For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two. This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while. I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.
Phil Green is a wine blogger in his spare time under the moniker Phil My Glass, but spends his weekdays as a wine consultant to restaurants and is also currently representing Champagne Perrier-Jouët.
Dreaming of a Red Christmas
Christmas is my favourite time of year. Not only because of visiting family, time off work and eating more food than you could fit in a supermarket trolley, but also because it’s a great excuse to open one of my bottles of wine that I’ve been keeping stored away. This year I’ll be cracking into one of my Château Phélan-Ségur 2010 bottles that has been giving me the glad eye all year.
Château Phélan-Ségur takes its name from original owner, Irishman Bernard Phelan, who acquired Domaine le Clos de Garamey in 1805 and Ségur de Cabernac in 1810. These estates were combined to create Château Ségur de Garamey. The estate was passed on to Bernard’s son, Frank Phelan in 1841 when Bernard passed away, and Frank renamed the estate as Chateau Phelan Segur.
The reputation of this château exceeds its placing in Bordeaux’s rankings. Not included in the original classification of 1855, the wine was classified as one of 9 Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnels in 2003 and has been rated highly by critics such as Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson.
Situated in the commune of St Estèphe on Bordeaux’s left bank, the wine shows the trademark power of a Cabernet Sauvignon blend from this area of Bordeaux. The style of the chateau is to be fruit forward and have a good balance of oak. The last time I tasted this was about 2 years ago and I’m very interested to see how it has developed in a couple of years in the bottle, especially from a great vintage such as 2010.
Wines such as this deserve to be enjoyed with friends and family and be enjoyed slowly over the course of the evening and I will be looking forward to enjoying my bottle on Christmas day!
Château Phélan-Ségur 2010: available from McHughs at €70 (14.0%)
Château Tayet is a 10 hectare estate located at the south east corner of the Médocpeninsula, in the commune of Macau. As it’s just south of the Margaux appellation it is simply AOC Bordeaux, or AOC Bordeaux Supérieur (which is not that meaningful in itself). However, the potential of the property is definitely greater than its simple appellation would indicate.
The name itself only dates back to 1994 when it was taken over by the people behind Château Haut Breton Larigaudière in Margaux itself; it was previously known as Cru de Noë and then Château Les Charmilles. 1994 was also the start of the Cuvée Prestige, made with the best fruit and matured in a mixture of new and old oak for six months.
The vineyards are planted to Merlot (55%), Cabernet Sauvignon (40%) and Petit Verdot (5%). While the Médoc is though of as Cabernet country, it tends to be the Crus Classés of Pauillac which are very Cabernet dominated (over 80% in some vintages); Margaux is less so, and Haut-Médoc wines are often a 50% Cabernet – 50% Merlot blend. That perspective shows that Château Tayet is aiming for a certain style and quality of wine.
At the WineMasons tasting earlier in the year I had the opportunity to taste two vintages back to back:
Château Tayet Cuvée Prestige Bordeaux Supérieur 2009 (13.0%, €21 at The Corkscrew, Blackrock Cellar, D-Six, Green Man Wines & McHughs)
2009 was a fabulous year for Bordeaux, so much so that some commentators said it was hard to make a bad wine in such a vintage. The richness that is so typical of 2009 really comes through, with soft, velvety fruit that’s very approachable and rewarding. There’s still power there, even eight years after vintage – in fact I’d say this is at peak drinking right now.
Château Tayet Cuvée Prestige Bordeaux Supérieur 2011 (13.5%, €19 at Drinkstore)
2011 was a cooler vintage in Bordeaux and in general was rated a few notches below 2009. The cooler year means that richness is dialed back a little, and savoury characters fill in the gap. Black fruit is joined by black olive and tobacco notes, and prominent acidity gives freshness. In other words, this is more of a classic claret.
So which is better? At the tasting I wrote “you pays your money, you take your choice” as these are both very good wines, though different in style. If all depends what youlike, and particularly if you plan to drink the wine on its own (go for 2009) or with food (go for 2011. My personal preference is for the 2009, so grab it while you can!
As well as their permanent range which has an emphasis on good value bottles for everyday drinking, discount supermarket Lidl also offer limited quantities of slightly more upmarket wines at different points during the year.
22nd February 2016 will see the Ireland launch of their special French wines, only available while stocks last – and some will be so limited that you’ll have to strike up a friendship with someone from Lidl Customer Services!
Here are 5 reds which impressed me, all from Bordeaux:
Château de Francs, Francs-Côtes de Bordeaux 2011 (€12.99)
Of the five I’ve chosen this is perhaps the most traditional in character, coming from a cooler year. However, the producer has obviously gone to great lengths to make a fruit forward wine – blackcurrant, blackberry and plum compete for your palate’s attention, along with classic notes of pencil shavings and cedar wood. Of the wines I’ve picked this has perhaps the most noticeable tannins, so it would shine with a steak!
The label shows 14.0% which is significantly higher than the vast majority of Bordeaux was when I cut my teeth on it in the early 90s – though that’s a story for another day. It does give you an idea of the body and power this wine has – not for shrinking violets!
Fronsac Château de Carles 2008 (€17.99)
Fronsac is close to St-Emilion and while it doesn’t have its neighbour’s cachet it is capable of producing some excellent wines, often priced favourably. 2008 was a good but not great year in general, but is often overlooked as the following 2009 and 2010 vintages were excellent. Predominantly Merlot fruit gives big ripe plum and blackberry flavours; the tannins are very soft making this very drinkable indeed. Would keep for several more years but at its peak now.
Château Cos Fontaine Francs-Côtes de Bordeaux 2010 (€12.99)
Ripe fruit – mainly plum and blackberry – suggest a majority of Merlot in this right bank red. At just over five years of age it is showing some development, so tannins have softened and fruit is settling in. Being from the fantastic 2010 vintage helps to make it seriously drinkable, and a great bargain at that.
Josephine de Boyd Margaux 2009 (€24.99)
Margaux is probably the most celebrated appellations of the Médoc, at its best producing silky feminine reds based on a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon but with a good proportion of Merlot and other minor players. This is the second wine of Château Boyd Cantenac which was awarded Third Growth status in the 1855 Classification – obviously some time ago but still has some relevance today. In a great year like 2009 it makes sense to go for a second wine as there is so much quality fruit on each estate that the second wine gets plenty rather than just whatever is left over after making the Grand Vin.
This is a great example of Margaux, silky and seductive, well structured and classy with a very long finish.
Fleur Quercus Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2010 (€24.99)
Wow! Another beauty from 2010, but this time a few rungs up the quality scale. Saint-Emilion is a world famous part of Bordeaux (and a lovely little town to visit if you ever get the chance), which means some producers can cash in on the cachet. Not here though, it is fully deserving of the appellation.
Intense black berry fruit is complemented by anise and other spices. It’s soft, seductive and dangerously easy to drink – even at 14.0%.
Money no object, this was my favourite red of the whole tasting!
Honest 2 Goodness (H2G for short) are a small family wine importers based in Glasnevin, Dublin. They specialise in family owned wineries throughout Europe, and in particular those with an organic, sustainable or biodynamic philosophy.
Here are a few of their wines that I enjoyed at their most recent Organic & Low Sulphite Tasting:
Domaine de Maubet Côtes de Gascogne 2014 (€14.95, 11.5%)
Typical South West France blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard, Ugni Blanc and Gros Manseng. Ripe green and red apples, fresh pears. Crisp acidity, light and fruity – so easy to drink on its own, but versatile with food.
Borgo Paglianetto Verdicchio di Matelica 2014 (€18.45, 12.5%)
Restrained nose; soft but textured on the palate, lemon and grapefruit combined. Tangy, don’t drink too chilled. Marche wines are really coming to the fore at the moment.
A favourite producer that I’ve covered several times. Grapefruit again, though not as juicy. A grown up wine that would excel with food.
Château Canet Minervois Blanc 2014 (€17.95, 13.0%)
50% barrel fermented; blend of Roussanne and Bourboulenc, both well known in the Rhône. Tangy, textured, pleasantly sour (Haribo Tangfastics). Plenty of mouthfeel and soft stone fruit. Moreish.
Casa Benasal by Pago Casa Gran Valencia 2012 (€18.95, 14.0%)
The Spanish equivalent of a GSM blend: Monstrell, Syrah and Garnacha Tintorera. Plum, blackberry, and blueberry on the nose, following through onto the palate. A full-bodied winter wine; lots of fruit with a light dusting of tannins on the finish. Perfect with stew or casserole (depending on where you heat the pot, apparently).
Château Segue Longue Monnier Cru Bourgeois Médoc 2010 (€25.95, 13.5%)
A trad Médoc blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Very perfumed on the nose, showing black fruits, spice and parma violets. Soft and voluptuous in the mouth – definitely from a warmer vintage. Classy.
Lionel Richie’s Commodores were easy on Sunday morning, but when it’s a bank holiday weekend it means Sunday evenings are even better than the mornings.
This Sunday evening I was invited to my brother-in-law Andrew’s for take out and wine – what a relaxing way to spend a Sunday evening – with the rider that his wine-loving friend Noel and family would also be there. Andrew sorted the food, and Noel provided most of the wine, with a bit chipped in from Andrew and myself.
Although it was easy, it was also a very enjoyable evening, with some cracking wines noted below. Where there is an Irish stockist listed on Wine Searcher I have added it, otherwise a UK stockist.
A good rule of thumb for Austrian Grüners is that the alcohol level is an indicator of the wine’s style, and so the 12.0% of this Birgit Eichinger proved true to be a light, summer-quaffing style. Fresh and light, it doesn’t scream its grape variety, but is remarkably easy to drink.
Pauillac is probably the most prestigious appellation on the Médoc peninsula, Bordeaux’s left bank with grand names and grander buildings. Three of the five First growths are in the commune – Châteaux Lafite, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild – with world famous reputations and prices to match.
The small village of Saint-Lambert within the Commune of Pauillac is home to the much more modestly priced Château Gaudin. Its wines are very much true to the general Pauillac style, being dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (85%) with support from Merlot (10%) and Carménère (5%) plus tiny dashes of Petit Verdot and Malbec.
2009 was the middle year of three fantastic vintages within six years (2005 – 2009 – 2010) and was perfect for Cab Sauv. With such a high percentage of that grape one might think that five or six years from harvest is too short a time for a wine to be approachable, but this is already drinking fantastically now. The fruit is still dense and the evidence of 18 months ageing in new oak barrels is still apparent, but there’s no reason to wait!
Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc Grand Cru Classé 2010 (€55, O’Briens)
Made by widely admired superstar Bernard Magrez of Pessac’s Pape-Clement, La Tour Carnet was officially classed as a Fourth Growth in 1855. Debate as to the relevancy of that classification continues, but it is useful as a general indicator of quality.
Average vine-age is 30 years. The precise blend changes from year to year, but it is usually led by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with small contributions from Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. After fermentation, 70% of the blend was aged on the lees in French oak barrels for 18 months (30% of which new) and the balance in stainless steel.
Although from a very good year, in comparison with the Ch. Gaudin above it was perhaps a little awkward and not quite sure what it wanted to be. A very nice drop which, with a bit of patience, might integrate more fully and blossom in a few years.
Castellare I Sodi Di San Niccolo IGT Toscana 2010 (GBP 40.42, Exel, €61.67 (2011) Millesima)
I have to confess I hadn’t heard of this wine before, but after asking the google it seems as though I really should have! Widely decorated, it’s a blend of 85% Sangioveto (the local name for Sangiovese) with 15% Malvasia Nera. The name “I Sodi” refers to land so steep and uneven that it has to be worked manually, not even using horses.
Castellare di Castellina was born in 1968 from the consolidation of five farms in the Chianti Classico region, and became solely owned by Paolo Panerai around ten years later. At that point he carried out a detailed survey of all the vines on the property so that the best genetic material could be selected.
Subsequently Paolo engaged in partnership with the University of Milan, the University of Florence and the Institute of San Michele all’Adige to carry out ongoing research on the best clones as well as the production of grapevines selected for the renovation of the vineyards.
On pouring I thought it very pleasant, but not amazing; very smooth and drinkable without bring special. However, after a bit of time in the glass it really started to open up, herbs and liquorice layers on top of cherries and blackberries. This is a fine wine that I will definitely be trying again.
An interjection between the reds, something sweet to go with dessert. From the pride of Ribeauvillé, this is a late harvest (that’s exactly what Vendanges Tardives means in French, or Spätlese in German) Gewurztraminer from 2001.
Probably not overly sweet in its youth, it is still sweeter than a normal Gewurz but is not at all “sticky”. The ageing process reduces the wine’s sweetness (though I have not yet found the mechanism) and there is still some acidity to offer balance. As you expect from Gewurz there’s a real floral aspect to it on the nose, with stone / white fruit such as peach and lychee on the palate.
It was actually a little too restrained for the chocolate brownie and ice cream dessert, but off itself was delicious. It’s showing no sign of slowing down at the moment so it might well make it as far as its 20th birthday.
Château Giscours Margaux 3ème Cru Classé 2009 (€100, McHugh’s)
Giscours was a Third Growth in the 1855 Classification, but its fortunes have waxed and waned several times since, mainly as ownership has changed and more or less was put into the vineyards. Margaux is the most feminine of the Médoc’s big four appellations, often with a higher percentage of Merlot than the others and a certain silkiness to the wines.
For the whole Giscours estate’s 94 hectares under vine, the split of grape varieties is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and the balance Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Of course the Grand Vin receives a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon than the second and third wines, particularly in a good year such as 2009. The estate matures the Grand Vin in 100 % French oak barrels (fine grain and medium toast) for 15 to 18 months, 50% of which are new and 50% have had one previous use.
Although still relatively young, this was not dumb, tight or closed – it was already singing. Modern Claret is sometimes overdone in the search for Parker points and so needs a decade before approaching, but it wasn’t the case here. Perhaps this was infanticide on a wine that will go on to greatness, only time will tell.
Penfolds Bin 707 South Australia 1998 (GBP 180, WinePro)
Grange occupies the sole spot at the top of the Penfolds pyramid, but Bin 707 isn’t too far behind. Whereas Grange is virtually all Shiraz based, the 707 is the King of Cabernet., allegedly named after the fancy new Boeing airliner of the time.
Grange’s first (though non-commercial) release was in 1951 and the 707’s inaugural vintage was 1964. It hasn’t been made every year since; between 1970 and 1975 there was a conscious decision to put the best Cabernet fruit in other wines, then in the years 1981, 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2011 winemakers didn’t have access to the appropriate style and quality of fruit.
Both Grange and Bin 707 are both multi-regional blends, that is, the fruit comes from several different vineyards in several different regions within South Australia. For the 707 these are Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, Robe and Wrattonbully. Maturation is for 18 months in 100% new American oak hogsheads (300 litres).
So 17 years on, how did it fare? To the eye the age was apparent on the rim which was quite red brick in hue, though the core was still opaque black. The nose showed spearmint, menthol & eucalyptus with dried black fruit and just a tiny hint of oxidisation.
To taste there was a touch of mint and lots of fresh blackcurrant, with some raisins in the background. It was really smooth and still monumental in mouthfeel, despite an abv of 13.5% which is quite modest by today’s standards. Above all it had an amazing length, a small sip lingered in the mouth for several minutes. A stunning wine.
Château Dereszla Tokaji Azsú 5 Puttonyos 2006
To cap it all off was a sweet – sweet wine. As I’ve mentioned before I reckon 5 putts is probably the *ahem* sweet spot for Tokaji, the perfect balance between flavour, sugar and acidity. Château Dereszla also produce 3 and 6 puttonyos wines, plus the legendary Aszú Eszencia
This showed typical apricot, honey and marmalade notes, quite sweet but not at all cloying. This is a wine to get up in the night to drink!