Make Mine A Double

Wine Review: Bread and Butter Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon

Members of the ABC club can look away now; if either Anything But Chardonnay or Anything But Cabernet are a motto of yours then this is not the article for you. However, for the rest of us – great, right-minded people – read on!

Bread & Butter Wines

Based in the Napa Valley, Bread & Butter’s philosophy is encapsulated by their winemaker Linda Trotta’s motto “A good wine is a wine you like“. Thus, pleasure is the aim for the majority of their wines rather than following a particular trend, matching with special food or expressing the nuances of a certain terroir. “These wines pair well with a glass” is another gem they espouse. I think you’re beginning to get the picture.

Get The One That Looks Like This
A Bread & Butter slogan.

The Bread & Butter portfolio is in three distinct ranges:

  • Classically-styled Everyday Wines: Italian Prosecco (!), California Rosé, California Sauvignon Blanc, California Chardonnay, California Pinot Noir, California Cabernet Sauvignon, California Merlot
  • “To-go” Wines: Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley Merlot, Napa Valley Red Blend, Napa Valley Petite Sirah, Napa Valley Zinfandel, Napa Valley Pinot Noir, Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley Chardonnay, Napa Valley Rosé
  • “Go-to” Wines: Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

The wines in blue and bold are available in Ireland. Quality and price increases as you move down the list. So how do the wines actually taste? Here are two from the Classically-styled Everyday Wines range:

Bread & Butter California Chardonnay 2019

Bread And Butter California Chardonnay

As its counterpart below, this is a California wine rather than any smaller AVA, so the grapes were probably sourced from several regions and blended together.

It pours a light gold in the glass, giving an indication that this is going to be a dessert wine (highly unlikely), an aged wine (nope, it’s a 2019) or an oaked wine (bingo!) And so the nose reveals: layers of vanilla and buttery toast with hints of lemon and orange. The palate is exactly how you would expect a California Chardonnay to be: lemon curd, pineapple cubes and lots of creamy texture, though not the full on butter churn experience.

While it’s far from subtle, I really like this wine. At this price point many Chardonnays are unoaked for both cost and stylistic reasons, and those that have seen some oak can be disjointed or seem confected. And I’m not alone – I have heard several wine drinkers make a beeline for this wine and declare it their new favourite.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €20 – €25
  • Source: purchased from Baggot Street Wines
  • Stockists: Fresh Smithfield and Grand Canal; Whelehans Loughlinstown, Deveney’s of Dundrum; Wine Centre Kilkenny; Morton’s of Ranelagh; Redmonds of Ranelagh; O’Donovans Cork; Robbie’s Drummartin; LaHoya Greens Terenure; Barnhill Stores; Baggot Street Wines; Martin’s of Fairview; Morton’s of Galway; Thomas’s of Foxrock; Parting Glass Enniskerry; McGuinness Dundalk; Next Door Ennis

Bread & Butter California Cabernet Sauvignon 2020

Bread And Butter California Cabernet Sauvignon

The Cabernet Sauvignon actually poured a little lighter than I expected, though we’re still not talking Poulsard here. The nose is heady, with ripe cassis and blackcurrant*, blueberry, vanilla and toast oak notes. The palate is rich and velvety, with blackcurrant and cocoa to the fore. Tannins are very restrained indeed – this is no Pauillac facsimile. The finish has some residual sugar – I couldn’t find a tech sheet but I noted that Decanter included it within the Medium – Dry, 5 – 18 g/L category. The sugar comes through as richness more than sweetness, especially to the untrained palate. This is the type of red than many drinkers go mad for at the moment; it’s not a wine I would choose for myself unless I was eating barbecue with a sweet marinade, and then it would be quaffed with extreme prejudice.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €20 – €25
  • Source: purchased from Baggot Street Wines
  • Stockists: Fresh Smithfield and Grand Canal; Whelehans Loughlinstown, Deveney’s of Dundrum; Wine Centre Kilkenny; Morton’s of Ranelagh; Redmonds of Ranelagh; O’Donovans Cork; Robbies Drumartin; LaHoya Greens Terenure; Barnhill Stores; Baggot Street Wines; Martin’s of Fairview; Morton’s of Galway; Thomas’s of Foxrock; Parting Glass Enniskerry; MacGuiness’s Dundalk; Next Door Ennis

Conclusion

These are both unabashed commercial wines which give (a good proportion of) wine drinkers exactly what they are looking for. I can imagine than some won’t like either wine, but that’s not important – they really deliver drinking pleasure to those that do. I’d be happy to share a bottle of the Cab Sauv with my wife but it’s the Chardonnay I’d order for myself.

* Yes, I know they are the same thing – for most of us at least. Just checking that you’re paying attention.


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Make Mine A Double

Wine Review: Mazzei Codice V Vermentino and Gérard Bertrand Orange Gold

Whether you call them “orange wines”, “amber wines” or “skin-contact white wines”, these postmodern wines are here to stay. However, are they going to remain a niche curiosity drunk only by the adventurous or will they break out from the independent wine specialist sector into multiples and even supermarkets? Here are two skin-contact whites which are leading the way.

Mazzei Tenuta Belguardo Codice V Maremma Vermentino 2019

Mazzei Belguardo Codice V Vermentino

I previously reviewed the “regular” Mazzei Belguardo Vermentino and found it excellent, so I was keen to taste this pull-out-all-the-stops flagship version. To make the best Vermentino they could, Mazzei started with clones from Corsica, the spiritual home and likely origin of the Vermentino grape. Of course they were planted in Maremma on the Tyrrhenian coast as the cooling effect of sea breezes is important for retaining freshness. The vineyard site is 30 to 50 metres above sea level and is orientated south / south-west on predominantly sandy soils.

Harvesting is all by hand but it’s vinification where things start to get really interesting:

  • 20% is fermented and aged on the skins in amphorae for nine months
  • 30% is fermented and aged on the skins in stainless steel tanks for nine months
  • 50% is fermented and aged on fine lees in stainless steel tanks (I presume for nine months)

The construction material and any lining of the amphorae is not specified.  After blending back together the wine is bottled and stored for a further six months before release.

If someone had already tasted the regular Vermentino then the Codice V would be quite familiar, though they might feel they had been missing half of the story. The nose shows complex aromas of citrus and stone fruit, with hints of smoke. These elements continue onto the palate where they intertwine with mellow savoury notes and layers of mixed peel and ginger. The finish is fresh and mouth-watering.

  • ABV: 13.0%*
  • RRP: €33
  • Source: Sample
  • Stockists: SC Grocer; Martins Off-licence; Clontarf Wines; Sweeneys D3; The Corkscrew; Blackrock Cellar

Gérard Bertrand Orange Gold 2020

gérard bertrand orange gold

I have reviewed Gérard Bertrand‘s wines widely over the years; his impressive range includes whites, rosés and reds from the Languedoc at several different price points, many of which are organic and / or biodynamic.  To those colours he has added an orange wine, a homage to Georgian wines of 4,500 years ago. It is a real blend, being made with seven different varieties: Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, Mauzac, Muscat and Clairette.

When perfectly ripe, the grapes are hand-picked in whole bunches and transferred to vat without any destemming or crushing, as with many red wines. The grapes then ferment, partially in the normal way and partially carbonicly (where the weight of the grapes causes some to ferment within their skins. After 10 to 15 days the grapes are separated and pressed to extract colour and tannin; this press wine is then added to the existing must in stainless steel tanks to finish fermenting. Finally, the wine is put into used barrels to mature.

In the glass (and in the bottle) this is a vibrant gold colour, and could be easily mistaken for a Sauternes or Tokaji. The nose is complex, with apple blossom, marmalade, apricot jam and pear drops – very enticing.  The palate is dry but with fruit sweetness on the mid palate. There’s a real savoury complexity to this wine, and a light saline tang with some tannins on the finish. From one point of view it could be said that the nose and the palate offer entirely different aspects, but that is a truism for orange wines in general. Once expectations are reasonably set I think this is a tasty wine that many would enjoy.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €21.95
  • Source: Sample
  • Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswine.ie

Conclusion

These wines are quite different, taking different approaches to producing a balanced wine, and a single varietal compared to a blend. Although the number of orange wines available in Ireland is fairly low at the moment it doesn’t mean that any particular wine can represent a whole colour. What they do have in common is that they are both delicious and approachable, while maintaining a savoury character that expands their interest and versatility.

For me the Codice V is the better wine, but of course has a higher price. Due to its fairly widespread availability and lower price I think the Orange Gold is more likely to tempt more casual wine drinkers into trying an orange wine for the first time – but hopefully not the last time!


*Any wine geeks among you may have noticed that the alcohol for this wine is a little higher than the regular Vermentino I reviewed a year ago (13.39% v 12.5% on the respective tech sheets). This is due to vintage variation (2019 v 2018) rather than differences in winemaking; the 2018 vintage of the Codice V also had 12.5% alcohol.


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Make Mine A Double

Wine Review: Maison Ambroise Bourgogne Aligoté and Domaine Michel Lafarge Bourgogne Aligoté

Aligoté is on the comeback trail, a grape which used to looked down upon for its acidity and rusticity is now producing treasured wines, especially in its homeland of greater Burgundy.  I recently praised one inexpensive specimen of Bourgogne Aligoté from Lidl, but now we have two more accomplished examples from well reputed producers:

Maison Ambroise Bourgogne Aligoté 2017

Maison Ambroise Bourgogne Aligoté

Maison Ambroise have been a favoured Burgundy producer of mine for several years.  The family grow and source grapes from 20 hectares split over 20 different appellations.  Of those available in Ireland, the Hautes Côtes de Nuits white and Côtes de Nuits Villages red are excellent mid range wines.  The entry level here is the red and white pair of Lettre d’Eloïse, while there are other treats available such as the stunning Nuits-St-Georges “Haut Pruliers”.

Ambroise’s Aligoté tucks in just behind the Lettre d’Eloïse Chardonnay in the range.  It has an intriguing nose of pear, citrus and herbs.  Textbook strong acidity make this a fresh wine, but fleshy texture and ripe citrus notes also give it some body.  There’s also a strong mineral streak which is almost metallic in character.  This is a tangy, mouth-watering and delicious example of the grape.  Ambroise themselves suggest pairing it with fish, and especially Sushi.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €20
  • Stockists: The Wine Pair; Avoca; Le Caveau Kilkenny; MacGuiness wines; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Martins Off License; Station to Station wines; Listons
  • Source: purchased from The Wine Pair

Domaine Michel Lafarge Raisins Dorés Bourgogne Aligoté 2018

If Ambroise is small with 20 hectares, then Domaine Michel Lafarge is even smaller at about half the size.  Based in Volnay, the Domaine is now run by Frédéric and his daughter Clothilde, the second and third generation respectively.  The estate is certified organic and biodynamic, with a low-intervention approach to winemaking.  

Whereas Ambroise’s vines are 40 years old, Lafarge’s Aligoté vines are more than twice that.  After whole-cluster pressing, fermentation takes place spontaneously with wild yeast in stainless steel tanks.  The wine is then matured between three and six months in older oak barrels, depending on the vintage.  Before bottling the wine may be fined and / or filtered, again vintage-dependent.

I don’t think I’m doing this bottle of Raisins Dorés (Golden Grapes) a disservice by saying that it’s fairly similar to the Ambroise, but more so: aromas and flavours are much more concentrated, there’s more smoke and fleshy texture, and such a long finish.  It’s almost as though this is the wine that Riesling and Albariño want to be when they grow up.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €32
  • Stockists: the current allocation of 32 bottles for Ireland has already sold out.
  • Source: media sample

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that the Lafarge is the better of these two wines in my eyes (or should that be “in my mouth”?), but the real question is their comparative quality to price ratio.  Which is the better value for money?  The extremely low availability of the Lafarge take it out of the buying equation right now, but I’d say that the two wines are equal in the VFM stakes.  If you just want to spend €20 then buy the Ambroise, but if you can spend just over €30 and can find the Lafarge wine then snap it up!


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Opinion, Single Bottle Review

Wine Review: Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay

Before the arrival of this wine into Dublin I have to confess that I was only distantly aware of Wente Vineyards and their home of Livermore Valley in California’s Central Coast.  The two are inextricably linked, but first here’s a map for us to get our bearings:

Livermore Valley in California

 

As you can see, Livermore Valley is at the top of the Central Coast region, across the Bay from San Francisco.  Cooling sea breezes and fogs from San Francisco Bay give the valley more significant diurnal temperature variation, helpful for producing quality wine.

Although not that well known today – in Europe at least – grapes were first planted in Livermore in the 1840s, before the Bordeaux Classification of 1855 and well before phylloxera devastated European vineyards.

There was a flurry of winery openings in the 1880s, with Cresta Blanca Winery in 1882 followed by Concannon Vineyard and Wente Vineyards in 1883.  Colcannon and Wente are still in operation today, with Wente being the biggest.  In fact, it was Wente who ended up buying the land that Cresta Blanca had used and replanted it after decades of being barren.

Livermore Valley’s influence on Californian wine extended beyond its immediate borders:

  1. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grown there originated from vine cuttings taken from Château d’Yquem
  2. Livermore was the first area in California that labelled wines by their variety
  3. As one of the oldest places planted to Chardonnay, it is the genetic source of 80% of Californian Chardonnay

Wente Vineyards

Wente Vineyards are proud of their status as “the country’s longest, continuously operated family-owned winery”.  They have now reached five generations of family winegrowers:

  1. Carl H. Wente founded the vineyard with the purchase of 47 acres in 1883
  2. Ernest Wente imported Chardonnay cuttings from Montpellier in 1912 and established the Wente Clone.  His brother Herman Wente helped to found the California Wine Institute in 1936
  3. Karl L. Wente joined the business in 1949 and greatly expanded US and international distribution.  He also expanded the family’s holdings into Arroyo Secco (Monterey)
  4. Eric, Philip and Carolyn Wente took over management of the business in 1977
  5. Christine, Karl, Jordan, Niki and Aly Wente hold various positions in the business

Not content to simply fall back on with their long history, Wente are also embracing the future with the first ever virtual wine tasting accessed through Alexa or Google.

In addition to producing wine the estate also features a restaurant, 18 hole golf course and concert venue.  But it’s the wine that matters most to us!  The Wente wine portfolio consists of several ranges.  In approximate order of most to least expensive they are:

  • The Nth Degree
  • Small Lot
  • Single Vineyard
  • Wente Winemakers Studio
  • Estate Grown

It’s not unusual for Estate wines to be the top range in a producer’s portfolio, so this indicates a high quality level.  To evaluate this theory we now turn to a specific wine from the Estate Grown range.

Disclosure: This bottle was kindly provided as a sample

Wente Morning Fog Livermore Valley Chardonnay 2018

Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay from Livermore Valley

The Wente Vineyards “Morning Fog” Livermore Valley Chardonnay is made by fifth generation Karl Wente.  Its name evokes the fogs that roll across San Francisco Bay and into the east-west trained vines of Livermore Valley.  Various Wente Chardonnay clones are used, including “Old Wente” which have been propagated without going though heat treatment at UC Davis.  Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately.

After the grapes are pressed the must is split into two parts: 50% is fermented in old American oak and 50% is fermented in stainless steel tanks.  The barrel fermented portion remains in those containers for five months and undergoes monthly lees stirring.  The Inox portion is split further; half remains on its lees and receives bâtonnage while half is racked into clean tanks.  All vessels are then blended together before bottling.

When poured the wine is lemon, not as deep as some other (more oaky) Chardonnays.  It’s highly aromatic on the nose – helped by 2% Gewürztraminer – full of toasty, leesy notes and fresh citrus.  The palate is fresh and clean, but with lovely texture.  Unlike some Cali Chardonnays, the texture doesn’t get in the way of the wine or stand out awkwardly, but rather comes along for the journey.  There’s a fine mineral streak through the wine and a fresh finish.

Overall this is a very well put together wine, rising above many confected and manufactured rivals at this price point.

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €27
  • Stockists: Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Jus de Vine; Lotts and Co; Martins Off Licence; McHughs Kilbarrack and Malahide; Mitchell and Son Glasthule and CHQ; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; Power & Co Fine Wines; Sweeney’s D3; Redmonds of Ranelagh; The GrapeVine, Glasnevin; The Wine Pair; Thomas’s Foxrock
Opinion

Five Festive Flagons

As we roll on towards the festive season, despite the pandemic. many of us are starting to plan which wines we want to have in stock for drinking over the Christmas period (Christmas don’t care ’bout Covid!)  Here are five wines that you should consider this Yule:

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

Perelada Cava Reserva Brut

I reviewed this wine just over three years ago and the salient points of that article remain valid:

  • There’s a lot of very ordinary Cava out there, at very low prices (often €12 or less)
  • Small-scale, renowned producers such as Llopart and Raventos i Blanc are available from around €30 upwards in Ireland (and are usually better than any Champagnes down at that price)
  • That leaves a big gap in the market between the two price points which is neatly filled by Perelada

This Reserva Brut bottling is made from the traditional three Cava grapes: Macabeo (30%), Xarel·lo (45%) and Parellada (25%) with 15 months maturation on the lees – significantly more than the nine months minimum for Cava.  It’s highly aromatic, just a delight to sniff, but very attractive on the palate with apple, pear and citrus notes.  The finish is crisp, perhaps a little dry for some tastes (though not mine).

When to drink: This would be a great start to Xmas morning, good enough to sip on its own, with nibbles or even a smoked salmon starter.

  • ABV: 11.5%
  • RRP: €20
  • Stockists: The Drink Store, Stoneybatter D7 / Higgins Off Licence, Clonskeagh / Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Fine Wines O/L Group.

Fontanafredda Gavi di Gavi 2019

Amongst a group of my friends we have a running joke that one (Gosia) would often select Gavi di Gavi from a wine list when there were other, more interesting, options available.  This wine shows that joke to be hollow as it’s a cracking wine, full of flowers and spicy pear on the nose, sensual texture on the palate and soft stone fruit flavours.  There’s a racy acidity to the wine but it isn’t lean, just refreshing.

When to drink: With shellfish, white fish or even lighter poultry.

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €20 – €21
  • Stockists: Redmonds of Ranelagh; Martins Off Licence, Fairview; D-SIX Wines, Harolds Cross

Trapiche Malbec Reserva Malbec 2019

Trapiche have several different quality levels within their line-up, including the excellent Terroir Series Ambrosia Single Vineyard Malbec which I reviewed here.  This Reserva is a more of an everyday wine, but is true to its variety with bold plum and blackberry fruits and a touch of vanilla.  It’s an easy-going red that doesn’t hit the heights but hits the spot with a steak.

When to drink: With red meat or just with your feet up in front of the TV

  • ABV: 13.5%
  • RRP: €13 – €15
  • Stockists: Dunnes Stores; Nolans Supermarket, Clontarf

Mommessin Domaine de la Presle Fleurie 2018

Fleurie is Ireland’s favourite Beaujolais Cru by some distance, perhaps helped by the easily pronounceable name.  It’s a relatively light Cru so sits as a happy medium in depth of colour.  The nose shows a variety of cherries, blueberries and red table grape skins.  On the palate we find freshly-made home-made jam from a variety of red and black fruits, a little garden thyme and pencil shavings.  On it’s own I thought it a good but not great wine, but when my wife tried it with extra mature cheddar she though it magnificent – the fruit of the wine counters the saltiness of the cheese and the cheese softens the acidity of the wine.  As a non-cheese eater I will take her word for it!

When to drink: With hard cheese, charcuterie, wild boar sausages, venison, duck, or nut roast

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €18 – €20
  • Stockists: Fine Wines Off Licence; The Drink Store, Stoneybatter; Nolans Supermarket, Clontarf; Kellers Carry Out, Nenagh.

Boutinot La Côte Sauvage Cairanne 2017

Cairanne only became a named village or Cru in its own right a few years ago, though 20% of the land was effectively demoted at the same time (1,088 hectares of the original 1,350 survived the increased standards).  Being in the Southern Rhône this is a GSM blend, consisting of Grenache Noir (60%), Syrah (20%), Mourvèdre (10%) and Carignan (10%).  The minor grapes add considerable colour as the wine is darker than many Grenache based wines.  Their influence is felt on the nose, too, which has rich black fruit and spice, something like blackberry crumble in a glass.  These notes continue through to the palate which is velvety and powerful.  This is heady stuff, perfect for Xmas or winter celebrations.

When to drink: With friends, family, or on your own.  Treat yourself!

  • ABV: 14.5%
  • RRP: €23
  • Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; La Touche Wines, Greystones; Martins, Fairview; The Drink Store, Stoneybatter; Fine Wines O/L Group

 

Make Mine A Double

Dynamic Douro Duo [Make Mine a Double #67]

Port wine is world famous, known wherever wine is drunk.  It’s a powerful, sweet, fortified wine that has become the name of a style – just like Champagne – even though it should only be used for geographically demarcated wines from Portugal.  Although the Port Houses are innovating, with a multitude of styles and colours being marketed, demand for their fortified wines isn’t as strong as it could be, considering their quality.

Table wines from the Douro have therefore increased in importance.  The style of Douro wines is evolving as well; initially they were often “dry Ports”, made from the same varieties and full of alcohol, flavour and body.  Although popular, some of them were a little rustic and lacked elegance.  Enter Casa Ferreirinha, taken from the Liberty Wines Ireland website:

Founded in 1952, with the production of the first ever vintage of Barca Velha, Casa Ferreirinha pioneered the quality revolution in Douro still wines and was the first producer in the region dedicated entirely to producing wine, rather than port. Named after the legendary Porto matriarch Dona Antónia Ferreira, Casa Ferreirinha, pays homage to the memory of this visionary woman. Today, the winemaking is headed up by Luís Sottomayor, who restrains the Douro’s natural exuberance to produce wines that have a vibrant freshness allied to a lovely texture and depth.

Earlier this year I joined a zoom masterclass presented by Luís Sottomayor himself and got to taste some of the wines (disclosure: which were samples, obvs):

Casa Ferreirinha “Vinha Grande” Douro Branco 2019

Although there are white Port grapes grown in the Douro (white Port and tonic is the “in” summer drink these days) we don’t tend to think of dry white Douro wines.  The Vinha Grande Branco has been made since 2005 since the acquisition of 25 hectares of suitable vineyards at high altitude.  The precise blend changes from year to year, but for 2019 it is:

  • 40% Viosinho – a well balanced and highly aromatic local variety
  • 35% Arinto (aka Pedernã) – a high acidity grape, better known in Bucelas
  • 15% Rabigato – a high acidity grape almost solely grown in the Douro
  • 10% Gouveio (aka Godello) – which gives roundness and complexity

Vinification took place in stainless steel tank and then the wine was split into two; 50% was aged in 500 litre barrels and 50% in steel tanks.  Both halves received regular lees stirring and then were recombined after six months.  Per Luis, the aim of using oak is to add complexity and capacity for ageing, but only 50% as they don’t want oak to dominate the fruit.

Initially it shows white fruits and flowers on the nose, then citrus and passionfruit, rounding off with some oak notes.  The high altitude of the vineyard shows up on the palate which is very fresh and has good acidity.  There’s some body to this wine and beautiful ripe fruit notes in the mid palate.  Overall this is an excellent wine, and one that I suspect will continue to improve for several years.

  • ABV: 13.0%
  • RRP: €21.99
  • Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Egans, Portlaoise; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; wineonline.ie

Casa Ferreirinha “Vinha Grande” Douro Tinto 2017

 

This is the daddy, one of the first Douro reds, and originally was made with grapes sourced from a specific vineyard called Vinha Grande; nowadays the wine includes grapes from Cima Corgo and Douro Superior subregions.  I don’t have the exact varietal composition for 2017 but for 2018 the blend was:

  • 40% Touriga Franca – the most widely planted black grape in the Douro
  • 30% Touriga Nacional – perfumed and powerful king of the Douro
  • 25% Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo) – for suppleness, the second most important black grape
  • 5% Tinta Barroca – early ripening Douro grape which adds colour and alcohol

Alcoholic fermentation is carried out – separately in each subregion – in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, with some maceration to extract colour, flavours and tannins.  The two are then blended together and matured in used (two to four year old) French barrels.  Luis stated that French oak is regarded as more neutral, less aromatic than American oak.  Portuguese oak was used until 2001 when supplies dried up – it gave more tannins and was more aromatically neutral still, but was a little rustic.

The nose of the Vinha Grande Tinto exudes rich black and red fruits, spice, freshly made coffee and hints of cedar.  The palate is lovely and supple, with blueberry, blackberry and plum plus smoky notes.  The body is generous but not too thick; with its soft tannins this is a refined and elegant wine.

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €21.99
  • Stockists: Avoca Handweavers, Ballsbridge; Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Martins Off Licence, Fairview; McHughs, Kilbarrack Road; Terroirs, Donnybrook; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; The Parting Glass, Enniskerry; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny; wineonline.ie

 

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Make Mine A Double

Love, Love me Dão [Make Mine a Double #65]

Adega de Penalva is one of the leading cooperatives in the Portuguese Dão region (I gave an overview of the Dão in a previous article here, but in summary it is in the centre of northern Portugal close to the Douro.)  The coop was formed in the ’60s and has around a thousand members – that’s a lot of coordination – but with an average of only around 1.2 hectares of vines per member the volume crushed is manageable.

Their extensive main range can be spilt into four categories:

  • Red: Adega de Penalva Reserva, Encostas de Penalva, Flor De Penalva, Flor De Penalva Reserva, Jaen, O Penalva, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Pinheira, Touriga-Nacional, Milénio
  • White: Cerceal – Branco, Encostas De Penalva, Encruzado, Flor De Penalva, Bical
  • Rosé: Adega de Penalva Rosé
  • Sparkling (Método Clássico): Milénio Reserva, Milénio Bruto, Milénio Seco, Milénio Tinto Bruto)

As you might be able to parse from the wine names, some are made to be drunk young while others will reward some cellaring.  Not featured in the main list are a red and white fun and drinkable pair made (for Portuguese Story) from blends of indigenous grapes: Adega de Penalva Indigena Blend

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

Adega de Penalva Indigena Blend Dão Branco 2019

This white blend is composed of:

  • 40% Encruzado (a speciality of the Dão)
  • 30% Malvasia (grown all over southern Europe; the particular variant is not specified)
  • 30% Cerceal (aka Esgana Cão (“Dog Strangler”!,) or Sercial in Madeira)

According to Wine Enthusiast, “Encruzado is, arguably, Portugal’s greatest white grape” – and having enjoyed Quinta dos Carvalhais’s Dão Colheita Branco I think it is a fair statement.  Here, of course, it is not on its own and has a supporting cast of Malvasia (which adds body) and Cerceal (which adds freshness).

All grapes are hand-picked and winemaking is fairly straightforward; after destemming and pressing, the must is fermented with selected yeasts in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.  Maturation is also in INOX – with no wood to be seen – all to preserve the wine’s inherent fruit aromas and flavours.

On the nose it shows a variety of stone fruits and quince, plus almonds and a whiff of the forest (pine? cedar?)  Ripe stone fruit return on the palate – peach, nectarine, apricot – but with a zippy fresh finish that literally makes your mouth water.  This Branco shows why the Portuguese are so keen on blending – it really is more than the sum of its parts!

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €14.95
  • Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; McHugh’s Off-Licence Kilbarrack Rd; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; The GrapeVine, Glasnevin; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil St.; Baggot Street Wines

Adega de Penalva Indigena Blend Dão Tinto 2017

The blend for the Tinto is:

  • 40% Touriga Nacional (the Douro’s (and Portugal’s?) key black grape
  • 30% Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo, and many other names),
  • 30% Jaen (aka Mencia in NW Spain)

The order of the varieties above is from heavier to lighter; Touriga Nacional has the most structure and weight – which is why it is so important in the Douro – with Tinta Roriz being medium bodied and more accessible, and finally Jaen being quite light and fresh.  Winemaking is similar to the Branco above apart from the use of lined concrete tanks – in addition to stainless steel – for maturation.

Unsurprisingly, given the above, the wine is a medium intensity cherry red in the glass.  The nose has vibrant red fruits – cherry, strawberry, raspberry and cranberry.  On the palate these fruits are even more vibrant and juicy, seeming to jump out of the glass.  There are also notes of blackberry, chocolate and smoke, all wrapping up in a dry but fresh finish.

  • ABV: 12.5%
  • RRP: €14.95
  • Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Sweeney’s D3, Fairview; Martins Off-Licence, Fairview; McHugh’s Off-Licence Kilbarrack Rd; Nectar Wines, Sandyford; The GrapeVine, Glasnevin; The Wine Pair, Clanbrassil St.; Clontarf Wines
    DrinkStore, Stoneybatter; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock

Conclusion

Yes, these wines are easy to drink.  Yes, they are quite affordable.  And yes, they have relatively modest alcohol %.

So they definitely qualify as “lunchtime wines” or “house wines”, but they are far more than that.

Such poise, balance and deliciousness has them punching well above their weight!

 


**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Make Mine A Double, Tasting Events

A Pair of Pretty Pinots [Make Mine a Double #58]

Pinot Noir can be tricky to make well.  It is very particular about the climate it’s grown in – not too hot, not too cold.  Here are a pair of antipodean cool climate Pinots that are worth your hard-earned:

Innocent Bystander Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2018

Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir

The Yarra Valley is part of the Port Philip zone which surrounds Melbourne in Australia.  Its proximity to Melbourne makes it a popular wine tourism destination; indeed, my first trip there was on a day trip wine tour from Melbourne.  That should not detract from its status as one of the best cool climate regions of Australia, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir starring – both still and sparkling.

Innocent Bystander was founded in 1996 by Phil Sexton after selling his previous Margaret River venture Devil’s Lair.  Innocent Bystander (IB) wines are often blends from multiple sites to achieve complexity and balance at a reasonable price point.  Alongside IB, in 1998 Sexton also began creating single vineyard wines under the Giant Steps label.

The Pink Moscato explosion in Aussie wine led to a large increase in volumes being made and sold by IB, so Sexton sold it to another family owned Victorian wine producer – Brown Brothers of Milawa – in order to concentrate on Giant Steps.  Once picked IB’s grapes now make a three hour journey in refrigerated trucks to be crushed at Brown Bros’ winery.  Sexton’s Yarra Valley tasting room wasn’t part of the transaction so Brown Bros bought and converted a brewery – formerly run by Phil Sexton!

The wines in the Innocent Bystander portfolio include the following:

  • Pinot Noir
  • Chardonnay
  • Moscato
  • Pinot Gris
  • Gamay
  • Gamay / Pinot Noir blend
  • Syrah
  • Tempranillo
  • Arneis

It’s the last two which are the most unusual for Australia, and therefore piqued my interest, though sadly they haven’t yet made their way to Ireland.

In the main this Pinot Noir is fruit-driven: raspberry, blackberry and tart red cherries dominate the nose and palate, though there are also herb and spice notes in the background.  It is not, however, a “fruit-bomb”; acidity and gentle tannins provide a framework against which the fruit can sing, and boy do they sing!

Framingham Marlborough Pinot Noir 2017

Framingham Pinot Noir

Marlborough’s Framingham is probably the most respected producer of Riesling in New Zealand, but has added additional varieties across its three ranges:

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Gris
  • Chardonnay
  • Viognier
  • Gewurztraminer
  • Montepulciano
  • Pinot Noir

Their wines are all very well crafted and offer a substantial step up from everyday Marlborough wines, but prices are sensible.  The firm’s winemaker for 18 years was Dr Andrew Hedley, who was then succeeded by the returning Andrew Brown at the beginning of this year (what a year to join!)  In between his stints at Framingham, “Brownie” had worked in several cool climate regions including Alsace, so he has great experience with Riesling.

Framingham’s own vineyards and those of partner winegrowers are all in the Wairau Valley, the central open plain of Marlborough which is on a mixture of alluvial and clay soil.  Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately, with grapes from clay soils in particular receiving more time on the skins.  MLF and maturation takes place in new (20%) and used French oak barrels, before final blending and bottling.  No fining or filtering is carried out to preserve flavour and mouthfeel.

When speaking to Jared Murtha (Framingham’s Global Sales Manager) earlier this year  I remarked that the Pinot Noir seemed more like a Martinborough Pinot than a typical Marlborough one to me.  This was meant as a compliment and taken as one, as I find many Marlborough Pinot Noirs to be light, simple and less than interesting.  Jared replied diplomatically that Framingham aren’t aiming to make a “smashable” wine, but rather one which is a little more serious and gastronomic.

And hell have they succeeded!  It has typical Pinot red fruit notes – cherry and wild strawberry – but also layer upon layer of smoky, spicy and savoury characters.  There are lovely round tannins giving the wine additional structure.  Umami fans will love this wine!

Conclusion

These two wines are made from the same grape variety in neighbouring countries (yeah, still quite a journey) and are close in price, so a like for like comparison is perfectly fair.  The most obvious difference, though, is their style.  The Innocent Bystander is a great, fruit-forward all-rounder and would really appeal to the casual wine drinker.  The Framingham is a different proposition, more savoury and serious, and would shine the brightest in a setting with food – though it’s not a “this needs food” wine.  My preference would be to spend the extra €4 on the Framingham … but if someone offers me a glass of Innocent Bystander I would be delighted.

 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

Single Bottle Review

Classic and Classy: Fritz Haag Riesling

My love for Alsace wines – especially its Rieslings – is without parallel, yet even I am forced to concede: Other Rieslings Are Available!  Given the grape’s Germanic origins and it’s position as the most widely planted grape there (23% of vineyard area as of 2015) it is only fair to look to Germany.  Of all Germany’s 13 wine regions, for me the most synonymous with quality Riesling is the Mosel.

The Mosel wine region had SaarRuwer appended to its name until 1st August 2007, and those two names still account for two of the six Mosel Districts (Bereiche).   Also, adjacent to Luxembourg, the Obermosel and Moseltor Districts are home to modest wines – still and sparkling – made from Elbing and other “lesser” grapes.  The final two Mosel Districts are the most important.  The Berg Cochem District is also known as the Terraced Mosel (Terrassenmosel) as many of its slopes are incredibly steep and are terraced so that they can be worked.  The final District is Bernkastel which includes the famous sundial vineyards.

The Haag family have run their estate in Brauneberg, Bernkastel District,  since 1605.  I have previously reviewed their Brauneberger Juffer Grosses Gewächs Riesling and Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel.  Now I turn to their “entry level” dry Riesling.

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

Fritz Haag Mosel Riesling Trocken 2018

fritz-haag-riesling-trocken

Weingut Fritz Haag hand pick their Riesling grapes for this wine from their slate-soil vineyards around their home base of Brauneberg.  Fermentation takes place in both large wooden vats (for a touch of roundness) and stainless-steel tanks (for freshness).  As many who are fluent in wine know “Trocken” means dry in German, so the fermentation is not stopped early to make the wine sweet (although Fritz Haag does make some brilliant sweet wines).

This estate Riesling pours a light lemon in the glass.  The nose is full of citrus with lifted mineral tones – and unmistakable Riesling character.

The measured residual sugar is 7.5 g/L which would be creeping into off-dry territory for some grapes, but set against this Riesling’s acidity it merely tames the zing a little and brings out the fruitiness of the wine.

On the palate we find fleshy lime, grapefruit and peach combined – you don’t taste them individually but there’s a new super-fruit that combines all their characteristics!  Light and lithe, a wine that dances on your tongue before disappearing down your throat.  Once in your stomach it sends a direct signal to your brain for another taste!  The finish is dry as you’d expect from a Trocken wine, but the fruit sweetness in the mid-palate banishes any thoughts of this being too dry.

The TL;DR review: tastes of deliciousness!

  • ABV: 12.0%
  • RS: 7.5 g/L
  • RRP: €23
  • Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf wines; F.X. Buckley Victualler & Grocer; Jus de Vine; McHugh’s Off-Licences, Kilbarrack Rd & Malahide Rd; Nectar Wines; The Vintry; The Wine Pair; Sweeney’s D3; Avoca Ballsbridge; The Corkscrew; Deveney’s Dundrum; D-SIX Off Licence; Drink Store Stoneybatter; Grapevine, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Lotts & Co.; Martins Off Licence; Terroirs, Donnybrook

 

 

Single Bottle Review

Bodega Garzón Albariño Reserva 2018

Bodega Garzón is one of Uruguay’s best wineries, founded and funded by Argentian energy billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni.  The winery is located close to Punte del Este (the “Saint Tropez of South America”) and charming seaside towns on Uruguay’s Riviera, facing almost due south into the Atlantic.  It’s now a destination itself with various tours and an upmarket restaurant headed by star chef Francis Mallman.

They have several ranges of wines within their portfolio:

  • Late Harvest: Petit Manseng
  • Sparkling: Extra Brut and Brut Rosé
  • Estate: Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Pinot Noir Rosé, Tannat Blend, Cabernet Franc Blend, Sauvignon Blanc
  • Reserva: Marselan, Albariño, Tannat, Cabernet Franc
  • Single Vineyard: Tannat, Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Pinot Noir
  • Petit Clos: Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, Albariño, Cabernet Franc
  • Balasto: Flagship Red Blend

Uruguay’s signature grape is of course Tannat – originally from the other side of the Atlantic in south western France.  Garzón does make excellent Tannat, but here we focus on another grape from the eastern Atlantic coast, Galicia’s Albariño.

Of course, Galicia doesn’t have sole ownership of Albariño – it’s also grown south of the Miño/Minho as Alvarinho and is also one of the varieties being trialled in Bordeaux.  In these maritime climes the proximity of the vines to the coast has a marked effect on the style of the wine; littoral areas give more mineral and saline characteristics to the finished wine whereas inland sites lend a little more richness and fruit.  How does Garzón’s Albariño compare?

Bodega Garzón Albariño Reserva 2018

Bodega Garzón reserva albariño

I’ve been lucky enough to taste this wine several times over the past six months or so, but for some unknown reason each time I taste it I am pleasantly surprised at how good it is.  Fermentation and maturation are in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks to help preserve the bright fruit flavours, but the wine does also spend three to six months (depending on vintage) on its fine lees, adding texture, weight and a certain creaminess.

The nose shows pronounced white peach and citrus, more expressive than lesser Albariños for sure.  On the palate the citrus shines through most, with a streak of fresh acidity and a saline tinge.  It reminded me of a Rías Baixas wine from close to the coast, except with more depth of flavour – perhaps a touch more sunshine and the time on lees make the difference.  Overall, this is a delicious wine that deserves the praise and recognition it has been receiving.

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €21.95
  • Stockists: Baggot Street Wines, Blackrock Cellar, McHugh’s, Martin’s Off-licence, Gibney’s of Malahide, The Vintry, Clontarf Wines, Brady’s Shankill, Deveney’s Dundrum, Higgins Clonskeagh, 1601 Kinsale, Morton’s Salthill, World Wide Wines Waterford, Alan McGuinness, Drink Store

Thanks to Liam and Peter from DNS Wine Club who have both shown this wine in recent months.