WineMason is an Irish wine importer run by husband and wife team Ben Mason and Barbara Boyle MW. They specialise in wines from Germany, Portugal and Austria, but their expanding portfolio now encompasses France, South Africa, Spain and Italy.
Here are a pair of outstanding wines from the Languedoc that I tried for the first time earlier this year:
Domaine Turner Pageot “Le Blanc” Coteaux du Languedoc 2015 (14.0%, RRP €23, though currently only in restaurants)
At first the name of this producer might mislead you in to saying “Turner” with French pronunciation, just like Palmer of Margaux, but in fact it is the surname of anglophone Karen Turner, the Australian lady who is half of this partnership. The other half is her other half, Frenchman Emmanuel Pageot. After over ten years of making wine around the world, they set up a domaine together in the Languedoc of just 3.5 hectares, now expanded to 10 Ha. These 10 Ha are split over 17 different parcels, mainly facing north or north west (which makes sense in these southerly latitudes. Viticulture is biodynamic – they even feature quotations from Rudolf Steiner on their website.
Le Blanc is a blend of 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne, though the latter punches above its weight due to 30 days of fermentation on skins to extract as many varietal aromas as possible. This wine therefore gives an introduction to the orange wine category. It’s quite full bodied for a white and combines stone fruit (apricot, peach) with nuts, beeswax and tropical fruits. A very impressive wine.
Domaine Turner Pageot “Les Choix” Vin de France 2014 (13.5%, RRP €39, though currently only in restaurants)
If Le Blanc was an introduction into orange wine, then Les Choix is at the forefront. This is 100% Marsanne from steep north – north-west slopes, fermented in whole bunches. The juice spends five weeks being macerated on the skins, including regular pigeages(punching down the floating cap of solids) and wild yeast fermentation is not temperature controlled – this helps to bring the funk!
Perhaps showing the power of suggestion, I did imagine some orange notes when tasting this orange wine – and what a great ambassador for the category it is! It has texture and tannin but fruit too – an incredibly complex wine that deserves serious consideration and contemplation. Orange wine is still something of a rarity, but wines like this show what they can do; they really do belong in their own category beside red, white and rosé!
Quintessential Wines are are specialist wine importers, distributors and retailers based in Drogheda, just north of Dublin, and with an online store. Here are a few of their wines which really took my fancy at their portfolio tasting in April:
Doran Vineyardsis the baby of Irish born Edwin Doran, partnered by South African winemaking legend André (“Adi”) Badenhorst. “Baby” is actually quite apt as the winery was redeveloped as recently as 2012.
This wine is quite an unusual blend, one that could only really be from South Africa: 57% Chenin Blanc, 22% Grenache Blanc and 21% Roussanne. The nose has citrus, herbs and floral notes; the wine is soft and supple in the mouth with fresh apple, stone fruit, citrus and a hint of nuts. This blend is lovely to drink on its own but is also very food friendly.
Clos Cazalet Tursan Carpe Diem 2015 (12.5%, RRP €16.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)
Tursanis one of the lesser known appellations of south west France, spanning the border between the new regions of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitanie. It also has a lesser known grape at the heart of its white wines – the delightfully named Baroque which must be between 30% and 90% of the blend. The balance is made up by a combination of Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc. Reds are based on Tannat (40% maximum), Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Clos Cazalet is one of the few independent producers in Tursan. Their Carpe Diem comprises 60% Gros Manseng, 30% Baroque and 10% Petit Manseng. This blend gives a full “here comes the Lilt man” tropical experience – pineapple, peach, pear and grapefruit. it’s soft and round in the mouth, a perfect summer drink!
Mas des Agrunelles Barbaste 2016 (13.0%, RRP €22.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)
We’re on a go-slow here – well a go-sloe to be exact, as Agrunelles are sloes which are common round this area. And what an area – a part of the Languedoctraditionally not used for viticulture given the cool micro-climate, and instead given over to sheep grazing and charcoal production.
The Domaine was set up by Frédéric Porro of Domaine La Marèle and Stéphanie Ponson of Mas Nicot as the antithesis of bulk cooperative grape production – each small plot is harvested and vinified separately so production is spread over a large number of different wines, though volumes of each are small. It is also worthy of note that Mas des Agrunelles is both organic and biodynamic.
Barbasteis a blend of Chardonnay, Roussanne and Marsanne; it’s a thing of beauty, tangy yet soft(some oxidative softening, perhaps?) with spicy pear and fennel flavours. Very moreish!
Mas des Agrunelles Camp de Lèbre 2015 (12.5%, RRP €27.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)
Another wine from Mas des Agrunelles…whereas Barbaste means “white frost” in Occitan (the local language), Camp de Lèbre means “Field of hares”, as the local varmints help themselves to the tasty wine buds in spring. This is a varietal wine, being 100% Carignan Blancplanted on clay and limestone.
The first line of my tasting notes was: “What the hell is that? it’s Magnificent!” There’s lots of texture and roundness in the mouth (possibly from some time in oak?). Aniseed and herbs partner soft pip and stone fruit – deliciously tangy!
Wine importer Febvre has operated in Ireland for over 50 years, representing some big brands and others not as well known. Here is a selection of the wines I enjoyed at their recent tasting event:
Frères Laffitte Le Petit Gascoûn Blanc 2016 (11.5%, RRP €13.50 at Malthouse, Trim; Grapevine, Ballymun; Ennis Gourmet Store)
If the image on the bottle doesn’t give away its origin, then the name of the wine certainly does – Le Petit Gascoûn comes from Gascony in South West France. The white is a blend of Colombardand Ugni Blanc – the latter rarely seen in a table wine in France, though it’s a mainstay of Armagnac and Cognac. It’s a highly aromatic wine with peach, pineappleand lychees on the nose, with those notes continuing on the palate, rounded off by a fresh, crisp finish. Fantastic value for money.
Herdade de Esporão Monte Velho Alentejo Branco 2015 (13.5%, RRP €13.95 at On the Grapevine, Dalkey; 1601, Kinsale)
As with many Portuguese wines, unless you’re very familiar with the country’s wines you might not have heard of the constituent grapes of this wine: Antão Vaz, Roupeiroand Perrum. I assure you that they are genuine grape names and not just a lot of randomly assembled letters! (Plus, Perrum is the Portuguese name for Andalusia’s PedroXiménez.) There’s lots of texture and flavour here, stone fruits with a herbal edge. It’s pleasant drinking on its own, but I’d imagine wonderful with tarragon chicken.
Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé 2015 (13.0%, RRP €29.95 at Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown; Jus de Vin, Portmarnock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St)
On the opposite site of the Loire from Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé isn’t quite as famous and is only around half the size. For me, the wines of Pouilly-Fumé are more consistent, however, possibly due to fewer négotiants trading on the reputation of the appellation rather than the quality of their wine. Château de Tracy is a serious contender for best producer on the right bank, and this wine shows why: supple, concentrated fruit with no hard edges, full of fresh grapefruit and gooseberry. Just delicious!
Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Riesling 2014 (12.5%, RRP €19.95 at On the Grapevine, Dalkey; Lilac Wines, Fairview)
Tucked out of the way just south east of Blenheim, Lawson’s Dry Hills is one of Marlborough’s relatively unheralded family wineries, but produces some excellent wines – I’m still holding on to my last few bottles of their 2008 Chardonnay which is stunning. Their Riesling has been a firm favourite of mine for at least a decade. This 2014 is developing nicely and, while still showing primary lime, lemon and elderflower notes, is also starting to give some lovely petrol aromas. Just off-dry with 8.2g/L of residual sugar, it’s a lovely summer tipple on its own or with plenty of different recipes.
d’Arenberg the Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2015 (13.1%, RRP €16.95 at O’Briens Wines; Gerrys, Skerries; SuperValu; Egans, Portlaoise; Bradleys, Cork)
d’Arenberg are one of the few McLaren Vale producers who use traditional basket presses and other traditional techniques for gentler handling of the fruit and therefore better wine. The Hermit Crab is from their “Originals” range and is a blend of two white Rhône grapes; 58% Viognier and 42% Marsanne for the 2015 vintage. While the Viognier is the senior partner in the blend, it doesn’t dominate the wine with overblown floweriness and oiliness (though some might like that) due to the cool fermentation process which reins in those aspects. It has tangy peachand apricotwith subtle nuts, herbsand spice. Well worth a try if you fancy something different!
Jordan Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.50 at Martins, Fairview & Londis, Malahide)
Somewhat confusingly there are two prominent Jordans – Jordan Wine Estate of Stellenbosch (South Africa) and Jordan Vineyard & Winery of Alexander Valley (California). This is most definitely the former, run by husband and wife team Gary and Kathy Jordan since 1993. They also produce an unoaked Chardonnay which is nice, but this is the real McCoy, the full Monty, the..[ok I’ll stop there] of which 92% is fermented in Burgundian 228L pièces (the remainder tank fermented). The wine was also matured for nine months in a mixture of barrels (45% new, 30% second-fill and 25% third-fill) for texture as well as flavour. It’s not over the top, but it is fairly oaky – and I love it! there’s plenty of buttered toast from the the oak but also pineapple and racy citrus flavours – a well balanced wine!
Here are a couple of lovely French whites from the excellent 2015 vintage, both fairly moderate in alcohol at 12.5% but very different in style:
Saint Auriol Chatelone Corbières 2015 (12.5%, €12.99 at SuperValu / Centra)
Corbières is the biggest Appellation Contrôlée within the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region of France, the central part of southern France stretching from the Spanish border across the Mediterranean coast up to Provence. It’s obviously a sunny place so has long been the source of easy-drinking, fruity reds which are produced in abundance. It is very much a region on the up, with a new wave of quality-conscious producers making their own wines with low yields rather than selling grapes to the local co-operative.
This is a white Corbières, which makes up only around 2% of the AOC’s production, so it is something of a rarity. The wine is a blend of grapes popular in the Rhône, Provence and Languedoc – Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc & Bourboulenc. The vines face south-east so they get plenty of sun but not too much heat in the afternoon.
Each of the grapes adds something to the wine – there’s soft pear, appleand stone fruit, a touch of citrusand nuttynotes – and a delightful texture. The back label suggests drinking between 10C and 12C – so make sure it’s not served straight from a domestic fridge which would be too cold.
The back label also has another surprising snippet: the producer reckons the wine will keep for 6 years or more if stored well – if you are the sort of person who likes to see how a wine evolves and gains in complexity over time then this would be a great bottle to try it with!
La Vigne Des Sablons Vouvray 2015 (12.5%, €14.99 at SuperValu / Centra)
Still in France but further north, Vouvray is made in the Touraine region around the city of Tours. Touraine region wines can be red, white, rosé or sparkling; reds are made from Gamay, Pinot Noir, Côt (Malbec) and Breton (Cabernet Franc), amongst others with Sauvignon Blanc and Pineau Blanc de la Loire (Chenin Blanc) the main white grapes.
Vouvrayis east by north east of Tours and is predominantly Chenin country. The sweetness of the wines varies considerably from producer to producer, and particularly from vintage to vintage – warmer years mean more sugar in the grapes and usually more sugar in the finished wine.
This bottle by La Vigne des Sablons is off-dry or perhaps a touch sweeter, but doesn’t taste overtly sweet due to Chenin’s naturally high acidity. The main notes are freshand bakedapple, drizzled with a touch of honey. It’s dangerously drinkable! A great introduction to Vouvray from which you could explore others.
After a show of hands at the previous meet, the theme of the most recent DNS Wine Club tasting was FUN! Wine can be a very technical and complicated subject, and as something of a geek that often appeals to me, but at the end of the day the main point of wine is pleasure.
So how do you make a tasting more fun? Play games! But which games? I divided the DNS gang into two teams, opened some fizz and gave them their first task.
I reviewed John Wilson’s book “Wilson On Wine 2015 – The Wines To Drink This Year” hereand refer to it frequently. For each wine reviewed there are lots of details, especially on the background of the wine, along with a fairly short tasting note. As tasting is such a subjective thing (and taste too, but that’s for another day) I wondered how easy it would be to identify wines from their tasting note alone…
Each team was given a sheet with two columns; the first had ten wine names and the second had ten tasting notes taken from John’s book. Two wines were sparkling, four white and four red. Each column was in alphabetical order and the objective was to match the tasting notes to the correct wine.
Bernhard Ott Fass4 Grüner Veltliner 2013
A superb, light, elegant wine, with piquant dark cherry and blueberry fruits.
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Extra Brut NV
Almond blossoms on the nose; light, elegant, sophisticated crisp green fruits with excellent Minerality. A perennial favourite.
Coca y Fito DO Terra Alta Jaspi Blanc 2012
An exuberant, fresh wine bursting with pineapples and tropical fruits.
Jeio Prosecco DOCG Valdobiadenne Spumante Brut NV
Bracing and herby with an inviting texture and a snappy dry finish.
Kasarí Zorah Areni Noir 2012
Delectably light and tangy but with rosehips and fresh, piquant red fruits. Great with food.
Moric Burgenland Blaufränkish 2012
Fresh pear and peach fruits with a good lively citrus edge
Pieropan Soave Classico 2013
Intriguing, lifted fragrant black cherries with good acidity and a light earthiness, finishing on a smooth note. Different and delicious wine.
Quinta Milú Ribera del Duero 2013
Pure piquant damson fruits, good acidity and a lightly tannic finish. Delicious.
Santa Rita Medalla Real Leyda Valley Chardonnay 2011
Restrained peach and apple fruits with subtle toasted nuts and a core of citrus acidity.
Thymiopolous Naoussa Xinomavro 2013
Succulent ripe fruits cut through with a delicious minerality and great length.
You might want to try this at home. Bear the following hints in mind that were given on the night:
As both columns are in alphabetical order it is possible that a wine may still be lined up opposite its true tasting note, though most aren’t.
The longest tasting note belongs to (probably) the most expensive white wine.
The Prosecco note should be very easy to identify as it nearly always tastes of one particular fruit.
One of the wines includes a colour in its name (though not in English) which is included in the corresponding tasting note (in English).
Yes, most of these hints are fairly esoteric / tenuous / difficult – but that’s how I roll!
ROUND 2 – Call My (Wine) Bluff
For those know aren’t familiar with it, Call My Bluff is a long-running UK game show where celebrity contestants on a team take it in turn to give three definitions of an obscure word, only one of which is correct. The other team then tries to choose the correct definition and discard the bluffs.
The wine version has a similar structure, but instead of word definitions the guessing team has to divine which of three tasting notes they are given match the wine in their glass and their mouth!
For five white wines and three red wines, these are the choices which were proffered:
(A) Famille Bougrier Les Hautes Lieux Vin de France Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(B) José Pareinte Rueda Verdejo 2014
(C) Marqués de Riscal Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(A) Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Chardonnay 2012
(B) Les Auzines Fleur Blanches Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014
(C) Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014
(A) Dog Point Section 94 2008
(B) Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
(C) Greywacke Marlborough Wild Sauvignon 2012
(A) Frantz Saumon Minérale+ Montlouis 2012
(B) Les Auzines Fleur Blanches Vin de Pays d’Oc 2014
(C) Marqués de Riscal Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2013
(A) Atlantico Sur Reserve Tannat 2011
(B) Château Bouscassé Madiran 2007
(C) El Castro de Valtuille Bierzo 2013
(A) Aldi Lot 01 Uco Valley Malbec-Cabernet 2013
(B) Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Supérieur 2012
(C) Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
(A) Château Milhau-Lacugue “Les Truffières” Saint Chinian 2010
(B) Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
(C) Taltarni Heathcote Shiraz 2008
For the guessing team, some of the choices were more difficult if there was a similarity between the choices, e.g. for White 1 there were 2 regions and 2 grapes over 3 wines.
It was actually easiest to bluff when the reader didn’t know if they were giving the note for the correct wine or not! I suppose it is good to know that most people aren’t good liars, even if it’s just for fun.
ROUND 3 – Match the Critic (Encore)
Now the kicker to see if everyone had been paying attention! A double list – similar to that handed out in Round 1 – was given to each team, this time with eight wine names and tasting notes. But these weren’t just any wines taken from John’s book – they were the eight that everyone had tasted in Round 2! So of course, this final round had double points awarded.
Atlantico Sur Reserve Tannat 2011
A delicious modern style of Bordeaux with light creamy cassis fruits and a smooth easy finish.
Château Sainte-Marie Bordeaux Supérieur 2012
A subtle and delectable blend of citrus and green fruits with a touch of honey
Domaine La Sarabande Faugères 2011
Exhilarating precise acidity with pristine green fruits. Inspiring, thrilling wine.
Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2013
Fresh, tangy, lemon and grapefruit, balanced out by clean green fruits, and a dry finish.
Good, deeply satisfying wine with firm, dark ripe fruits and a dry finish.
José Pareinte Rueda Verdejo 2013
Light toasted nut aromas, fresh textured pineapples fruits and excellent length. Great wine at a very reasonable price.
Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches
Lightly toasted notes combined with peaches, almonds and honey. Unusual and perfectly formed.
Tahbilk Victoria Marsanne 2014
Succulent and ripe, filled with dark cherry fruits dusted with spices
Blind tasting, even single blind, is difficult. Tasting notes are subjective, and, unsurprisingly, it’s much easier to understand someone else’s when you’re tasting the same wine they had. Context is very important so knowing the background to a wine can give you a lot of clues about why it tastes a certain way and where it’s headed.
In February I was delighted to accept an invitation to an exciting wine and food event at Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar on St Andrew’s Street in Dublin. The wines were from Northern Rhône starYvesCuilleron, which gives us a full house of names.
The wines were selected by Wine Director Morgan Vanderkamer and introduced by Yves himself. As one of the few other French speakers I was given the honour of occasional interpreter. The amazing menu was put together by proprietor & Head Chef Stephen McArdle (nickname Stanley!) who takes inspiration from French cuisine in particular.
Cave Yves Cuilleron
Yves elucidates the history behind his family vineyards on his websitebut, en bref, he took over the family vineyards when his uncle retired in 1987 – he surprised his relatives by throwing himself into the family business. He has constantly innovated and invested since then, building a new cellar then later a new winery, and expanding his vineyards across most of the northern Rhône’s appellations.
For around ten years, Cuilleron wines have been brought into Ireland by Le Caveau.
Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar
Stanley’s has a wine bar on the ground floor, with a well-curated and interesting list by the bottle and by the glass. Where else could you try a mini-flight of skin contact orange wines?
Upstairs is the main dining room – light and airy during the day but feeling more sophisticated in the evening. The top floor has also been made available as a private dining room (no photos yet, it’s that new!)
The faux-military portraits are great talking points.
So now we’ve set the scene and done a bit of a guided tour, down to business with the food and wine!
This is a simple wine made to be drunk young, but is very approachable. I was lucky enough (by virtue of my linguistics) to be able to taste the single bottle of 2012 available. There’s fresh peach and a hint of honey with a touch of breadiness from time on the lees.
For his IGP wines, Yves tries to bring out the characteristics of the grape, which of course can be stated on the label for IGP wines but not for AOP wines. Marsanne is often partnered with Roussanne in the northern Rhône but here it shines on its own.
Cornas is a mono-cépage wine, i.e. it’s a 100% varietal under AOP regulations – and that variety is Syrah. Until relatively recently, Cornas wines were often rough round the edges, euphemistically termed “rustic”. They needed time in the bottle to soften up, and you just had to hope that there was enough fruit left by then.
Yves’s Cornas is modern, clean and fruity, without being “manufactured”. There’s power here but it’s from intensity of flavour rather than high alcohol. Black cherry, blackberry and plum combine with tobacco and spice – the latter particularly hitting it off with the gingerbread.
When it comes to foodstuffs, some people can be funny buggers. Unfortunately, I’m one of them – and rabbit is never on the menu in my house. Out of respect for my hosts and fellow dinners I tried the dish – and was astounded! I’ve been missing out on delicious things like this for years! Bunny owners better put some good latches on your hutches!
Up to 20% Viognier is permitted in the red wines of this appellation, as long as the grapes are cofermented, though in practice it is rarely that high. Traditionally Côte Rôtie is split between the Côte Brune in the north with dark, iron-rich schist and the Côte Blonde in the south with pale granite and schist soil. Yves is more a believer in the importance of each vineyard’s aspect, i.e. which direction it faces.
2009 was a very good, warm vintage across much of France, including the northern Rhône. This comes through in power, warmth and fruit – venturing more into the red fruit part of the spectrum than the Cornas. There’s also both floral and savoury notes on the nose – sounds like quite a contradiction, but lovel – and an amazing match with the rich venison!
This is a sweet, Late Harvest style with some botrytis (noble rot). The semi-dessicated grapes are hand-picked with several sorting stages from mid-October to mid-November, then pressed and left to settle.
It has around 100 g/L of residual sugar, but is soft and soothing without being cloying. A simple rule of thumb for dessert wines is, does the acidity balance the sugar? And in this case, undoubtedly yes!
As regular readers will know I’m far from a cheese fan myself, but I was told the Cashel Blue was lovely and went well with the Condrieu. I can attest, however, that the latter was lovely with the salted caramel.
Mascarpone, white chocolate, pear Yves Cuilleron Condrieu “La Petite Côte” 2013
This is the sort of wonderfully rich wine that a novice taster might think was sweet – it isn’t, but shows apparent sweetness due to abundant fruit and a slight oiliness in the mouth. It’s dry but not Sahara dry.
It was something of a bold selection – moving back to a dry wine to accompany dessert – but it worked because the dessert wasn’t super sweet, with acidity from the pear, and the honeyed notes from the wine.
Many thanks to Patrick, Stephen, Morgan and Yves for a fantastic evening!