Tasting Events

A February Feast, part 2

Following on from A February Feast, part 1, here are some of the reds which really impressed me at the Tindal’s portfolio tasting in February.  In my dash round the hall I only got to taste one wine from the Tyrrell’s table – as they have just partnered up with Tindal’s they were new to the portfolio and hence probably the busiest table there!

 

Craggy Range Martinborough Te Muna Road Pinot Noir 2012 (€39.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown))

Te Muna Road

Although Central Otago gets most of the column inches nowadays, Martinborough remains one of the top regions for Pinot Noir within New Zealand.  Like all Craggy Range’s …erm … range, this is a single vineyard bottling.  The Te Muna Road vineyard is pictured above, and as this is New Zealand it is obviously bigger than some Burgundian Clos.

The 2012 is a serious wine, with concentrated red and black fruit, balanced tannins and a very smooth finish.  I could see this still tasting lovely into the next decade.

Château Pesquié Ventoux Les Terrasses Rouge 2014 (€19)

Vue_du_Ventoux

Fred Chaudière’s family estate is considered to be among the best of the Ventoux in the Southern Rhône.  Although Château Pesquié has a range of bottlings from the everyday to very serious (see some more of the latter here), it’s the Terrasses Rouge which stands out as a great buy.  Certified organic from 2014, it consists of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, with minor traces of Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre.  Buy a magnum and book a day off!

Château Spencer La Pujade Corbières “Le Millésime” 2008 (€27.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Cashel Wine Cellar (Cashel))

diapo1

Winemaker Sebastien Bonneaud loves his beret and loves his Carignan, being one of its fiercest supporters.  This cuvée is an unusual departure for him in that it is made from 80% Mourvèdre and 20% Syrah.  After fermentation the wine is matured from 14 to 16 months in 100% new 300 and 600 litre French oak barrels, as befits an upmarket cuvée (“Le Millésime” literally translates as “The Vintage”).

At over seven years old the oak is now very well integrated, and though its influence is felt it does not stick out or jarr at all.  It’s big, round and powerful, but also elegant.

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2013 (€26.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Nolans Butchers (Kilcullen))

Badia

Badia a Coltibuono – literally translated as “Abbey of the Good Harvest” – has existed for a millennium, with the monks gradually expanding their landholdings, until significant change arrived under Napoleonic secularisation in 1810.  This Chianti Classico is made from 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo (which softens the edges).  Wild yeast are used for fermentation and it then spends a year in cask before bottling.  Chianti’s signature notes are all present – sweet / sour red and black cherries, tobacco (highlighted by the tannins) and vanilla from the oak.

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2009 (€39.50, Searsons (online & Monkstown)

2016-02-23 13.43.47

This was one of the highlights of the tasting for me.  It has a noticeable family resemblance to the standard Chianti Classico above, but more depth of flavour and even smoother. The wine is made from the best selection of grapes, then the best barrels spend a further 12 months ageing on top of the standard bottling’s 12.  A serious wine which is seriously drinkable!

Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscana 2011 (€58.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown))

Sangioveto is the old local name for the Sangiovese grape, a nod to tradition for Badia a Coltibuono’s top red.  Only made in the best vintages, with extra ripe fruit and maturation in French oak barrels, it is arguably Super Tuscan in style, even though it is a varietal Sangiovese – this is also hinted at by the IGT Toscana classification.  Some might decry the break from tradition, but then Chianti used to contain 15% Malvasia Blanca!

This is a powerful but soft wine, lots of black fruit supported by soft tannins and 15% alcohol.  Lovely to drink now, especially if decanted, but it would be worth stashing a few of these away for 2020.

 

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Tasting Events

A February Feast, part 1

The end of January to April is a very busy time in the Dublin wine calendar, with lots of country, producer and distributor portfolio tastings.  Among the many excellent events is Tindal’s Portfolio Tasting at the swanky Marker Hotel in Dublin’s Dockland.  I had less than sixty minutes to taste so had to pick and choose; here are the white wines which impressed me most.

Domaine William Fevre Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2012 (€45, Searsons (online & Monkstown) and 64 Wine (Glasthule))

2016-02-23 14.09.46

William Fevre is undoubtedly in the top echelon of Chablis producers with an extensive range across the chablis hierarchy.  This Premier Cru is better than some Grand Crus I have had, combining zingy acidity, minerality and ripe fruit. Drinking well now but will continue evolving over the next decade.

Domaine William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru Bougros “Côte Bouguerots” 2009 (€90, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Gibneys (Malahide))

2016-02-23 14.09.50

Moving up to Grand Cru level and an older, warmer vintage brings even more complexity, fruit sweetness and integration.  There is still Chablis’s trademark stony minerality and acidity, so it remains refreshing.  Would pair well with white and seafood up to gamebird.

Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils Meursault “Les Clous” 2013 (€47.50, Searsons (online & Monkstown)

Colline_de_Corton

Whereas a ripe Chablis might conceivably fool you into thinking it came from further south in Burgundy, the converse could not be said of this Meursault – it is decidedly of the Côte d’Or.  Bouchard was established close to 300 years ago and have expanded their land under vine at opportune moments.

Meursault is probably my favourite village in the Côte de Beaune, and is the archetype for oaked Chardonnay.  This being said, the use of oak is often judicious, and so it is here; there’s plenty of lemon and orange fruit with a little toastiness from the oak.  Very nice now, but a couple more years of integration would make it even better.

Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2013 (€27.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Parting Glass (Enniskerry))

Kidnappers Vineyard

This is a cool climate Chardonnay from one of my all time favourite producers, Craggy Range.  The origin of the usual name is explained on their website:

Its namesake, Cape Kidnappers, comes from an incident that occurred during Captain Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand in 1769. When Cook attempted to trade with the native Maori in an armed canoe, a Tahitian servant of Cook’s interpreter was seized. The servant later escaped by jumping into the sea after the canoe was fired upon.

Hawke’s Bay does have some fairly warm areas, with the well-drained Gimblett Gravels in particular perfect for growing Syrah and Bordeaux varieties, but cooler parts are located up in the hills or – as in this case – close to the coast.  The aim is apparently to emulate Chablis; with only a little bit of older oak and clean fruit, it’s definitely close.  The 2013 is drinking well now but will benefit from another year or two – the 2008s I have in my wine fridge are really opening up now!

Domaines Schlumberger Alsace Pinot Blanc “Les Princes Abbés” 2013 (€18.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown)

72DPI 300PX Grand Cru Saering - Domaines Schlumberger

Another intriguingly named wine.  In 1298 the Abbots of the nearby Murbach Abbey were given the status of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire by Emperor Frederick II, and were henceforth known as Abbot Princes.

This is clean and somewhat simple, but fruity and expressive.  When done well, Pinot Blanc can be versatile and more approachable than many other of the Alsace varieties – it will go with lots of things, is well balanced and fruity enough to drink on its own.

Domaines Schlumberger Alsace Grand Cru Saering Riesling 2012 (€29.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown)

2016-02-23 13.49.33

Schlumberger have Riesling vines on several of their Grand Cru properties, and it’s a wine geek’s dream to taste them head to head to see what the difference in terroir makes.  All wines are organic and biodynamic; whether you place importance on these or not, the care that goes into them certainly pays dividends in the glass.

This 2012 Saering is still very young, showing tangy lime and grapefruit, but a pleasure to drink nevertheless.

Domaines Schlumberger Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives “Cuvée Christine” 2006 (€64 (750ml), Searsons (online & Monkstown))

kessler_1

This late harvest Gewurztraminer is named after the family member Christine Schlumberger who ran the firm for almost 20 years after the death of her husband, and was the grandmother of the current Managing Director Alain Beydon-Schlumberger.

All the fruit is picked late from the Kessler Grand Cru vineyard, packed into small crates so as not to damage the fruit, then taken to the winery for gentle pressing.  Fermentation can take from one to three months using ambient yeast.

On pouring, fabulous aromas jump out of the glass – flowers and white fruit.  They continue through to the palate, and although the wine feels round in the mouth it is tangy and fresh, far from cloying.  A seductive wine that exemplifies the late harvest style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opinion

A Dozen Valentine’s Treats

Valentine’s Day is associated with romance, and hence the colour pink.  This often means that rosé wines are promoted at this time of year, but as they aren’t generally my thing I thought I would recommend a dozen wines of differing hues from O’Briens, who are offering 10% back on their loyalty card (or wine savings account as I call it).

These wines are mainly higher priced for which I make no excuse – these are treats for yourself and / or your significant other!  Of course, they would make a nice treat for Mother’s Day or at any time of year…

Chateau Kirwan Margaux Troisième Cru 2010 (€95.00)

Chateau-Kirwan-2010

The last of Bordeaux’s fantastic four vintages within eleven years (2000, 2005 2009, 2010) allows this Margaux to show its class but be more approachable than in leaner years.  You could keep this for another decade or two if you didn’t want to drink it yet.  Decant for several hours after opening if you can, and serve with beef.

Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (€62.00)

Penfolds-Bin-407-Cabernet-Sauv

One of Penfolds’ top Cabernet Sauvignons which combines power, fruit and elegance. 2010 happened to be a great vintage in South Australia as well, so if you’re climbing the quality tree it’s a good time to do it.  Being a Cab means it’s all about cassis, intense blackcurrant aromas and flavours, with some vanilla to go with it.

1757 Bordeaux 2012 (€49.99)

1757-Bordeaux

This is a very interesting wine for the geeks out there as it is a custom blend of parcels from well known appellations from around Bordeaux including Paulliac, Graves and Canon-Fronsac.  It was created by JM Cazes group winemaker Daniel Llose and O’Briens Head of Wine Buying Lynne Coyle MW.  Oh, and it tastes wonderful as well!

Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2013 (€27.95)

Ata-Rangi-Crimson-Pinot-Noir

Ata Rangi is one of stars of Martinbrough, an hour or so drive from Wellington in the south of New Zealand’s North Island.  Crimson is their second wine intended to be drunk while young rather than laid down, but it is first rate in quality.  Beats any Pinot from France at this price point.

Lanson Rose Label NV (€57.95 down to €45.00)

 

Lanson-Rose-Label-NV

This isn’t a token rosé, it’s a proper Champagne which happens to be pink.  Lanson’s house style is based on preventing / not encouraging malolactic fermentation in the base wines, meaning they remain fresh and zippy even after the secondary alcoholic fermentation which produces the fizz.  Texture is key here as well, and the lovely red fruits have a savoury edge.  You could even drink this with pork or veal.  Great value when on offer.

Beaumont des Crayeres Grande Réserve NV Champagne (€36.95 down to €30.00)

Beaumont-des-Crayeres-GR

Another Champagne which is even less expensive, but still a few steps above most Prosecco and Cava on the market.  The regulations for non vintage Champagne stipulate a minimum of 15 months ageing on the lees, but the lovely toasty notes from this show it has significantly more than that.  Punches well above its price.

L’Extra par Langlois NV (€19.99)

L_extra-par-Langlois

The Loire Valley is home to a multitude of wine styles, including Crémant (traditional method sparkling) such as this.  Made from internationally famous Chardonnay and local speciality Chenin, it doesn’t taste the same as Champagne – but then why should it?  The quality makes it a valid alternative, not surprising when you learn that it’s owned by Bollinger!

Graham’s Port LBV 2009 (€22.99)

Grahams

Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) is a great way to get into serious quality Port without paying the full price for Vintage Port.  Whereas the latter is bottled quickly after fermentation and laid down for many years, LBV spends time maturing in casks.  There it slowly loses colour and tannin but gains complexity.  Graham’s is one of the most celebrated Port Houses and their LBV is one of the benchmarks for the category.

Chanson Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2010 (€60.49)

Chanson-Chab-GrandCru-Les-Clos

Grand Cru Chablis is a very different beast from ordinary Chablis.  It’s often oaked, though sympathetically rather than overpoweringly, and can develop astounding complexity.  Among the seven (or eight, depending on who you ask) Grand Crus, Les Clos is often regarded as the best of the best.  At just over five years from vintage this is still a baby – it would be even better in another five years but it might be impossible to resist!

Château-Fuissé les Brûlés 2012 (€42.00)

Ch-Fuisse-les-Brules

Pouilly-Fuissé is probably the best appellation of the Maconnais, Burgundy proper’s most southerly subregion which borders the north of Beaujolais.  The white wines here are still Chardonnay, of course, but the southerly latitude gives it more weight and power than elsewhere in Burgundy.  Oak is often used in generous proportions as the wine has the fruit to stand up to it.  This Château-Fuissé is one of my favourites from the area!

Greywacke Wild Ferment Sauvignon 2013 (29.95)

Greywacke-Wild-Ferment-Sauvignon

It’s a Sauvignon Blanc, but then it’s not just a Sauvignon Blanc.  Kevin Judd was the long time winemaker of Cloudy Bay, finally branching out on his own a few years ago.  The wild yeast and partially oaking give this a very different sensibility from ordinary Sauvignons.  It’s not for everybody, but those that like it, love it!

Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2011 (€29.45)

Man-O_War-Valhalla-Chardonnay

One of my favourite New Zealand wines, full stop.  I have mentioned this wine several times over the past few years…mainly as I just can’t get enough of it!  It’s made in Waiheke Island in Auckland Bay so has more weight than, say, a Marlborough Chardonnay, but still enough acidity to keep it from being flabby.  Tropical fruit abounds here – just make sure you don’t drink it too cold!

 

 

 

 

 

Make Mine A Double

Make Mine a Double #01 – Paddy Borthwick and Pegasus Bay Riesling

When I’m hosting wine tastings, especially for less experienced tasters, I try my best to serve wines in related pairs to best illustrate the differences made by one particular factor.

For example, tasting a McLaren Vale GSM blend back to back with a Chateauneuf du Pape from the same year is more illuminating than comparing the later with a mature Barossa Shiraz.

And now I’m going to apply that principle to wine reviews – a series of articles where each covers two wines that have something in common, and most likely some point of difference.  Compare and contrast is the order of the day – so make mine a double!

Two New Zealand Rieslings

Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling (L) and Paddy Borthwick Riesling (R)
Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling (L) and Paddy Borthwick Riesling (R)

As well as the runaway export leader Sauvignon Blanc, NZ is noted for its Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.  However, other aromatic varieties in addition to SB also perform well in many parts of the country – Pinot Gris, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling.  Here are two that I recently enjoyed together, from places with similar (at first) looking names but actually on different islands.

Paddy Borthwick Wairarapa Riesling 2013 (€14.95, Wines Direct)

Paddy Borthwick Wairarapa Riesling 2013
Paddy Borthwick Wairarapa Riesling 2013

Disclosure: Sample kindly provided for review

Although the name wouldn’t seem out of place in Dublin, Paddy Borthwick is a fifth generation Kiwi farmer based in Gladstone at the heart of Wairarapa, close to Wellington. 90% of his produce is exported, including Sauvignon Blanc (amazingly tropical, mango and passion fruit) and Pinot Gris (to die for).

Wairarapa (www.nzwine.com)
Wairarapa (www.nzwine.com)

Fairly pale in colour, though not water white, this is unmistakably Riesling on the nose – very aromatic.  There’s a sense of sweet fruit in the aromas, even though sugar isn’t supposed to be volatile (explain THAT, Mr WSET!)

The palate is tangy and fresh, with enticing flavours of grapefruit, ginger and exotic spices, lemon and lime – there’s striking acidity through the middle and a touch of sweetness, perfectly balanced.  Although this was lovely to drink on it’s own it would really shine with East or mild-medium spiced South Asian food.

Pegasus Bay Waipara Encore Noble Riesling 2008 (~£25 375ml, The Wine Society)

Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling
Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling

Pegasus Bay is one of the standout producers of Waipara, part of the larger Canterbury wine region north west of Christchurch.  They produce a wine range of wines from which it is difficult to choose a favourite.  I particularly enjoyed the Chardonnay and several Rieslings when tasting at the cellar door in 2009.

Waipara / Canterbury (www.nzwine.com)
Waipara / Canterbury

The Noble in the name of the wine of course refers to noble rot, Botrytis cinerea, which is allowed to grow on grapes left late on the vine.  This reduces the water content of the grapes, hence concentrating the sugars, and also adds complex flavours.

This 2008 is almost gold in colour, a combination of the sweetness, age and botrytis (here’s a reminder).  It’s lusciously sweet, but not cloying; the residual sugar levels are high but balanced by the acidic streak running through the wine.  Although now seven years old it’s still tangy, with rich flavours of peach,apricot and nectarine, plus some mushroom notes from the botrytis.  Above all it’s an interesting wine!

Tasting Events

A half-dozen of the best from the Ely BIG Tasting

Twice a year the Ely Winebar and Restaurant Group hold consumer tastings at their larger venue in Dublin’s IFSC.  Over a dozen of their wine suppliers show a selection of their wines, both currently listed and not listed, so that consumers get a chance to try new things and their feedback might lead to new listings!

The tastings are very well organised by Ely Group Wine Manager Ian Brosnan and Head of Biz Dev Jeri Mahon – thanks to both them and all the other staff supporting the event.

Here are a few of the wines which really stood out for me:

1. Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV (Liberty Wine) {by the glass at Ely Place and Ely CHQ}

Champagne Charlie
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve

Perhaps it was the occasion, the perfect serving temperature or perhaps just a little extra time in bottle since I tried this last year, but Charles was tasting fantastic. The fruit is lovely and there’s some light biscotti notes from ageing on the lees. Perfectly balanced and poised, this is a definite candidate for the best non-vintage Champagne on the market.

2. San Lorenzo Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi Superiore ‘Vigna delle Oche’ Marche 2012 (GrapeCircus at Sheridan’s) {by the glass at Ely Place and Ely CHQ}

San Lorenzo Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi Superiore ‘Vigna delle Oche’ 2012
San Lorenzo Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi Superiore ‘Vigna delle Oche’ 2012

San Lorenzo is a well-established family producer now run by Natalino Crognaletti – something of a madman/eccentric/genius* (delete as appropriate) who is not only organic, not only biodynamic, but also believes in being self-sufficient. This means that he follows a minimal intervention path of wine making, with much more work required in the vineyard, but even goes so far as to keep chickens so he has his own eggs for fining the wines before bottling!! (This helps remove any big particles and can be an alternative to filtration which can strip out the flavours.

So what’s the result in the glass? Loads and loads of flavour! There’s minerality, citrus and soft stone fruit – and oodles of texture, which would make it a great food wine. You need to give this a try to taste something off the beaten path.

3. Domaine des Baumard Savennières “Clos de St Yves” 2010 (Tyrrell & Co)

Domaine des Baumard Savennières "Clos St Yves"
Domaine des Baumard Savennières “Clos St Yves”

This wine sparked such a positive reaction that I was moved to note the highly articulate comment: “Toast toast toast – frickin awesome!”

Chenin Blanc is one of the world’s most under-rated grapes, and the Loire Valley is perhaps France’s most under-appreciated wine producing areas. Having said that, I don’t often fancy the drier versions, but adore the sweeter ones, all of them having a trademark streak of acidity through the middle.

This example really hit the spot! It has already started to take on more interesting flavours but hasn’t lost its freshness. Tasted blind this would fool plenty into thinking it was a posh white Burgundy.

The producer likes his wines to be as clean as possible so uses no oak barrels and seals bottles with screwcaps rather than corks – thumbs up from me.

4. Paddy Borthwick Wairarapa Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Wines Direct) {by the glass at Ely CHQ}

Paddy Borthwick Wairarapa Sauvignon Blanc 2014
Paddy Borthwick Wairarapa Sauvignon Blanc 2014

The third word there is the wine region of Wairarapa in the south of New Zealand’s North Island, not to be confused with Waipara which is north of Cantebury on the South Island. It’s an area more well-known for its Pinot Noir, particularly in the main subregion of Martinborough (again, not to be confused with Marlborough), but it is also home to some excellent aromatic whites.

Rather than gooseberry, asparagus and grapefruit which are stereotypical Marlborough Savvy flavours, Sauvignon from here is often even more tropical. This lovely example from Paddy Borthwick had passion fruit notes jumping out of the glass – in fact it reminded me of the passion fruit Mojito that my wife had at Cleaver East on Mother’s Day!

5. Sipp Mack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2009 (Mitchell & Son) {by the glass at Ely CHQ}

Sipp Mack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2009
Sipp Mack Alsace Grand Cru Rosacker Riesling 2009

I could happily have spent the evening just smelling this amazing wine (but then I’d have missed out on so much else!) Sipp Mack is one of the top echelon of Alsace producers and a personal favourite of mine, especially their Grand Cru Riesling and Pinot Gris bottles. There’s a touch of sweetness which acts as a counterpoint to the zippy acidity and mineral freshness.

This is drinking gorgeously now but, if you could keep your hands off it, will be even more amazing in five years’ time.

6. D’Arenburg “Lucky Lizard” Chardonnay 2012 (Febvre)

D'Arenberg Adelaide Hills "Lucky Lizard" Chardonnay
D’Arenberg Adelaide Hills “Lucky Lizard” Chardonnay

This is Unreconstructed, All-original, Can’t be bettered, Aussie Chardonnay!

The past decade has seen Australian Chardonnay move back from big, alcoholic fruit bombs to more subtle, mineral and food-friendly styles. Mclaren Vale’s D’Arenburg hasn’t really followed that trend, which wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows of the current boss Chester Osbourne – his shirts are so loud they can be seen from space and he released a wine called Fuckeliana (yes, really!)

In fairness this is actually made the other side of Adelaide from their base, up in the Adelaide Hills which is the source of Shaw + Smith’s M3 Chardonnay. It’s big but doesn’t have that buttery, especially melted butter, taste of some Chardonnays.

Why change when it’s this good?

More to come!

Opinion

A Taste that’s out of this World

Peregrine Winery Central Otago
Peregrine Winery Central Otago

Some parts of Central Otago look like another world – wild doesn’t even start to cover it. Now vying with Martinborough as the best place for Pinot Noir in New Zealand, there’s an amazing variety of landscapes – some more resembling moonscapes in the former gold-mining areas.

It’s rugged, but beautifully rugged, even on an overcast day.

But it’s not just about Pinot – other varieties do well in the cooler climate down here as well. Chardonnay is an obvious one (Felton Road for example) and so is Riesling.  I think it’s fair to say that New Zealand is still finding its feet with Riesling, but there are some increasingly complex, balanced and just plain delicious wines being made.

Peregrine Central Otago
Peregrine Winery

Peregrine Central Otago Riesling 2010

With excellent acidity, this tastes nigh on dry – the 5 g/l of Residual Sugar adds body and balance without being obviously sweet.  It’s a fabulously versatile wine, great on its own on with anything from seafood to Thai.  At almost five years of age there are secondary aroma and flavours starting to develop along side the lemon and lime of its youth.

Peregrine Riesling Central Otago
Peregrine Riesling

Alcohol is 13.0% which gives you a hint that it’s no featherweight, but has enough body and oomph to really stand up for itself.  This is the type of wine I’d like to buy a case of and drink gradually over the years.

Stockists: not yet available in Ireland, but should have a RRP of €27 – €29

 

Here’s my review of Peregrine’s Pinot Noir on The Taste

thetaste.ie
Taste

 

Opinion

My Top 10 Reds of 2014

It was nearly impossible to reduce this list down to 10 reds so there are lots of magnificent wines that didn’t make the cut – some fine Chilean Pinots in particular.  Pinot is well represented from numbers 10 to 8…

10. Cline Cellars Sonoma Coast Cool Climate Pinot Noir 2012

Cline Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012
Cline Cellars Pinot Noir 2012

Very few quality American wines make it to Irish shores, and so discovering Cline Cellars Pinot Noir at the Big Ely Tasting was a revelation.  After tasting it again with Fred and Nancy Cline at the James Nicholson Tasting (and some of their other wines) I was definitely a firm fan.

You’d never mistake it for Burgundy, but to be honest it knocks spots off most red Burgundy under €30.  It’s on the big side for Pinot but it has poise and balance so that all its components remain in harmony.

9. Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011

Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011
Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011

This stood out as my favourite Pinot of the whole Annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in Dublin.  While Marlborough wineries are still working out how to get the best out of Pinot Noir, their Wairarapa counterparts across the Cook Strait can already be considered masters of the grape.

One of the top few producers in New Zealand, Ata Rangi is one of the well established Martinborough vineyards making outstanding Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in addition to Pinot Noir.  This has fruit and power, but is soooo smooth that a bottle can disappear in a frighteningly short time!

8. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2002

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2002
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2002

Yes, I’ve included a Champagne among my reds of the year!  But I have my reasons…

Like many rosé Champagnes, particularly those with some age on them, this was actually closer to a still Pinot Noir than a young white Champagne.  And for good reason when you look how it’s made.  70% of the blend is Pinot Noir from Grand Cru villages, of which around 13% from Bouzy is added as red wine.  This is then topped off with 30% Chardonnay from the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger and Chouilly.

I opened this on the day we celebrated my wife’s birthday – something to enjoy while we got ready to go out. My wife wasn’t that impressed by it, but that just meant more for me! The texture is the key for me – it wasn’t that fizzy or zippy, but it had an amazing Pinot nose and soft red fruit on the palate.  I don’t tend to drink much rosé but this shows what it can do.

7. Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz 2009

Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz
Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz 2009

The so-called Baron Of The Barossa, who sadly passed away in 2013, Peter Lehmann was the maker of several ranges of Barossa gems.  They started above the level of everyday wines but went right up to this flagship – more expensive than most people would spend on a regular basis but nowhere near the price of other Aussie icons such as Hill Of Grace or Grange.

At the Comans silent tasting, the 2009 showed that it’s still young and would reward patient cellaring, but it’s so drinkable now that it’s hard to resist.  It’s made in a rich, concentrated old-vine style which is defiantly and definitively Barossa, but there are layers and layers of complexity.  It packs a punch but also makes you think.

6. Château Pesquié Ventoux Artemia

Château Pesquié Ventoux "Artemia" 2006 en magnum
Château Pesquié Ventoux “Artemia” 2006 en magnum

I was lucky enough to taste three different vintages of this southern Rhône superstar during the year – the 2012 from bottle and the 2006 from magnum at the Big Rhône Tasting at Ely, and then the 2005 from magnum at a jaw-droppingly excellent food and wine dinner at Belleek Castle (more to come on that!)

Although its home of Ventoux is situated in the southerly reaches of the Rhône, the cool winds coming off the Mont de Ventoux and Valcluse mountains help maintain acidity and freshness.  Artemia is Château Pesquié’s premium bottling made of equal parts of Grenache and Syrah, both from low-yielding sites

The wines are rich and unctuous, with dark black fruit and spice competing for your attention.  But it’s not all about big fruit, there’s also acidity and minerality there.  I’m trying to see if I can get my hands on a few magnums for myself!

5. Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008

Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008
Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2008

Forget Galaxy Chocolate, this is possibly the smoothest thing known to man – pretty unusual for a Chianti!

The biggest producer in Italy, family owned and run Antinori bought the estate in 1987 and set out to create the ultimate expression of Tuscan Sangiovese.  Clones were specially selected to give velvet and acidity – hence the smoothness.

It has an amazing nose of red and black fruit, but these are joined on the palate by rich dark chocolate. It has an international sensibility but is unmistakably Chianti Classico.  By some distance it’s the best Chianti I have tasted to date!

4. Torres Mas La Plana 2005

Torres Mas La Plana 2005
Torres Mas La Plana 2005

When wines are this good, choosing between different vintages much be like choosing between different children, but if a choice has to be made of all the different vintages tasted of Torres’ Cabernet flagship Mas La Plana then 2005 was the chosen one.

Although regarded as an interloper by many in Spain, Cabernet Sauvignon can actually thrive in the right settings.  As it’s my favourite black grape I say boo to tradition and enjoy this blackcurrant beauty!  Compared to an excellent Rioja there are quite noticeable differences – primarily black fruit rather than Tempranillo’s red strawberries and smokey French oak rather than big vanilla from American oak.

The 2005 still has loads of primary fruit, but has already developed some interesting cedar and tobacco notes. It’s in full bloom but has the structure to last until the end of this decade at least.

3. Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989

Gerard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989
Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989

I didn’t taste enough sweet wines this year for them to deserve their own category, but this fortified Grenache muscled its way into the Reds list.  A Vin Doux Naturel from the Roussillon in South West France, this is similar-ish to Rasteau from the Rhône and Maury close by in Roussillon – and not a million miles away from Port.

Unexpectedly this was my favourite wine from the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting – Age has taken away with one hand – colour has faded significantly – and given back with the other – complexity writ large.  It’s definitely a wine for the winter season but it’s something to look forward to.  Class in a glass.

2. Katnook Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Katnook Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Katnook Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

This was technically drunk in 2015 as it was popped after midnight on New Year’s Eve, but I love it so much I have to include it.  A long time favourite producer since my visit to Coonawarra in 2000, and undoubtedly one of the standout in terms of consistent quality, Katnook Estate makes big cabs that are to die for.

This young example had fresh blackcurrants – so fresh and intense that you would swear you were actually chewing on them – with Coonawarra’s trademark eucalyptus providing additional interest.  It’s my go-to red for good reason!

1. Penfolds Grange 2008

Penfolds Grange 2008
Penfolds Grange 2008

I am an unbashed fan of Australia’s first world class wine, and included some older vintages of Grange in my best wines of 2013.  Without the 2008 for reference I’m pretty sure I would have picked the 2009 for the top spot this year – the 2009 was very nice indeed – but the 2008 was on another level altogether.  Apparently it was awarded the full monty 100 points by both the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator

Only a couple of years after release, it is still an absolute baby of course, but is actually drinkable now.  It has tremendous concentration, and although you can find the American oak if you search for it, fruit dominates the nose and palate.  Blackberry, blackcurrant and damson are tinged with choca-mocha and liquorice.

It’s an immense wine without being intimidating –  At 14.5% the alcohol is fairly middling for an Aussie Shiraz, perhaps tempered by 9% fruit from the cooler Clare Valley.  It’s made to last for decades, but unlike some flagship wines I tasted this year its elements are already harmonious.

As a “collectible” wine that has become bought more and more by investors, Grange has now moved firmly out of my price range.  I am still tempted nevertheless!!

 

Long

State Of The Nation (Part 1): The Annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in Dublin

The New Zealand wine industry is in rude health.  It is still a minnow compared to many other countries, even its close neighbour Australia, but the commitment to quality is unmatched.  A few years ago there was a small dip as large amounts of dilute Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from excess production were offloaded cheaply though UK supermarkets.  That imbalance seems to have been corrected and hopefully we have seen the last of that swill.

Last month I attended the Annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in Dublin (with thanks to Jean Smullen for the invitation!) including the Sauvignon Blanc masterclass.  I got to taste virtually all the wines there, though of course there were lots of wineries not represented.  This post (and part 2, to come) reflect my views on the wines I particularly liked, or at least found interesting.

A brief recap as to the wine regions of New Zealand (with the major ones in bold):

  • Wairapa & Canterbury
  • Martinborough & Wairarapa
  • Central Otago
  • Marlborough
  • Nelson
  • Hawke’s Bay
  • Waitaki
  • Auckland, Matakana, Waiheke & Kumeu
  • Gisborne
  • Northland
  • Waikato & Bay Of Plenty

Sauvignon Blanc Masterclass

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L-R: Matt Thomson, Kevin Judd, Jamie Marfell

I got a spot on the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Masterclass, given by Matt Thomson (Saint Clair), Jamie Marfell (Brancott Estate) and the “godfather of Marlborough Sauvignon”, Kevin Judd (with Cloudy Bay for maaany years and now running his own label Greywacke). Not only did we get a tutored tasting of eight different wines, but there was also lots of interesting information: SB accounts for ~66% of wine production in NZ but ~84% of exports; therefore the the High Commissioner of New Zealand to the UK was probably right that the UK doesn’t get the best NZ Chardonnays see article.

Although the first Sauvignon vines were planted in 1973, the vast majority of current vines were planted in the last decade or so; not only is this due to expansion in the area under vine, Phylloxera hit Marlborough in 1990 so existing vines had to be pulled up and new vines plants (presumably on American rootstocks). Vintage does matter in New Zealand due to the marginal climate – even for whites. It was so cold in 2012 that the grapes were nowhere near ready around the normal harvest time, so winegrowers just had to wait and wait. As Marlborough is dry and windy there is little risk of botrytis.  2012 wines often have green gooseberry flavours rather than the more common tropical and passionfruit characteristics.

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So much Sauvignon, so little time…

In Hawke’s Bay (and to a less extent Wairarapa and Nelson), SB is picked earlier to maintain acidity; hence, flavour is usually less intense than in Marlborough. In particular the cool nights in Marlborough mean the growing season is a long one, and thus more flavour and sugar develops while the acidity slowly drops. As the wines are fermented until technically dry (< 3g RS) they tend to have slightly higher alcohol than other regions. The vast majority of SB is machine harvested so that it can be picked very quickly and at night when temperatures are low (sometimes as cool as 5C). Winemakers are continuously experimenting with the techniques used for the standard, well-recognised style of Sauvignon and are also making alternative styles (see below).

Selected Wine Highlights

I’ve grouped some of the wines I liked best (or found most interesting) by grape rather than producer or importer.

Sauvignon Blanc (An asterix * indicates the wine was part of the Masterclass)

Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2013*

The majority of the fruit comes from the Southern Valleys, a different microclimate from the Wairau “Plains”.  Kevin likes to have a fairly open canopy so that sunlight gets to the grapes.  90% fermented in stainless steel with cultured yeast, 10% fermented in old oak barrels with wild yeast.  Smooth and balanced.

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012

Partially hand picked, and fermented in (mainly) old French oak barrels with naturally occurring yeast.  Occasional batonnage and two thirds go through MLF for softness (this is usually avoided for regular Sauvignons) and additional maturation on the lees for creaminess and complexity.  Note the current release is usually a year later than the standard Sauvignon.

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 18 Snap Block Sauvignon Blanc, Wairau Valley, Marlborough 2012*

This was one of the most successful 2012s shown at the tasting.  Sourced from a single vineyard, it was pressed quickly in small presses and 100% fermented and matured in stainless steel.  Just lovely.

Hunter’s Kaho Roa Wairau Valley, Marlborough 2012*

OK, this is where it gets complicated: 25% was fermented in new French oak barrels, 75% fermented in stainless steel.  Of the latter, half (37.5%) was transferred into barrel for maturation and the remainder was left in stainless steel.  Nice and round in the mouth with subtle oak/vanilla notes. Tohu Mugwi Reserve Awatere Valley, Marlborough 2012* The most subtle of the alternative style Sauvignons.  Being from the cooler Awatere Valley it has pronounced minerality.  80% goes through MLF to soften it out, but it remains so zesty that if I was told there was 10% Riesling in the blend I would have believed it.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2013

The original premium Sauvignon that created such a buzz about Marlborough is still a fine drop, though it has plenty of competition nowadays.  The 2013 is smooth in the mouth and has mouth-watering acidity without being sharp.

Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc 2011

Possibly the most alternative of all the alternative Sauvignon offerings.  The grape variety isn’t even mentioned on the front label so that consumers don’t pick it up thinking it’s a regular style.  Another winemaker mentioned that their oaked Sauvignon “doesn’t think it’s a Chardonnay” – which could reasonably be levelled at Te Koko – but I love it!

Villa Maria Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Clifford Bay 2012

This is one of my personal favourites (it was the white wine served at my wedding), it really punches above its price point.  The 2012 is turning slightly vegetal with asparagus notes but remains delicious.  I’d be very interested to try the latest vintage as a comparison.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is really coming on in New Zealand, especially as vines attain ten years of age or more.  For a detailed review check out Jamie Goode’s New Zealand Pinot Noir e-book.  Martinborough has been the pioneer of excellent Pinot in New Zealand, and some of the older vineyards are producing lovely wines.  Central Otago makes a very different style of Pinot – although the temperature can be very low at night, the region gets lots of sunshine so the grapes get thicker skins and high potential alcohol, adding to the colour and body.  Marlborough Pinot is also on the up as vines are now planted on more appropriate sites, rather than just where convenient or next to Sauvignon vines.

Matua Lands & Legends Pinot Noir Central Otago 2012

This is real Central Pinot, darker in colour and bigger in the mouth than Marlborough Pinot Noir; not as subtle but a very enjoyable wine – a Pinot Noir for winter.

Delta Hatters Hill Pinot Noir Marlborough 2009

A step up from the regular Pinot, this is grown on the slope of a hill (hence the name!) rather than in the valley.

Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir Marlborough 2012

On top form with this vintage, fabulously perfumed red fruit on the nose.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir Martinborough 2011

The Daddy!  One of New Zealand’s top Pinot Noirs, powerful but silky smooth.  My favourite Pinot of the tasting.  For a less expensive taste try Ata Rangi’s Crimson, made from younger vines and so not quite as intense.

Te Pā Pinot Noir Marlborough 2011

A relative newcomer, made in a minimal-intervention way, and sulphur only added just before bottling.  Grapes are sourced from the Wairau and Awatere Valleys.  Matured for 10 months in large new French barrels.  Pinot Noir can often taste of tinned strawberries and raspberries, but this tasted of fresh fruit – just so alive.

Te Pā Rosé Marlborough 2013

After seven days of soaking the crushed grapes, 20% is bled off as a rosé.  This is just delicious – who needs insipid, off-dry rosés when they can drink a real wine?  A secondary effect of making this is of course to concentrate the colour and flavour of the juice that’s left – the full-blown 2013 Pinot Noir will be something to look forward to!

Chardonnay

Although it will never be loved by some, I believe Chardonnay is New Zealand’s best variety; some fine examples are grown in every wine region of significance, from Kumeu and Waiheke near Auckland down to Central Otago.  Kiwi Chardie is often oaked, with a medium to high toast on the barrel, but even the more tropical versions possess a mineral streak and plenty of acidity which make them interesting and fresh.

Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay Martinborough 2011

Recently compared by Anthony Rose in the UK Independent to a Meursault, this is made from 28 year old Mendoza clones (look out for a forthcoming post on clones) which gives a forward, ripe and buttery flavour.  This could be kept for up to two decades – who says New World whites don’t age?

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay Marlborough 2012

For me this has long been the best wine produced by Cloudy Bay, especially in the periods when the quality of the Sauvignon has wavered slightly.  For a Euro or two more it offers far more complexity and will develop nicely over several years.

Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay Waiheke 2011

Being so far north, and therefore closer to the equator, gives added intensity to the tropical fruit; being on an island helps produce refreshing acidity at harvest.  Alcoholic fermentation is with wild yeast and malolactic fermentation is blocked.

Greywacke Chardonnay Marlborough 2011

My tasting note for this wine was unprintable – it’s that good!

Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay Hawke’s Bay 2011

Relatively restrained compared to some of the other Chardies mentioned here; poured by the son of winemaker John Hancock.

Tohu Chardonnay Rapaura Marlborough 2013

If I had tasted this blind then New Zealand would have been way down the list of countries I’d have guessed at. Fermentation and maturation in neutral stainless steel means there is no oak influence. It goes through full malolactic fermentation and then batonnage (lees stiring) twice weekly for six weeks, adding complexity and body. If you like really good 1er Cru Chablis, give this a go!

Riesling, Pinot Gris, Syrah, Cabernet and others will be covered in Part 2

Information

I Know What I Like – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – Part 1

This post is the first of several which encourage newcomers to wine or creatures of habit to try something a bit different from their usual drop.

It was prompted by a few requests from friends plus some of the twitter debates over the past few months or so, including whether wine expertise is bunkum or not.  More precisely, one phrase often declared by novice wine drinkers is “I know what I like”, with the follow on (usually unspoken) being “I know what wine is best for me and I won’t try anything else”.  Now, I’m not going to tell those people they are wrong (as such!) – I just want to give those that are hesitant to try something other than their favourite type a path which they could explore.

So firstly, why do people like Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc??

It’s crisp, fruity, fresh, widely available, consistent in quality and reasonably priced – it offers a lot of bang for the buck!  In particular “Savvy” has more intense aromas and flavours than often found in white wine.

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Of course I should declare an interest here and say that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favourite wine styles, though not every bottle.  This article is also an excuse for me to post some of the photos I took on honeymoon in Marlborough in 2009!

So if you’re stuck with the same old bottle, week in week out, what should you do?

Step 1 – Buy A Better Brand

Nowadays most supermarkets will have a gondola end of Oyster Bay or even a made up label where excess production has been bought up at rock bottom prices and then vinified on the cheap.  This came to a head when more vineyards came on stream at the same time as the Global Financial Crisis reduced demand for wine in New Zealand’s traditional markets.

Hopefully the glut is over, but there are still brands which are a notch above the bottom, even if they are mass-market.

Brancott Estate used to be called Montana but this caused confusion with American drinkers thinking it came from the US State of that name.  Brancott’s everyday drinking Sauvignon Blanc is a great example, and it’s available nearly everywhere wine is sold in the UK and Ireland.

The other go-to label for me is Villa Maria, now sporting a new look for 2013.  For many people in Ireland in the late 90s and early 00s this was a treat to look forward to at the weekend.  Still privately owned, quality remains consistently good.

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Step 2 – Pay More! (Trade Up)

Here I don’t mean pay more for the sake of it.  While quality and price aren’t perfectly aligned, you often get what you pay for in New Zealand.  There are lots of quality-conscious wineries in Marlborough, both large and small.

Cloudy Bay is the label that put the area and New Zealand as a whole on the wine map for international drinkers.  It became New Zealand’s first “icon” wine, and for many years was only available on allocation.  Although quality has wavered slightly over the years, especially as production volumes increased, it remains a great drop and is always the one to beat.

Villa Maria make a fine entry level SB, as mentioned above, but their black label Clifford Bay is on another plane entirely.  Less immediately pungent but smoother and richer – it’s just sumptuous!  In fact I like it so much that it was the white wine I chose to have served at my wedding.

Another well-regarded producer is Dog Point, founded by Ivan Sutherland & James Healy, the former viticulturist and oenologist respectively from Cloudy Bay.  Their old boss Kevin Judd, who was the founding winemaker of Cloudy Bay, also left to set up his own firm Greywacke.  For his first vintage he bought grapes and rented some winery space from Dog Point, but he moved on to purchasing his own vineyards and facilities.

Other Marlborough producers who are worth trading up to include  Astrolabe (particularly their Awatere Valley), Stanley Estate (also from the Awatere Valley), Nautilus Estate, Saint Clair, Lawson’s Dry Hills, MahiWither Hills and Mud House.

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Step 3 – Same Again, But With A Twist!

One of the things many people like about Sauvignon Blanc is that it usually tastes fresh and hasn’t seen any oak, whether barrels or staves or oak chips in a teabag.  This isn’t the only way of making Sauvignon Blanc, and some of the better Marlborough producers have been following the Sancerre (see next post) practice of either fermenting the must or maturing the wine in oak – or both.  The amount of oak used really does vary, and for many wines only a proportion will be oaked, and perhaps with older rather than brand new barrels.

Great examples from Marlborough include Cloudy Bay Te Koko, Dog Point Section 94, Greywacke Wild Sauvignon, and the newly released Brancott Estate Chosen Rows.  These wines will often be released a year or so after their unoaked stablemates.

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Step 4 – Head Down The Road

In the eyes of many wine drinkers, Marlborough has become synonymous with New Zealand, particularly for Sauvignon Blanc.  It does make up the vast majority of Sauvignon production, but if we do a tour of the rest of Aotearoa then we can find alternative expressions of the grape.

Firstly, to Nelson which is also in the north of the South Island.  Sauvignons here are often more mellow and a bit weightier than Marlborough, so can be easier to match with food.  The most prestigious producer is Judy & Tim Finn’s Neudorf, better known for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Also check out Woollaston Estate (plus their sibling Tussock and Wingspan labels) and Greenhough.

Towards the east coast of the South Island, just above Christchurch, lies the up-and-coming area of Waipara (not to be confused with Wairarapa!)  Waipara specialises in Pinot Noir and Riesling but does have some Sauvignon Blanc produced by Waipara Springs and Pegasus Bay under their Main Divide label.

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Heading south west but keeping to the eastern side of the Southern Alps, we eventually reach Central Otago, the most southern of New Zealand’s established wine regions.  “Central”, as it’s known for short, is Pinot heaven – the unique climate helps make powerful but supple Pinot Noir, primarily, but also Chardonnay, Riesling and some Sauvignon Blanc.  The region actually has several sub-divisions, (with recommended producers): Bannockburn (Mount Difficulty, Carrick), Gibbston Valley (Gibbston Valley Winery, Peregrine, Chard Farm), Wanaka (Rippon) Cromwell Basin (Amisfield) and Bendigo (Misha’s Vineyard).

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From Marlborough, taking the Inter-Islander ferry over the Cook Strait to Wellington then a short drive north east brings us to Martinborough, part of the larger Wairarapa region.  Also celebrated for its Pinot Noirs, it has some fantastic Sauvignon Blanc producers in Ata Rangi, Palliser Estate, and Craggy Range (Te Muna Road).  These can often be even more tropical than their counterparts in Marlborough.

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Further north the long-established region of Hawke’s Bay, which includes the towns of Napier and Hastings, has a reputation built on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.  Some of these great producers (such as Trinity Hill, Mission Estate, CJ Pask) also make lovely, more gentle, Sauvignon Blancs.

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I hope this has given you some ideas of what you could try as your first few steps out of your wine comfort zone.  It’s always good to try new wines, you will hopefully expand your taste and find more types you like.

Part 2 will look at other countries’ versions of Sauvignon Blanc – watch this space!