Noir.
The famous Black wine of Cahors which is a deep, dark, opaque Malbec blend.
The definition of Black Wine according to the motto of the Domaine Le Bout du Lieu: “If you can see your fingers through the glass, it’s not a Cahors.”
Pinot Meunier is sometimes known as Schwarzriesling – literally “Black Riesling” – in Germany!
Blau is of course German for “blue”, so this variety commonly found in Austria is a blue Frankish grape, evoking Charlemagne and his empire.
In Hungary the grape is known as Kékfrankos, which has the same literal meaning but sounds like a Greek ailment.
A term used to describe Californian rosé, especially the sweetish stuff made from Zinfandel.
What any self-respecting wino does when drinking the above wine (miaow!)
Obviously a shade of red, it’s usually connected to older red wines
For some reason Burgundy as a colour only ever refers to the region’s red rather than white wines.
Quite well established as a colour outside of the wine world…I bet few garment wearers think of Pinot Noir…
The oft litigious organisation that represents Champagne, the CIVC, don’t like Champagne being used as a colour when not directly connected to one of their member’s products.
However, it’s probably too late, the cat is out of the bag for describing a silvery-goldy colour – and to be honest, should they really complain if it’s an Aston Martin?
The well known term for red Bordeaux wine.
However, the term actually originates from Clairette, a dark rosé style wine still made in Bordeaux (and was actually how most Bordeaux looked back in the day).
Now often used to mean wine- (or blood-) coloured.
A WSET approved term for a mid shade of red, in between Ruby (another gemstone) and Tawny.
Mature and / or sweet white wine is often described as gold, particularly Tokaji.
Burgundy’s heartland subregion of the Côte d’Or is literally the “Slope of Gold”.
While “green wine” might not sound that pleasant a concept, it is of course the literal translation of Vinho Verde from northern Portugal.
By extension, used as a term for certain flavours which either invoke youth or the taste of something green (e.g. asparagus in Sauvignon Blanc)
Mid coloured grapes such as Pinot Gris (yay!) or the Italian equivalent Pinot Grigio (boo!)
Vin Gris (literally “Grey Wine”) is the term used for a white(ish) wine made from black grapes.
Often has a little more colour than a Blanc de Noirs, e.g. the Gamay-based AOC Côtes de Toul from Lorraine.
Quite a trendy type of wine at the moment, basically making a wine from white grapes using red wine methods, particularly lots of contact between the juice and the skins – different but interesting.
Orange Muscat is a variant of the ancient but popular Muscat family
Also a wine growing town in New South Wales, Australia, whose symbol is an apple – go figure!
In fairness, orchard regions are often good for making wine.
David Bird (author of Understanding Wine Technology) makes a valid point asking why we use the term rosé in English when we say red and white quite happily instead of rouge and blanc.
While reading a book on Port I came across a new colour category of grape: Roxo
Many grapes – and actually many wines – look quite purple, but Portugal is the first country I have seen to actually have a recognised term for it.
Obviously the huge category of red wine as a whole.
Tinta / Tinto, the Portuguese and Spanish words for red (when applied to wine) is used for many grape varieties and their pseudonyms, including Tinto Aragon and Tinta Cão.
One of the few grapes in French to have red in its name is Rouge du Pays, also known as Cornalin du Valais or Cornalin.
However, without Red Wine would faux-reggae band UB40 have been so popular? Everything has its downsides…
A bright shade of red, usually signifying a young wine.
A style of Port, often the least expensive, bottle young and so retains a bright red colour.
The grape Ruby Cabernet is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan, though usually included in cheap fruity blends.
A light shade of red, tending to brown, usually signifying an older but not necessarily fully mature wine
A style of Port which has usually been aged in wood rather than bottle, with colour fading over time.
White wine, of course, which covers a multitude of grapes and styles
White grapes (well many of them are of course more green than white) particularly those whose name includes white (in English or any other language) to distinguish them from darker coloured siblings, e.g. Pinot Blanc / Pinot Bianco / Weissburgunder.
Of course the Jura’s famous “Vin Jaune” (literally “yellow wine”) leaps to mind here.
Ribolla Gialla (thanks Jim) is the yellow version of Ribolla, generally found in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy and over the border into Slovenia.
Lionel Richie’s Commodores were easy on Sunday morning, but when it’s a bank holiday weekend it means Sunday evenings are even better than the mornings.
This Sunday evening I was invited to my brother-in-law Andrew’s for take out and wine – what a relaxing way to spend a Sunday evening – with the rider that his wine-loving friend Noel and family would also be there. Andrew sorted the food, and Noel provided most of the wine, with a bit chipped in from Andrew and myself.
Although it was easy, it was also a very enjoyable evening, with some cracking wines noted below. Where there is an Irish stockist listed on Wine Searcher I have added it, otherwise a UK stockist.
A good rule of thumb for Austrian Grüners is that the alcohol level is an indicator of the wine’s style, and so the 12.0% of this Birgit Eichinger proved true to be a light, summer-quaffing style. Fresh and light, it doesn’t scream its grape variety, but is remarkably easy to drink.
Pauillac is probably the most prestigious appellation on the Médoc peninsula, Bordeaux’s left bank with grand names and grander buildings. Three of the five First growths are in the commune – Châteaux Lafite, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild – with world famous reputations and prices to match.
The small village of Saint-Lambert within the Commune of Pauillac is home to the much more modestly priced Château Gaudin. Its wines are very much true to the general Pauillac style, being dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (85%) with support from Merlot (10%) and Carménère (5%) plus tiny dashes of Petit Verdot and Malbec.
2009 was the middle year of three fantastic vintages within six years (2005 – 2009 – 2010) and was perfect for Cab Sauv. With such a high percentage of that grape one might think that five or six years from harvest is too short a time for a wine to be approachable, but this is already drinking fantastically now. The fruit is still dense and the evidence of 18 months ageing in new oak barrels is still apparent, but there’s no reason to wait!
Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé 2010 (€55, O’Briens)
Made by widely admired superstar Bernard Magrez of Pessac’s Pape-Clement, La Tour Carnet was officially classed as a Fourth Growth in 1855. Debate as to the relevancy of that classification continues, but it is useful as a general indicator of quality.
Average vine-age is 30 years. The precise blend changes from year to year, but it is usually led by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with small contributions from Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. After fermentation, 70% of the blend was aged on the lees in French oak barrels for 18 months (30% of which new) and the balance in stainless steel.
Although from a very good year, in comparison with the Ch. Gaudin above it was perhaps a little awkward and not quite sure what it wanted to be. A very nice drop which, with a bit of patience, might integrate more fully and blossom in a few years.
Castellare I Sodi Di San Niccolo IGT Toscana 2010 (GBP 40.42, Exel, €61.67 (2011) Millesima)
I have to confess I hadn’t heard of this wine before, but after asking the google it seems as though I really should have! Widely decorated, it’s a blend of 85% Sangioveto (the local name for Sangiovese) with 15% Malvasia Nera. The name “I Sodi” refers to land so steep and uneven that it has to be worked manually, not even using horses.
Castellare di Castellina was born in 1968 from the consolidation of five farms in the Chianti Classico region, and became solely owned by Paolo Panerai around ten years later. At that point he carried out a detailed survey of all the vines on the property so that the best genetic material could be selected.
Subsequently Paolo engaged in partnership with the University of Milan, the University of Florence and the Institute of San Michele all’Adige to carry out ongoing research on the best clones as well as the production of grapevines selected for the renovation of the vineyards.
On pouring I thought it very pleasant, but not amazing; very smooth and drinkable without bring special. However, after a bit of time in the glass it really started to open up, herbs and liquorice layers on top of cherries and blackberries. This is a fine wine that I will definitely be trying again.
An interjection between the reds, something sweet to go with dessert. From the pride of Ribeauvillé, this is a late harvest (that’s exactly what Vendanges Tardives means in French, or Spätlese in German) Gewurztraminer from 2001.
Probably not overly sweet in its youth, it is still sweeter than a normal Gewurz but is not at all “sticky”. The ageing process reduces the wine’s sweetness (though I have not yet found the mechanism) and there is still some acidity to offer balance. As you expect from Gewurz there’s a real floral aspect to it on the nose, with stone / white fruit such as peach and lychee on the palate.
It was actually a little too restrained for the chocolate brownie and ice cream dessert, but off itself was delicious. It’s showing no sign of slowing down at the moment so it might well make it as far as its 20th birthday.
Château Giscours Margaux 3ème Cru Classé 2009 (€100, McHugh’s)
Giscours was a Third Growth in the 1855 Classification, but its fortunes have waxed and waned several times since, mainly as ownership has changed and more or less was put into the vineyards. Margaux is the most feminine of the Médoc’s big four appellations, often with a higher percentage of Merlot than the others and a certain silkiness to the wines.
For the whole Giscours estate’s 94 hectares under vine, the split of grape varieties is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and the balance Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Of course the Grand Vin receives a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon than the second and third wines, particularly in a good year such as 2009. The estate matures the Grand Vin in 100 % French oak barrels (fine grain and medium toast) for 15 to 18 months, 50% of which are new and 50% have had one previous use.
Although still relatively young, this was not dumb, tight or closed – it was already singing. Modern Claret is sometimes overdone in the search for Parker points and so needs a decade before approaching, but it wasn’t the case here. Perhaps this was infanticide on a wine that will go on to greatness, only time will tell.
Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1998 (GBP 180, WinePro)
Grange occupies the sole spot at the top of the Penfolds pyramid, but Bin 707 isn’t too far behind. Whereas Grange is virtually all Shiraz based, the 707 is the King of Cabernet., allegedly named after the fancy new Boeing airliner of the time.
Grange’s first (though non-commercial) release was in 1951 and the 707’s inaugural vintage was 1964. It hasn’t been made every year since; between 1970 and 1975 there was a conscious decision to put the best Cabernet fruit in other wines, then in the years 1981, 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2011 winemakers didn’t have access to the appropriate style and quality of fruit.
Both Grange and Bin 707 are both multi-regional blends, that is, the fruit comes from several different vineyards in several different regions within South Australia. For the 707 these are Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, Robe and Wrattonbully. Maturation is for 18 months in 100% new American oak hogsheads (300 litres).
So 17 years on, how did it fare? To the eye the age was apparent on the rim which was quite red brick in hue, though the core was still opaque black. The nose showed spearmint, menthol & eucalyptus with dried black fruit and just a tiny hint of oxidisation.
To taste there was a touch of mint and lots of fresh blackcurrant, with some raisins in the background. It was really smooth and still monumental in mouthfeel, despite an abv of 13.5% which is quite modest by today’s standards. Above all it had an amazing length, a small sip lingered in the mouth for several minutes. A stunning wine.
Château Dereszla Tokaji Azsú 5 Puttonyos 2006
To cap it all off was a sweet – sweet wine. As I’ve mentioned before I reckon 5 putts is probably the *ahem* sweet spot for Tokaji, the perfect balance between flavour, sugar and acidity. Château Dereszla also produce 3 and 6 puttonyos wines, plus the legendary Aszú Eszencia
This showed typical apricot, honey and marmalade notes, quite sweet but not at all cloying. This is a wine to get up in the night to drink!
They say “Planning Prevents Poor Performance” – but sometimes it’s better to be a bit more spontaneous. And so when my wife Jess suggested having a late-notice drinks party at the end of June, I chimed in with agreement.
Below are a few of the bottles which grabbed my attention – many of which were kindly brought by guests (you see what nice friends we have?)
A Starter For 10 – Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs Champagne Brut NV
In the run up to Xmas 2012 this delightfully light and crisp Champagne was on double-bubble reduction – I ended up paying about £11.50 per bottle which is an absurdly low amount, especially when you can pay over twice as much for a very ordinary big brand. At that price you don’t mind how many you open over the Xmas period!
The extra 18 months or so bottle age has helped add a little more funky complexity – it’s even better now, but I wouldn’t hang on to it until next summer.
The Blanc de Noirs from Sainsbury’s is great as well – especially with 25% off – and give more of a voluptuous red fruit vibe rather than citrus.
Random Light Whites
In a previous post on the Wine Society’s American Dream Tasting I mentioned Viña Litoral Sauvignon Blanc from the Leyda Valley in Chile. That time it was the 2013, but the 2012 (on the right above) shows that well made Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t fade after a year in bottle.
The Muros Antigos Alvarinho is an Albariño-beating wine made just across the Portuguese border from Riax Baixas. When showing it compared to some slightly pricier Spanish competitors at a tasting some years ago, even the Spanish attendees grudgingly admitted it was great. This is probably a year or so older than you might normally drink it, but again age has been kind. Available from Sweeney’s of Glasnevin.
And finally, the beast in the middle – not a light white at all! This is unreconstructed oaky Chardonnay, so beware if you don’t like that style. The Montes Alpha range is great across the board (well done Liberty Wines), but in my biased opinion the Chardy is the best of the lot.
Riesling – The Prince Of Grapes
Some people remain unconverted by Riesling, but that leaves more for the rest of us. The awesome foursome hail from the steep slopes of Alsace and the southern climes of Tasmania.
The latter was the oldest and the leanest of the lot. Tazzie is generally the coolest state in Australia which has made it a perfect location for sparkling wine production. It is now spearheading the cool-climate Chardonnay revolution as Penfold’s now source the majority of the grapes for their “white Grange” Yattarna from Tasmania, and Shaw + Smith bought a fantastic Chardonnay vineyard not too long ago. Sauvignon Blanc has already found a home there, so why not Riesling?
South Pirie Riesling 2007 was lean and racy in the Eden Valley style – lime with a sideorder of lime! Can be a little bit austere for the feint-hearted, but well worth a try.
I had seen a few of Domaine Muré’s wines in the past but it was luck and happenstance that I (almost literally) fell into their outlet in the centre of Colmar last year. This Clos Saint-Landelin is from their own walled vineyard within the larger Vorbourg Grand Cru. To be honest, it was nice but would really benefit from a few more years to balance out and open up.
I’ve already waxed lyrical about Bruno Sorg’s Séléction de Grains Nobles, but here we have a pair of just-off-dry Rieslings from the Grand Cru sites of Florimont (straddling the villages of Ingersheim and Katzenthal) and Pfersigberg (located close to Sorg’s home village of Eguisheim). They aren’t sweet, but the little bit of residual sugar really balances the striking acidity and brings out the pure fruit.
A Brace Of Contrasting French Reds
A delicate Pinot Noir from Burgundy and a stonking 15.5% Malbec from Cahors provide proof that wines can really vary within the same country.
The Ladoix was quite flat for a good time after opening but eventually blossomed, showing red fruits sitting in a light crème anglaise. It’s part of the Côte de Beaune, the sourthern part of Burgundy’s heartland the Côte d’Or.
The Cahors is a recent favourite from Sweeney’s of Glasnevin (it was my wine of the night at the MackenwayFrench tasting). Tasted blind you would probably guess the big plum and bramble flavours were the producer of Argentina rather than south west France.
The Odd Couple
In fairness these wines aren’t a couple – just slightly off the beaten track compared to some of the more well-known bottles.
Wagner-Stempel Rosé Rheinhessen 2013 (available from The Corkscrew) has previously come close to wooing me before, but as my buddy Tara brought it round I had to give it a go. Chris – you were right, it’s lovely. I’m not generally a Rosé drinker, but more of this please!
Albert Mann’s Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives Altenbourg 2008 is a mouthful in more than one way – this is exactly how I like my Gewurz. This late harvest beauty is something you could sit and savour at any time of the year.
The Grande Finalé
Pretty bottles! Belle Epoque is Perrier-Jouet’s prestige cuvée – it almost seems a shame to open such a lovely bottle.
Dom Pérignon needs no further introduction (otherwise why are you reading this blog?), but this 1995 example showed why mature Champagne is such a treat.
The Wine Society is a mutually-owned wine buying club based in Stevenage in England. Since its inception in 1874 as The International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society Limitedits aim has been to buy wines direct from growers to ensure their authenticity and quality and to offer them to members at fair prices.
The Society has over 120,000 active members in the UK and Ireland which gives it great purchasing power and a licence to list more unusual bottles. They run various tasting events throughout the UK and one in Dublin most years. The most recent one focused on wines from the Americas, and below are my personal highlights. Our hosts were the charming Simon Mason and the lovely Isobel Cooper.
Viña Litoral Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley, Chile 2013
Leyda is situated close to the Pacific coast (as you might guess from “Litoral”) with its cooling sea breezes and thus is well suited to Sauvignon Blanc. This example has ripe grapefruit and gooseberry balanced by refreshing acidity. The 13.5% abv gives it a generous roundness in the mouth.
Concha y Toro Corte Ignacio Casablanca Riesling (Chile) 2013
From a very cool, top vineyard in western Casablanca, this is a
medium-dry riesling with about a third of the harvest affected by
noble rot, overlaying a lovely light honeyed aroma and flavour
over a bright, fresh palate. Drink now to 2018. 12%
Primus Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile) 2011
A textbook example of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, not terribly complex but bursting with fruit and the beginnings of cedar and tabacco notes. Drinkable on its own mid week or with a medium rare steak.
Faldeos Nevados Torrontés (Argentina) 2013
Torrontés is Argentina’s signature white grape, with aromas and flavours somewhere between Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Viognier. At 14% abv it has plenty of body to match the bold grape and stone fruit flavours.
Norman Hardie Chardonnay Unfiltered, Ontario (Canada) 2011
The first Canadian wine I have tasted that wasn’t an Ice Wine. The aim here is more Burgundy than California – it has a modest 12.5% abv and a streak of minerality through the middle. It reminded me most of Premier Cru Chablis. In my view a little less oak would let the fruit shine more.
Weinert Carrascal (Argentina) 2008
This is a blend of 40% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot, all Bordeaux varieties, although of course Malbec is mainly reduced to a minor supporting role in Bordeaux nowadays. No shrinking violet, this is a big, rich, in-your-face wine with a velvety finish. Great for cold nights or with red meat.
Ravenswood Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel (USA) 2011
Ravenswood make some fantastic Zin; big, bold and very gluggable. Their Lodi Old-Vine is slightly more expensive but more concentrated, higher in alcohol and will live for longer. It’s a world away from “blush” white Zinfandel.
Ridge Geyserville (USA) 2011
Ridge is almost legendary among Californian producers. This is a Zinfandel-Carignan(e) blend based on some of California’s oldest vines; the youngest are 10 years old, the oldest over 120 years, with 60% 40 years old or more. It is very dense at first – takes a while to open up in the glass – then the powerful dark black fruit comes through, wrapped in vanilla. This will surely continue to develop over the next 10 years.
Quartet Anderson Valley Brut Roederer Estates (USA) NV
For me this was the star of the whole event. It is a traditional method sparkling wine from Mendocino County in California. The grapes are sourced from four separate vineyards (hence the name) in the northern Anderson Valley, cooled by the proximity of the Pacific Ocean. On the palette the 30% Pinot Noir initially gives lots of soft strawberry flavours and then the 70% Chardonnay comes through as bright citrus. The finish has classic brioche richness from ageing on the lees. Wonderfully balanced and put together.