Tasting Events

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019 (part 4 – New World Reds)

“New World” is not a great term as it basically means “outside Europe”, so it includes many different countries which are different in style.  Just for convenience, it allows us to look at a selection wines from California, Central Otago, Southern Australia and Ningxia, all available from Liberty Wines.

Pine Ridge Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (15.0%, RRP €72.99 at Blackrock Cellar; The Corkscrew; La Touche Wines, Greystones; McHugh’s; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Terroirs)

Pine Ridge Vineyards CabSauv NapaValley

I’ve been a fan of the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc / Viognier blend for some time (see review here) but as this is Napa then the Cabernet is the real deal.  Pine Ridge Vineyards was first established in Stags Leap District in the late 70s with a single vineyard next to a – you guessed it – pine ridge.  Their vineyards now number 12 and total 80 hectares over five Napa sub-zones: Stags Leap District, Rutherford, Carneros, Howell Mountain and Oakville.  Pine Ridge produce a number of different wines, including several from individual sub-zones, but this is a blend across the five.

This bottle is labelled as a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon but that is 91% of the blend, with the balance made up by 6% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc.  35% of the 2016 was aged in new American oak for 18 months, giving creamy vanilla to go with the blackcurrant, cherry and blackberry notes.  This is a big, lush, heady wine that is not light and shouldn’t be taken lightly.  It’s not for those who like racy reds but it’s imposing and delicious.

New Kanaan Pretty Pony 2013 (14.0%, €52.99 at Cinnamon Cottage, Cork; The Corkscrew; The Malt House; Mitchell & Son; Terroirs)

Kanaan Winery, `Pretty Pony` FS

Ningxia is of course the most important Chinese region for wine.  Some years ago I reviewed Château Changyu Moser XV 2008 which had an abv of 12.5% and was reminiscent of old school Bordeaux (think mid ’90s).  The Pretty Pony is a very good wine, regardless of origin. It has oak, lovely black fruit and is already showing a nice bit of development.  This is not like old school Bordeaux – this is like modern Bordeaux!

Akarua “Rua” Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017 (14.0%, RRP €29.99 at Avoca; Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Mitchell & Son; Red Nose Wine; 1601, Kinsale; www.wineonline.ie)

Akarua Rua Pinot Noir

When Central Otago Pinot Noir began to enter into the consciousness of wine drinkers it was almost the opposite of Marlborough Pinot – big, bold and powerful – with alcohol to match.  It was almost a Pinot Noir for Cabernet drinkers – no bad thing in my eyes as Cab is my favourite black grape – but times, and the wines, have changed.  Now elegance and balance are to the fore, without losing the intensity that made them such a hit in the first place.  This is a great example of Central Pinot – especially for the relatively modest price.  It has a core of ripe red fruit and a slight smoky, savoury edge that gives it some seriousness.

Burn Cottage Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016 (13.5%, RRP €69.99 at The Corkscrew; www.wineonline.ie and good independents nationwide)

Burn Cottage Central Otago Pinot Noir

Another Central Pinot, but totally different in style.  Burn Cottage has been practising biodynamic since the first vines were planted in 2003, and there is a low intervention approach to winemaking.  Whole bunch fermentation allows the wine’s aromas to develop fully – it smells…special, for want of a better term.  This is a fine, fine wine which delights all the senses but the mind too.

Mitolo “G.A.M.” McLaren Vale Shiraz 2015 (14.5%, RRP €39.99 at Blackrock Cellar; www.wineonline.ie and good independents nationwide)

Mitolo GAM Shiraz

Like many McLaren Vale vineyards, Mitolo has Italian roots through its founder Frank Mitolo.  It also has an influx of German genes through winemaker and business partner Ben Glaetzer, scion of the Barossa producer Glaetzer wines.  The Mitolo portfolio is split into three ranges: Jester, Small Batch and Single Vineyard.

The G.A.M. Shiraz was the first wine produced by Mitolo; it’s not an alternative to GSM which is prevalent in the Vale, but actually stands for the initials of Frank’s three children, Gemma, Alex and Marco.  The fruit is sourced from a vineyard belonging to family friends and fellow Italian immigrants the Lopresti vineyards, in particular their “Chinese Block”.  As it’s located at the bottom end of McLaren Vale, the block benefits from cooling sea breezes.  The vines are over 40 years old and are planted on a type of clay.  Fermentation is kept on the cool side to preserve fruit flavours and then fermentation is in French oak (30% new, 70% used) for 15 months.  Only at that point are barrels given final selection for inclusion in the G.A.M. Shiraz.

Aussie Shiraz is a great crowd-pleaser but this is way above that – it has phenomenal structure and intense, opulent-but-not-jammy black fruit.  The Jester Shiraz is a great introduction to the style at a little over half the price of the G.A.M., but I’d argue that the latter is more than twice as good and represents great value at this price point.

Grosset Gaia Clare Valley 2014 (14.0%, RRP €66.99 at good independents nationwide)

Grosset Gaia

Grosset are best known for their Rieslings, especially the Polish Hill and Springvale bottlings, but they also make some great reds too, including a Pinot Noir and this “Gaia” Bordeaux blend.  I say Bordeaux blend though its precise proportions of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc would rarely be found in the Gironde.  At five years old this 2014 still has bright berry, blackcurrant and plum fruit.  It does have a dry leathery side, with grippy tannins and good acidity.  As this is Clare there is of course a screwcap closure; a challenge to the Bordelais to catch up?  This will be drinking well for years and years.

 

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019

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Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites 2019

It’s awards season, with the Golden Globes and Oscars over it’s now time for the Frankly Wines Top Tens.  So here we go, kicking off with 10 fantastic white wines that I have really enjoyed in the past 12 months, and you should try to get hold of if you haven’t already:

10. Luigi Baudana “Dragon” Langhe Bianco 2017

Luigi Baudana Dragon

14.0%, RRP €23.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

This wine could well have topped the list on the Frankly Wines Top Ten Value Whites, such is the bang you get for your buck, bitcoin, or other currency of choice, but for me it’s just a great wine full stop.  To stand out amongst the Langhe’s great reds is a great achievement.

9. Chalk Hill McLaren Vale Fiano 2017

Chalk Hill Fiano

12.0%, RRP €21.95.  Distributed by Tindal Wine Merchants.  Also see related article here.

McLaren Vale is one of the key Australian regions where Italian varieties are being treated seriously, not just as a novelty but as a serious alternative to international (i.e. French) varieties.  Mandrarossa’s Sicilian Fiano was a revelation when I first tried it a few years ago, but Chalk Hill have pushed the bar even higher.  Try this tropical citrus beauty and you will become a convert too.

8. Ovum Wines Oregon Big Salt 2017

ovum big salt

12.9%, RRP €33.95.  Distributed by Le Caveau.  Also see related article here.

In my notes below I state that there are no Alsace wines in my Top 10 whites this year, and while that is true it does not preclude Alsace-style whites from elsewhere.  The long, cool growing season of Oregon’s coast is perfect for aromatic varieties: Muscat, Riesling and Gewurztraminer combine elegantly to make Oregon’s very own Gentil.

7. Domaine Marc Sorrel Hermitage Blanc “Les Rocoules” 1999

domaine-marc-sorrel-hermitage-les-rocoules-white

14.5%, RRP €98.45.  Distributed by Karwig Wines.

Producers who make wine in Hermitage number less than a score so it is something of a rarity (especially compared to Crozes-Hermitage); the whites are rarer still.  They can be made from any combination of Marsanne and Roussanne, with the former usually dominant or alone.  Marc Sorrel is a modest man who makes wines that aren’t flashy, but very long-lived and interesting.  This is from a single plot called Les Rocoules; it is intensely aromatic with herbs, elderflower and honeysuckle on the nose.  The palate is a little drier than expected but reflects the herbs and honey notes of the nose.  It’s round and savoury – obviously well developed at twenty years old – with an interesting tang and even some crisp green vegetal notes.  White Hermitage is rare enough, but to try a two decade old single vineyard wine is a real treat.

6. Au Bon Climat “Wild Boy” Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2017

au bon climat wild boy chardonnay

13.5%, RRP €39.95.  Distributed by Berry Bros & Rudd.  Also see related article here.

Jim Clendenen is rightly a legend of Californian wine, particularly those made from Burgundian varieties, so it’s fitting that a god-like portrait appears on the front label of this wine.  This wine has a slightly different sensibility to ABC’s regular bottlings, best summed up by the legend (in the other sense) at the bottom of the label:

Instructions to winemaker: I said “Hey dude, Make a wine on the Wild Side”

5. Domaine Stéphane Ogier Viognier de Rosine 2016

Viognier de Rosine

12.5%, RRP €31.95.  Distributed by Tindal Wine Merchants.

Viognier almost disappeared in the 20th Century, with just a small amount left in Condrieu.  It is now planted in many parts of the Rhône and further afield in California, Australia and elsewhere.  This wine is from the northern Rhône but outside the boundaries of the Appellation Controllée areas, making it an IGP.  Such is the quality of the terroir at Rosine and the wines made there, that I reckon it might well gain an AOC of its own in the future.  This is textbook Viognier, full of rich apricot, peach and pineapple fruits, and better than many more expensive Condrieus.

4. L.A.S. Vino Margaret River Chardonnay 2016

LAS Vino MR Chardonnay

13.5%, RRP €59.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

When we think of “natural” or “low intervention” wines we often think of the new wave of winemakers in Europe who have rejected the use of excessive chemicals in the vineyard and reverted back to their grandfathers’ methods.  In my eyes, Australia didn’t have the same issues, partly due to a drier climate and partly due to a more technical approach in bigger vineyards.  However, the focus on making wines that are consistent (vintage indifferent) and technically correct (starbright, clean, no trace of brett or VA) has sometimes encouraged wines which are lacking in character.

This Margaret River Chardonnay has character for days!

3. Rafael Palacios Valdeorras “As Sortes” 2016 

As Sortes

14.0%, RRP €46.00.  Distributed by Vinostito.

From the famous Palacios Spanish winemaking family, Rafael Palacios is the “God of Godello”, based in Valdeorras, Galicia.  He takes the grape to heights that have to be tasted to be believed, with low yields from seven plots totalling only 4.6 hectares and judicious use of oak.  There is tropical , soft stone and citrus fruit, all elegantly framed by a mineral, saline streak.  This is the type of wine which appeals to lovers of Chardonnay and Albariño alike.

2. Domaine JB Ponsot Rully “En Bas de Vauvry” 2016

jean-baptiste ponsot rully

13.0%, RRP €29.90.  Distributed by Nomad Wines.  Also see related article here.

Rully is on the rise – as land in the Côte Chalonnaise is significantly cheaper than the Cote d’Or (for now, at least) more vineyards there are getting serious attention and investment.  If you want excellent white Burgundy without a second mortgage, this is for you.

1. Julien Brocard La Boissonneuse Chablis 2017

CHABLIS-BOISSONNEUSE-JEAN-MARC-BROCARD

13.0%, RRP €28.45.  Distributed by O’Briens.  Also see related article here.

When whittling down my longlists to get to the shortlists of ten wines, quality considerations are paramount – balance, concentration and complexity, for example. This wine has all those, plus something else – it redefines how good a certain type of wine can be – in this case AOC Chablis.  There’s a long established hierarchy in Chablis with Petit Chablis at the bottom, then Chablis, a multitude of Chablis Premiers Crus with the seven (or eight, depending on who you ask) Grands Crus at the top – but this wine’s vast array of aromas and flavours show that, with care and dedication, anything is possible.

The bar for AOC Chablis has been significantly raised. The rest of Chablis – it’s over to you!

 


As this is the first of my Top 10s to be published, I first ought to mention a few obvious things:

  1. The timing of the articles is better in the first quarter of the new year rather than racing to get them all done at the end of a year, hence no 2018 edition.
  2. There will be no Alsace wines in the “Top 10 Whites” or “Top 10 Value Whites” categories – but do not adjust your sets, Alsace wines will have their own dedicated pieces.
  3. These lists are entirely subjective and are based on my personal opinions of the wines I’ve tasted, not an inclusive list of the best wines in the world (funnily enough I didn’t get sent any DRC or Bordeaux First Growth samples this year), so if you think there are obvious errors or omissions then please feel free to write about your own favourites on your own blog.

 

The Frankly Wines 2019 Top 10s:

  • Top 10 Whites
  • Top 10 Fizz
  • Top 10 Reds
  • Top 10 Sweet
  • Top 10 Value Whites
  • Top 10 Value Reds
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Ireland
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Alsace
Opinion, Tasting Events

Fine Time (Part 1 – NZ & Australia)

There are few words that bring joy to a winelover’s ears as much as “fine wine sale”.  Below are some of the Kiwi and Aussie wines included in Irish chain O’Briens’ fine wine sale that I have tried and enjoyed this year.  I will leave the discussion on what constitutes “fine wine” for another day!

Note: links now added as O’Briens have also taken the fine wine sale online.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (13.1%, €33.95 down to €26.95 at O’Briens)

cloudy bay sauvignon blanc

The one Savvy to rule them all – Cloudy Bay brought Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to international attention and acclaim, for a while it sat alone at the top of the tree. Nowadays it has company – not least Greywacke, made by Cloudy Bay’s founding winemaker Kevin Judd, and Dog Point, also made by former CB winemakers.

But it’s in difficult vintages such as 2017 where the premium labels really earned their stripes; lots of grey rot was present in the grapes of bulk producers – a byproduct of being paid for quantity over quality – so the careful selection and sorting of upmarket producers like Cloudy Bay made a huge difference to the finished wine.  This is so much smoother and less aggressive than everyday Marlborough Sauvignon that it’s almost like a different wine!

Man O’War Dreadnought Waiheke Island Syrah 2014 (14.6%, €35.45 down to €26.95 at O’Briens)

man-o-war-dreadnought-syrah-2014

Man O’War’s nautically named Flagship range always go down a treat chez moi – and they are indeed a treat, especially the Valhalla Chardonnay.  Here we have their Dreadnought Syrah, perhaps a little riper and fuller-bodied than the Syrahs of Hawke’s Bay, but still recognisably Kiwi.  Black fruit and blueberries are framed by oak (though now integrating well) and tannins (present but ripe).  A fantastic wine!

St Hallett Old Block Barossa Shiraz 2014 (13.7%, €60.00 down to €48.00 at O’Briens)

St-Hallett-Old-Block-Shiraz-2014

Whereas the Dreadnought above is unmistakably Kiwi, this is unmistakably Barossa.  In fact the fruit is sourced from two sub-regions of the Barossa Zone, the Barossa Valley proper (62%) and the slightly cooler Eden Valley (38%) just to the east (note the ABV is a fairly moderate 13.7%.)  And “Old Block”?  That means OLD, with a minimum vine age for the 2014 of 80 years.  The result is a fabulous, concentrated wine with vibrant red and black berry fruit and fine tannins.

d’Arenberg Dead Arm McLaren Vale Shiraz 2015 (14.5%, €54.95 down to €43.95 at O’Briens)

dArenberg Dead Arm Shiraz

Another iconic Aussie Shiraz, this time from McLaren Vale which is a short way south of Adelaide and a few clicks inland from the sea.  Cheeky chappie Chester Osbourne is still the head winemaker of this family firm, but despite the loud shirts and outgoing personality he really knows his stuff (the 2002 Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon was my top red of 2017.)   Intense red, purple and black fruit dominate the palate – this will be at its best in the years to come, but drinkable now, especially if decanted.

Also see my French picks in part 2

Single Bottle Review

Wayne Thomas McLaren Vale Dry Riesling 2006 [Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #15]

Wayne Thomas McLaren Vale Dry Riesling 2006 (12.5%, €18.46 down to €16.61 at Karwig’s)

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

When I think of Aussie Riesling I think of Clare Valley, Eden Valley and Great Southern – in that order.  As Australia has a fairly warm climate, higher altitude sites are often best for Riesling as it likes to be fairly cool.

But here’s one from McLaren Vale which is probably best known for its GSM blends.  The grapes are from the sandy Oliver Creek Vineyards of McLaren Flat.  Unfortunately, the winemaker Wayne Thomas passed away around ten years ago so there is no more of this wine being produced; his son is also in the wine business, but making quite different wines up in the Hunter Valley.

On the nose this shows lots of development: petrol and kerosene with a little tropical fruit.  The palate is textured and racy, with chalky, mineral notes and fresh lime and grapefruit.  The back label suggests 3 – 6 years ageing but this is still going very well – and an absolute bargain at the reduced price!

 

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2017

Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and Syrah make up a good proportion of the reds I really enjoyed last year and will be looking to enjoy again soon:

10. Urlar Gladstone Pinot Noir 2014 (14.5%, RRP €23.95)

Urlar-Pinot-Noir

When it comes to New Zealand Pinot Noir a lot of the bottles available in Ireland are from Marlborough.  Although some are very good, for me a lot of them are just a bit average.  One alternative is to head for Central Otago’s bigger, bolder Pinots – but they often come with a serious price tag.  Instead, why not head to one of the first Pinot producing areas in the country – Wairarapa at the bottom of the North Island.  Martinborough is the most famous sub-region (particularly as it’s easier for us to pronounce), but Gladstone is also worth checking out.  Urlar’s Pinot shows black fruit and spice but with savoury notes – none of the jam or cherry cola than can appear in Marlborough.  It’s quite a powerful wine but well balanced and equally at home with dinner or on its own.

9. Dominio de la Vega Paraje Tournel Utiel-Requena Bobal 2014 (14.0%, RRP €23.95)

paraje-tornel-bobal-2014

Neither the DO Utiel-Requena wine region nor the Bobal grape are particularly renowned, and the two are intertwined.  The DO is in the province of Valencia in the east of Spain and has traditionally been known for its bulk wine, three quarters of which was made from Bobal.  Some more quality conscious producers realised that careful viticulture, keeping yields low (the antithesis of bulk wine production!) and good treatment in the winery could allow Bobal’s hitherto hidden quality to shine through.  I haven’t tasted many examples of Bobal but this was fantastic – a nice change from the standard Tempranilli, Garnacha and Monastrell.  It’s aged for 12 months in new French oak barrels then 12 months in bottle before release.  This is darker and more full bodied than many Spanish reds, full of blackcurrant and blueberry with hints of vanilla.  The acidity keeps the fruit fresh and adds to the long finish.

8. Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2015 (13.0%, RRP €32.50)

Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage Rouge 2015

Unlike some, I’m often wary of buying Crozes-Hermitage.  Yes they can be good value, pleasant drinking, and often good with food, but rarely do they have the “wow factor” – so I’m more likely to trade up to a Saint-Joseph.  However, here is one that does have the wow factor, or more accurately, the WOW FACTOR – it’s easily the best Crozes I’ve ever tried.  It’s everything that Northern Rhone Syrah can be – intensely savoury, smoky and spicy, with juicy red and black fruits, black pepper and black olive.  It’s still young at the moment with lots of tannin, but this is a wine to buy a dozen or two of and drink them over the next decade.

7. Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2004 (14.5%, RRP €35 for current releases)

Penfolds-Bin-28-Kalimna Shiraz

 

Unless you’re very familiar with the Penfolds range, it’s not that obvious where each particular wine fits in to the hierarchy.  Bin 28 just squeezes into the “Penfolds Collection”, the flagship range which goes all the way up to Grange, Bin 707 and Yattarna.  I had no idea of this when I bought a few bottles of the 2004 vintage several years ago for €20, but the current RRP of €35 and the sheer quality of the wine make me believe it deserves its status.  Intense black (and blue!) fruit are joined by black olive and liquorice notes.

6. Ziereisen Rhini Baden Spätburgunder 2011 (12.5%, RRP €49)

ziereisen-rhini

If you want to see how good German Pinot Noir can be, try this producer from the country’s warmest wine region, Baden.  Compared to many other Spätburgunders this has more of everything – more fruit, more oak, more tannin and more body.  That might not necessarily be a successful recipe but the quality of the fruit from the Rhini vineyard and gentle winemaking have resulted in a delicious, well-balanced wine.  It’s far from cheap, but better value than many Burgundies of the same quality (and yes, it deserves to be spoken of in the same sentence).

5. Mourchon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 (15.0%, RRP €50)

Mourchon Chateauneuf du pape

2017 was the year that I really rediscovered Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  For casual drinkers that might be something of a surprise, as it’s a very well-known wine.  However, negociants who buy the bottom of the barrel or the cheapest grapes in the appellation have done it a disservice – there’s lots of very average Châteauneuf out there which trades on the name.  A few over the past several years have restored my faith and then the Big Rhône Tasting at Ely in November 2017 there was an abundance of great CNDP.  This example from Mourchon impressed me without a stratospheric price.  The blend is 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre and 10% Syrah which is a slight variation on the usual GSM order, but the extra Mourvèdre helps to add more backbone and darker fruit notes.

4. GD Vajra Bricco delle Viole Barolo 2013 (14.0%, RRP €83.99)

GD Vajra Barolo Bricco Delle Viole 2013

While many Barolos can be acidic, tannic and unapproachable in their youth, G.D. Vayra’s eschew that “playing hard to get” style.  The Bricco delle Viole vineyard is 4.79 ha in total area and runs from 380m – 470m; the altitude makes for a long growing season so complex flavours can develop while preserving freshness.  Although 14.0% abv this is not a heavy wine; it has body but is light enough to dance on the tongue.  It shows typical rose and tar notes on the nose with raspberry and blackberry on the palate.  Above all, it’s a smooth, complex but accessible wine.

3. Château-Gris Nuits-Saint-George 1er Cru “Château-Gris” Monopole 2015 (cask sample) (13.5%, RRP €73)

Chateau Gris

Château-Gris is part of the Albert Bichot portfolio and is a monopole appellation, i.e. a single producer owns the whole vineyard – and when the appellation is named after the producer that’s no surprise.  Depending on the vintage the wine is matured for 12 – 15 months in oak, of which 25% is new; the oak was quite prominent on this cask sample but didn’t overpower the sweet red and black fruit.  Some people cite red Burgundy as the holy grail of wine – this wine manages to be so good, powerful yet ethereal, that I’m starting to be a believer.

2. Ar.Pe.Pe. Valtellina Superiore Sassella Riserva “Rocce Rossa” 2007 (13.5%, RRP €76.95)

arpepe-sassella-rocce-rosse-2007

Valtellina in Lombardy is far less celebrated than Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco, yet its best producers can produce some very fine wines indeed.  And fine is actually a very apt descriptor as the wines are lighter and more ethereal than their counterparts to the west.  It’s not a case of which is better, but rather which one prefers or is in the mood for. This lovely Sassella from the Rocce Rossa vineyard was ten years old when tasted but was still in the earlier stages of development.  Cherry and herbs were the key notes in a fabulous wine.

1. D’Arenberg Coppermine Road McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (14.5%, RRP ~€50 for current releases)

darenberg-the-coppermine-road-cabernet-sauvignon-2002

D’Arenberg is an iconic producer in McLaren Vale and this is one of their three icon wines – the other two being the celebrated Dead Arm Shiraz and the less well known Ironstone Pressings GSM blend.  The 2002 was only the eighth release under this name, though d’Arenberg have been releasing fine Cabernet Sauvignon from their High Trellis vineyard for over four decades (winning the 1969 Jimmy Watson Trophy).  I opened this wine at my birthday meal out with my wife and a couple of good friends – and it was stupendously good!  Although somewhat mature at fifteen years old it was nowhere near over the hill.  Tannins were gentle and round and the big smack of cassis had been joined by cedar and graphite notes – just a perfectly balanced, à point, wonderful wine.

Tasting Events

Six Top Whites from the Ely Big Tasting

ely-bar-brasserie-private-wine-room

The Ely Big Tasting is now something of an institution on the Dublin wine scene, giving interested wine drinkers a chance to try a wide variety of wines from Ely’s suppliers.  Some of them are already established favourites and some are shown to gauge interest from punters.  Over the several events that I’ve attended (Spring and Autumn each year) it has been interesting to see the camaraderie and some good natured competition between the importers.

Here are six of my favourite whites from the Autumn 16 event:

D’Arenberg “The Money Spider” South Australia Roussanne 2010 (13.2%, Febvre)

money-spider

Roussanne is one of the most important grapes in France’s Rhône Valley and Languedoc-Roussillon.  Innovative McLaren Vale producers d’Arenberg decided to plant white Rhône varieties given how successful the Rhône varieties Shiraz/Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre are in the Vale.  And the theory paid off!  Nutty and peachy, it’s full of interesting flavours that you just don’t find in the usual supermarket suspects of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay.  Seek it out!

Ingrid Groiss Gemischter Setz Weinwiertel 2015 (Wine Mason)

gemischter-satz-cropped

Lovely field blend of 17 different varieties. These vines are all planted in the same vineyard and are harvested and vinified together. When Ingrid took on the family vineyards she had to rely on her grandmother to identify which variety was which!

The result in the glass is both complexity and drinkability – what more could you want?

In case you were curious, the varieties are:

Chardonnay, Müller Thurgau, Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Grauburgunder, Pinot Blanc, Frühroter Veltliner, Neuburger, Zierfandler, Rotgipfler, Sämling, Roter Veltliner, Grauer Vöslauer, Hietl Rote, Weiße Vöslauer and Silberweiße.

More info here.

Trimbach Alsace Vieilles Vignes Riesling 2012 (13.0%, C+C Gilbey’s)

riesling-selection-de-vieilles-vignes-2012-trimbach

This Vieilles Vignes (“Vee-ay Veen”, Old Vines) Riesling is a step above the standard Riesling (which I like) and slots in below Trimbach’s premium Cuvée Frédéric Emile.  The VV is only made in certain years (2009 was the release previous to this 2012) so my guess is that Trimbach only decide to make it when they have more quality fruit than they need for “Fred”.

Ther fruit is sourced from the lieux-dits (named vineyards) Rosacker, Muehlforst, Vorderer Haguenau and Pflaenzer.  Being old, the vines yield less grapes than in their youth, but the resultant wines have more intense and complex flavours.  This wine is mainly available in bars and restaurants (such as Ely!) rather than wine merchants and is worth calling in for on it own!

Lucien Aviet “Cuvée des Docteurs” Arbois-Jura 2011 (13.0%, La Rousse)

lucien

The Jura region – nestled in the hills between Burgundy and Switzerland – has been making wine for a long time, but has only recently stepped into the limelight.  The area’s Vin Jaune has been regarded as an interesting diversion but now the table wines are receiving lots of attention – due in no small part to Wink Lorch’s excellent book.

Whereas Vin Jaune and some other Jura wines are deliberately exposed to oxygen during their production, this Chardonnay is in the ouillé “wee-ay” style – the barrels are topped up to prevent a flor forming or major oxidative notes.  It’s therefore much more my cup of tea – or glass of wine!  The wild yeasts used are reflected somewhat in the wild flavours, so this isn’t for everyone, but every wine enthusiast should try it at least once.

La Fief du Breil “La Haye Fouassière” Muscadet Cru Communal 2013 (12.5%, Wines Direct)

le_fief_du_breil_1

Anyone who has holidayed on the Atlantic coast of France and has enjoyed the seafood there is almost certain to have tried Muscadet, from the western reaches of the Loire.  It’s a wine while is often maligned outside of an accompaniment for oysters, and if we take the average quality of all wines produced then that’s probably not too unfair.  However, some producers are very quality conscious and can make some fantastic wines in the region.

This cuvée spends 14 months on the lees, giving a very creamy texture, but remains refreshing thanks to vibrant acidity.  It will partner well with seafood but is just downright delicious on its own.

More info here (downloads).

Brookland Valley “Verse 1” Margaret River Chardonnay 2015 (13.5%, Liberty)

bv

Compared to most of the producers above, Brookland Valley is a newcomer – they were established in Margaret River in 1983 (compared to 1626 for Trimbach!)  While heritage and history are nice, at the end of the day it’s what’s in the glass that counts.  Verse 1 is their “entry level” range, with Estate above that and Reserve at the top.

This Chardonnay is a cracker, still young perhaps but full of flavour.  Racy grapefruit and lemon are set against brioche, vanilla and nuts.  It’s well balanced with a long finish.  If drinking in the next year or so then decant for half an hour before drinking, if you can.

More info here.

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Reds of 2015

As I said at the beginning of my review pieces, for me 2015 was an excellent year for wine.  If one region really stood out for me in 2015 it would be Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France; already well known for bulk wine and subsequently good value bottles, it has a growing reputation for excellence in the hands of dedicated producers.

Here are ten of the reds which most impressed me in the year:

10. Château de Rousselet Côtes de Bourg 2009 (€12.99, Lidl)

2015-10-28 16.10.47

For about 17 years my parents lived close to La Rochelle in the Charente Maritime department – much better known for Cognac than wine.  But happily it was close enough to Bordeaux that day trips were quite easy, and so at least once a summer I would head down in the car for some tasting and buying.

Heading south, the first subregions encountered are the Côtes de Blaye (now renamed) and Côtes de Bourg.  Touring around with a visitors booklet I would try new vineyards every year, plus return to a chosen few of the best.  Château de Rousselet was one I returned to year after year, as Francis Sou and son Emmanuel continued to gradually improve the quality of their wines.  Here are a few of the older bottles I still have:

2015-11-07 12.38.56

So I was surprised and delighted to see a fairly recent vintage being sold through Lidl! The 2009 vintage was outstanding in Bordeaux, and even modest areas such as the Côtes de Bourg produced some crackers – classic claret, still great for food, but also round and fruity enough to be drunk by itself.  Sadly the Lidl stores close to me didn’t have any stock when I visited!

9. Château Paul Mas Clos de Mures Coteaux du Languedoc 2013 (€16.99, Molloys)

2015-10-13 21.56.17

Paul Mas is one of the star estates of the Languedoc. There are several different quality levels of which Château Paul Mas is around the top – “Everyday luxury”.  The equivalent white also featured in my Top 10 whites of 2015.

As it common in the Languedoc this is a blend, comprising 83% Syrah, 12% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre – so it’s a GSM blend of sorts, though showing more black than red fruit due to the higher Syrah content.  This wine was one of the surprise stars of the (as yet unpublished) DNS tastings on Syrah and Shiraz – both for the absolute quality and the value for money at €16.99.  

8. Condado De Haza Crianza DO Ribero del Duero 2011 (€23, JN Wine and others)

Condado de Haza

Pesquera’s sister property in a warmer part of the Ribero del Duero shares much in terms of ethos and quality but has a different sensibility – it’s more fun and accessible, with an emphasis on fruit and pleasure rather than refinement.  Plum, blackcurrant and black cherry are rounded off by vanilla from 18 months in American oak.

There’s no doubt that Tinta Pesquera is the senior sibling but this crowd-pleaser is a lot of wine for sensible money, and is the one I would chose to drink on its own.  

See this article for more details.

7. Cono Sur Single Vineyard Block 21 “Viento Mar” Pinot Noir 2012 (€19.99 from O’Brien’s Wines, Mitchell & Sons, Redmonds of Ranelagh, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin, Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, Bradley’s and O’Driscoll’s of Cork)

2015-10-01 20.01.57

Cono Sur do a great range of Pinot Noirs from the everyday Bicicleta up to the prestigious Ocio.  This is a single vineyard release Pinot which sits roughly in the middle of the range; there are also seven other varietal single vineyard releases including Riesling, Carmenère and Syrah – I’d like to try them at some point as well!

The vineyard itself is nicknamed the Spanish for “Sea Wind”, invoking the coastal breezes which help keep the temperature relatively cool in San Antonio Valley – ideal for Pinot Noir.

Luscious black and red fruits combine with a hint of vanilla – it’s got lots of fruit but fresh rather than confected fruit.  Amazingly drinkable, and knocks spots off Burgundy (and most other regions’) Pinot at this price.

See this article for more details.

6. Domaine L’Ostal Cazes Grand Vin Minervois La Livinère 2011 (€23.49, O’Briens)

2015-09-03 13.44.49

The general Minervois appellation has around 800ha planted to vines and the smaller, more prestigious, Minervois La Livinière appellation is around a quarter of that, with lower yields and a higher proportion of better-regarded grapes such as Syrah.

The JM Cazes group of Château Lynch-Bages fame first ventured outside of Bordeaux when they acquired this property in 2002.  The Grand Vin composes 70% Syrah, 15% Carignan, 10% Grenache and 5% Mourvèdre and weighs in at 14.0%, so in weight terms it’s somewhere in between northern and southern Rhône.

Although it doesn’t have the stature of its more well-known stablemates, it’s more accessible than most of them – especially those from Paulliac and Saint-Estèphe – and would be the one I reached for most often given the choice of all of them.

5. Alpha Zeta Amarone della Valpolicella 2011 (€35, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)

2015-09-02 19.23.59

Amarone is one of the first Italian wines that people fall in love with, enjoying its big rich flavours and textures, though they come at a premium price.  It’s a wine that’s easy to love.  Sometimes it can get a bit too much, with jammy fruit and high alcohol making too much of a mouthful for a second glass.

This example from Alpha Zeta is one of the most well-balanced I’ve come across, and while it might still be too fruit forward for Barolo loving masochists it doesn’t intimidate. Also, compared to many it is (relatively) inexpensive at €35 a bottle (many others go far north of €40).

This was the bottle I took along to a meal with fellow wine blogger friends at Dada Moroccan restaurant in Dublin.  The touch of sweetness and richness turned out to be a perfect match for the lamb and apricot tagine I ordered – probably the favourite wine of the evening.

4. Uno de Mil Tempranillo & Petit Verdot (€23.95, Cases Wine Warehouse)

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A pretty label and a stunning wine, which happens to be organic and biodynamic.  Such is the explosion of fresh fruit and vanilla in the mouth that it instantly made me think of a blueberry muffin!  Made from a blend of Tempranillo (from Rioja and Ribero del Duero) and Petit Verdot (a small part of some Bordeaux reds), it’s from the less well-known region of La Mancha – but knocks spots of plenty of Rioja that I’ve had!

3. E.Guigal “Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph” Saint-Joseph 2005 (2009: €46, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin)

Saint Joseph

 

Saint-Joseph has become my go-to Rhône appellation, with its lovely blackberry, black olive and sour black cherry flavours.  What I hadn’t appreciated was that the appellation was named after an actual vineyard, itself named after Holy Joe himself who was reputed to have lived there.

Now in the hands of famed Rhône producer Guigal, the “lieu-dit” Saint-Joseph produces both red and white wines of superlative quality.  2005 was an exceptional year in the northern Rhône (10/10 according to The Wine Society) and this wine was at its peak.  It showed all the trademark Saint-Joseph notes but with a polish and complexity that stood out.

2. D’Arenberg The Dead Arm McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005 (2008: €54.99 from O’Briens and independent merchants)

Dead Arm

D’Arenberg are one of the standout producers of McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide in Australia.  Led by the colourful (in several senses) Chester Osbourne,  they have a wide portfolio of wines with different quality levels and varieties.  The Dead Arm is one of their three Icon bottlings, along with The Coppermine Road (which I once realised I was driving on!) Cabernet Sauvignon and Ironstone Pressings Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre.

And the unusual name?  From the d’Arenberg website:

Dead Arm is a vine disease caused by the fungus Eutypa Lata that randomly affects vineyards all over the world. Often affected vines are severely pruned or replanted. One half, or an ‘arm’ of the vine slowly becomes reduced to dead wood. That side may be lifeless and brittle, but the grapes on the other side, while low yielding, display amazing intensity

The 2005 is beautifully mature, though far from over the hill.  It has the blackberry and plum fruit, pepper and spice plus vanilla notes as you’d expect from an Aussie Shiraz, but these flavours are all now interwoven and settled in; they are speaking in harmony rather than shouting individually.  I just wish I’d bought more than one bottle!

1. Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1996 (~€115, Sweeney’s of Glasnevin and other independents)

Bin707

And so for the third year running my favourite wine of the year is a Penfolds red!  In 2013 it was the 1998 Bin 707, then in 2014 I was lucky enough to try the Grange 2008.  The former would have has a good shout again in 2015 but the bottle of 1998 I had planned to open with Christmas dinner didn’t actually get opened until 2016.  I did, however, open both 1996 and 1997 and it was narrowly the former which I favoured.

The biggest surprise was that although it showed signs of maturity in the brick red rim, the nose and palate still showed lots of fruit – overwhelmingly blackcurrant, of course, given that this is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  There were some touches of cedar and pencil shavings that pointed to its age, but they were knitted in.

Bin 707 stands second to Grange in the Penfolds hierarchy, but for my tastes it runs it very close or even beats it sometimes!

 

Also check out the Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites, Top 10 Fizz and Top 10 Sweet wines of 2015.

 

 

Tasting Events

Classics… and new Classics

I was delighted to recently invite myself be invited to Classic Drinks‘ Portfolio Tasting at Fade Street Social Restaurant in the heart of Dublin.  Classic supply both on and off trade in Ireland and given their portfolio of 800 wines there’s a good chance that the average Irish wine drinker has tried one.

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

Champagne Pannier Brut NV (RRP €52.99)

Champagne Pannier Brut NV
Champagne Pannier Brut NV

Given my proclivities for quality fizz (a friend and fellow wine blogger dubbed me a “Bubbles Whore”, to which I have no retort) it was no surprise to see me making a beeline for the Champagne.

Louis-Eugène Pannier founded his eponymous Champagne house in 1899 at Dizy, just outside Epernay, later moving to Château-Thierry in the Vallée de la Marne.  The current Cellar Master, Philippe Dupuis, has held the position for over 25 years.  Under him the house has developed a reputation for Pinot-driven but elegant wines.

The Non Vintage is close to a three way equal split of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier. The black grapes provide body and red fruit characters, but the good whack (technical term) of Chardonnay gives citrus, flowers and freshness.  A minimum of 3 years ageing adds additional layers of brioche.  It’s a well balanced and classy Champagne.

Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Scaia Garganega / Chardonnay IGT Veneto 2013 (RRP €16.99)

Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Scaia Garganega / Chardonnay IGT Veneto 2013
Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Scaia Garganega / Chardonnay IGT Veneto 2013

From near Venice comes this blend of local and international white varieties: Garganega 50%, Chardonnay  30%, Trebbiano di Soave 20%.

Garganega is probably most well known for being the basis of Soave DOC / DOCG wines, whose blends often include the other local grape here, Trebbiano di Soave.  In fact, the latter is also known as Verdicchio in the Marche region where it is most popular.

So how is it?  Amazing bang for your buck. More than anything this is peachy – so peachy, in fact, that you can’t be 100% convinced they haven’t put peaches in with the grapes when fermenting!  More info here.

Angove Butterfly Ridge South Australia Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013 (RRP €13.99)

Angove Butterfly Ridge South Australia Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013
Angove Butterfly Ridge South Australia Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013

Angove was founded in the beautiful region of Mclaren Vale (just south of Adelaide in South Australia) in 1886, and are still family run and owned, now by the fifth generation.  The company has sixteen sub-ranges which span a large range of quality levels (and price brackets).

So why doesn’t the new World do more of this type of blend?  Lots of citrus zing from the Riesling with just a touch of peachy body and spicy aromas from the Gewurz.  The precise blend was the matter of some contention, with both (40% / 60%) and (30% / 30%) being quoted, though my guess would be closer to 80% / 20% as otherwise Gewurz would totally steal the show on the nose.

This would be great as an aperitif or flexible enough to cope with many different Asian cuisines – Indian, Thai, Chinese and Japanese.

Seifried Nelson Pinot Gris 2012 (RRP €20.99)

Seifried Nelson Pinot Gris 2012
Seifried Nelson Pinot Gris 2012

Internationally, Nelson is firmly in the shadow of Marlborough when it comes to both export volumes and familiarity with consumers.  Although Nelson isn’t far from Marlborough at the top of the South Island, it gets more precipitation and produces wines of a different style.

Neudorf is one Nelson producer which has received accolades for its owners Tim and Judy Finn, and Seifried is another.  From their website:

The Seifried family have been making stylish food-friendly wines since 1976. The range includes rich full Chardonnays, fine floral Rieslings, lively Sauvignon Blancs, warm plummy Pinot Noirs and intensely delicious dessert wines.

If you see the Seifried “Sweet Agnes” Riesling then snap it up, it’s delicious!

The 2012 Pinot Gris has an Alsace Grand Cru standard and style nose – so much stone fruit, exotic fruit and floral notes.  On the palate these are joined by spice, pear and ginger.  This would be a great food wine with its comforting texture

For my personal taste it would be even better with a touch more residual sugar than its 5g/L, but that’s just me and my Alsace bias.  A lovely wine.

Laroche Chablis Premier Cru AOP Chantrerie 2011 (RRP €32.99)

Laroche Chablis Premier Cru AOP Chantrerie 2011
Laroche Chablis Premier Cru AOP Chantrerie 2011

More than just Chardonnay, more than just Chablis…in fact this is more than just 1er Cru Chablis, it’s a great effort.  There’s a hint of something special on the nose but it really delivers on the palate – it just sings.

Laroche tells us that the fruit is sourced from several Premier Cru vineyards such as Vosgros, Vaucoupins and Vaulignau (I don’t know if selection is alphabetical…) and then blended together so the wine is more than the sum of its parts.

The majority (88%) is aged in stainless steel and the remainder (12%) in oak barrels. The texture and palate weight might lead you to believe that more oak was involved, but this also comes from nine months ageing on fine lees and the minimal filtration. Full info here.

Thanks to Classic Drinks and venue hosts Fade Street Social!

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!