Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #6

Rhône Wine Week is the fourth such celebration of the wines of the Rhône Valley and runs in Ireland from 29th October to 5th November 2016.  Events and promotions will be held at good independent wine shops and restaurants throughout the country.

Each day during this year’s celebration will have its own wine to try:

Fondrèche “Cuvée Nadal” Ventoux 2012 (14.5%, €23 – 24 at Donnybrook Fair; 64 Wine; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock)

nadal

This wine is a  multi-faceted blend:

  • It’s a GSM assemblage (45% old vine Grenache, 45% Syrah & 10% Mourvèdre) with the Grenache vines in particular being old;
  • Also, the wine is aged in a mix of foudres (600L large vats), concrete eggs (for softness and a bit of a hippy touch) and barrels (228L, more traditional);
  • Finally, the wine is the labour of love of two people, Nanou Barthélemy & Sebastien Vincenti

It’s full of blackberry fruit with a liquorice – or is it black olive? – tang.  The different methods of ageing each add something a little different to the whole, and the age of the vines shows in the intensity of flavours.

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Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2016 #4

Rhône Wine Week is the fourth such celebration of the wines of the Rhône Valley and runs in Ireland from 29th October to 5th November 2016.  Events and promotions will be held at good independent wine shops and restaurants throughout the country.

Each day during this year’s celebration will have its own wine to try:

Domaine de la Janasse “Tradition” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (13.5%, €18 – €19 at 64 Wine, Glasthule)

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(Monsieur) Aimé Sabon took over his family’s vineyard on returning from military service in 1967.  He decided to make wine from his own grapes, building a winery in 1973 and gradually expanding his landholdings.  Domaine de la Janasse was named after the family’s farm in Courthézon.

Janasse Châteauneuf du Pape has been a firm favourite of mine since the first Rhône Wine Week some years ago, and of course is the Twitter pic of DNS Wine Club of which I am a member! The Côtes du Rhône is made from organically grown vines just outside Châteauneuf, and is the first real southern-Rhône blend in this series: 50% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, 15% Carignan (60+ years old) and 5% Cinsault.

It would be unfair to compare it with its big brother, as it’s a lighter wine and considerably cheaper, but it is one of the better CDRs around and would embarrass some other producers’ Châteauneufs!  Think strawberries, but not the ones grown in poly tunnels in Ireland ot Holland, think smaller alpine strawberries with much more intense flavours.

 

 

Make Mine A Double, Opinion

A Walk on the Wild Side [Make Mine a Double #25]

There are lots of trends in wine which compete for our attention at the moment – orange wines, natural wines, organic, biodynamic, lutte raisonnée, skin contact, wild ferment, pet-nat, and many more.  Some are almost interchangeable and some are ill-defined.

Against this backdrop, many producers continue to improve quality by taking care in the vineyard, first and foremost, and allowing the terroir to be expressed in the wine.  One of the key ways of doing this is to use “wild” yeast, i.e. the yeast which occurs naturally in the vineyard, rather than commercial or cultured yeast.

Here are two wild yeast fermented wines from France which I tried recently:

Domaine des Chezelles Touraine Sauvignon 2015 (12.5%, €13.85 at Wines Direct)

dom-chezelles

Touraine Sauvignon is a banker for me, always fresh and fruity, great value for money…in a word, reliable.  Although this might sound like damning with faint praise, it isn’t; while not hitting the heights of Loire neighbours Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, it’s the appellation I actually buy the most of.

Domaine des Chezelles practises wild yeast fermentation and organic techniques but haven’t been certified (which can be an expensive process).  They’re using organic methods because they think it’s the right thing to do, rather than a sales tool.

In the glass it’s recognisably a Touraine Sauvignon, with lots of pleasant green flavours – gooseberry, grapefruit, green pepper and grass – but more exuberantly fruity than the norm.  Drink as an aperitif or with dishes containing asparagus or shellfish.

Château La Baronne Corbières “Les Chemins” 2013 (14.5%, €22.75 at Wines Direct)

labaronnechemins

Corbières was one of the first Languedoc appellations that I became familiar with, but quality has certainly increased over the past 20 years or so.  The reds (which are over 90% of all Corbières wines produced) are generally a blend composed of some or all of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault – what I call GSM-CC.

Les Chemins (“The Paths” or “The Ways”) is particularly interesting as it’s a naturally-produced wine from Corbières, but can’t be labelled as “natural” because of the sulphur levels – though no sulphur is added, the amount which occurs naturally is just over the threshold.  The blend is Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvère – the Lignères Family who own the Château are particularly fond of Carignan so it is the biggest component of the wine.

On pouring the wine has a wonderfully fruity nose – fruits of the forest in particular.  On the palate there are wondrous red and (mainly) black fruits – red and black cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant.  It’s the sort of wine that autumn really calls for!

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

 

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

 

 

Make Mine A Double

The Victorians at Molloys [Make Mine a Double #23]

2016-09-17-21-28-35

Once past the humongously big area that is “South Eastern Australia”, the next level of appellation is usually the state.  As the biggest wine producing state it’s usually South Australia that is most prominent on the wine shelves, with perhaps Western Australia next (WA is a relatively small producer in volume terms though it does produce a good proportion of Australia’s quality wines).  NSW has the Hunter Valley and others, but it’s those regions whose names make it onto labels.

Victoria has lots of quality wine regions such as the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Heathcote, but blends between them are not that common either.  Here are a couple of Victorian wines I tried recently that are multi-region blends:

MWC Pinot Gris Victoria 2015 (13.5%, €18 down to €15 in September at Molloy’s)

mvc-pinot-gris

The stylistic division between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris is quite a divider (and I’ve commented on it myself several times).  The divide is now being blurred by many wine makers who want to make a fresh, mineral style but with a lot more flavour than bulk Italian Pinot Grigio – Fiona Turner at Tinpot Hut is one.

This example is quite rich, though not as sweet or oily as Alsace versions can be.  There’s lots of tangy fruit flavours as a result of extended time on the skins.  It’s got enough to please both crowds without selling out to either – a great achievement!

MWC Shiraz Mourvedre Victoria 2014 (14.0%, €18 down to €15 in September at Molloy’s)

mvc-shiraz-mourvedre

Wines sold in the EU don’t have to mention minor parts of the blend if they are less than 15% in total, so mentioning the Mourvedre component of this 95% Shiraz 5% Mourvedre wine is a deliberate choice by the producers.  That tells you something – they want to stand out from the crowd of varietal Shiraz and they also think that even 5% of a variety adds something to the final wine.

As its sibling above, this is a blend from different premium vineyards across Victoria.  My educated guess would be that it contains a fair bit from the cooler southern regions such as Yarra Valley as it’s much lighter than most I’ve had from the warmer inland areas.  In the mouth it’s nice and smooth, but well-balanced.  It has the usual black fruit and spice but they are fresh rather than stewed or jammy.  This Shiraz blend would be fantastic with a peppered steak!

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

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

Tasting Events

A February Feast, part 2

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

 

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

Te Muna Road

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

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

Château Pesquié Ventoux Les Terrasses Rouge 2014 (€19)

Vue_du_Ventoux

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

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

diapo1

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

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

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

Badia

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

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

2016-02-23 13.43.47

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

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

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

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

 

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)

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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)

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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.

 

 

Make Mine A Double

Make Mine a Double #05 – Salt and Pepper

This series of articles each covers two wines that have something in common, and most likely some point of difference. Compare and contrast is the order of the day – so make mine a double!

No you haven’t gone mad, this is still a wine blog and not a condiments review.  Nor is it a homage to the New York female hip hop trio Salt-n-Pepa.  Read on…

salt and pepper
salt and pepper

I recently tasted two different wines, in different settings, from different countries and brought in by different companies, but one had a distinct pepper taste and one was remarkably salty, so I thought they would make for an interesting pair.

Bodegas Vegalfaro “Rebel;lia” Utiel-Requena DO 2014 (€12.95, Cases Wine Warehouse) 13.0%

Bodegas Vegalfaro “Rebel;lia” Utiel-Requena DO 2014
Bodegas Vegalfaro “Rebel;lia” Utiel-Requena DO 2014

The Utiel-Requena DO is in the Province and Autonomous Community of Valencia in eastern Spain, in the transition zone between the Mediterranean coast and La Mancha high plateau. Away from most of the softening effects of the Med, the climate is very continental (long hot, dry summers and cold winters) and one of the most severe in Spain.

Bobal is the main grape grown here, accounting for over three quarters of the land under vine. Other permitted black varieties are: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The authorised white varieties are: Planta Nova, Macabeo, Merseguera, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Until fairly recently, Utiel-Requena has mainly produced bulk wine for early drinking. Some vignerons are now taking quality much more seriously, especially where vineyards are located at altitude which gives the grapes a chance to rest in the cooler evenings.

From the design of the label you can guess that Bodegas Vegalfaro is a modern winery, even putting the name of the wine upside down on the label. And so it proves in the glass. This is a blend of two French grapes – Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc – which are often seen outside France as well as in the country itself, but rarely blended together. Often single varietals, when in a blend it is often with Sémillon or Colombard rather than each other (Italy is another exception).

It is a lovely, clean wine; no overt oakiness but plenty of citrus and tropical fruit.  The acidity is refreshing and keeps your mouth watering, especially with added saltiness on the finish!  It’s beyond the saline character of some Albariños or Sancerres, but while unusual is actually quite enticing.  The perfect fish and chip wine?  Perhaps, but move over Muscadet and Chablis, this is the perfect match for oysters!

Château Goudray Côtes du Rhônes Villages–Séguret 2013 (€12.99 down to €10.00, SuperValu) 14.0%

Château Goudray Côtes du Rhônes Villages–Séguret 2013
Château Goudray Côtes du Rhônes Villages–Séguret 2013

In the Rhône Valley there is a well-recognised hierarchy amongst the AOCs, with the 16 Crus at the top and generic Côtes-du-Rhônes at the bottom. One step up is Côtes-du-Rhônes Villages which is made within some of the better villages outside the Crus, and the final step below the Crus is Côtes-du-Rhônes Villages with one of 18 village names appended, such as Séguret as we have here.

Among the dozens of varieties permitted in the Southern Rhône, most wines are primarily blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, GSM for short.  Grenache gives soft red fruit, some body and plenty of alcohol.  Syrah and Mourvèdre give colour, tannin, acidity and complexity, especially with pepper and spice notes.

The village of Séguret has been voted the most beautiful in France – and the vista of vines growing protected by a hill must surely have helped.

Château Goudray was built around 1815 then after changing hands a few times was bought by Marie and Hugues Meffre in 1900.  The vines were still weakened after the effects of phylloxera so they had to replant virtually all the plots.  It took until 1920 for harvests to become fully healthy and stable, so they could finally properly market their wines.

The 2013 Château Goudray Côtes du Rhônes Villages–Séguret is full of juicy red and black fruit, supple tannins and is a real pleasure to drink.  While not the most elegant of wines it is quite moreish, and easy to quaff.  I don’t know the precise blend but it does have the most pronounced black pepper notes I have encountered in a wine – most expected from Syrah dominated blends from the northern Rhône.  This surely makes it the perfect wine to pair with peppered steak!

And for those disappointed not to see Salt n Pepa:

Restaurant Review, Tasting Events

New Trafford

vineyard

New Trafford: De Trafford & Sijnn Winemaker’s Dinner @ Stanley’s, Dublin

Last month I had the pleasure to attend a fantastic Winemaker’s dinner at Stanley’s Restaurant in Dublin. Regular readers may remember a previous dinner event I attended there with Yves Cuilleron and his wines.  On this occasion it was the wines of David Trafford, co-hosted by importer/distributor Dr Eilis Cryan, the lady behind Kinnegar Wines of Galway.

David was originally an architect – with a few clues in the names and designs of his wines – but felt compelled to make wine in such an amazing land as Stellenbosch.  Many years later, he set up Sijnn in a hamlet down near the coast.

This tasting featured wines from both wineries, plus a starter from another Kinnegar producer:

Aperitif
Thelema Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011

Thelema Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011
Thelema Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011

For those not familiar with the term, Méthode Cap Classique (or MCC for short) is a traditional-method sparkling wine from South Africa.  Thelema are much better known for their excellent still wines, particularly their reds, but this is a serious effort.

As the Blanc de Blancs name suggests this is 100% Chardonnay.  Fulfilling the same requirements as vintage Champagne, it was (second) bottle fermented and left on the lees for three years.  It was disgorged in Sept/Oct 2014 and given an “extra-brut” dosage of 3.2 g/l.

It’s a lovely fresh, citrus style, perfect as an aperitif at this time in its life.  With a few more years it should mellow out so that more mature fruit develop and the acidity softens a little to let the bready characters from time on the lees show through.

Amuse Bouche

Crab and radish amuse bouche
Crab and radish amuse bouche

One of the things that great chefs can do is challenge your preconceptions.  The amuse bouche had radish which I don’t particularly care for, but with crab it was just heavenly.

Marinated scallops, cucumber, bergamot, fois gras butter

Marinated scallops starter
Marinated scallops starter

I love scallops, but I’m no fan of cucumber – I’ll pick it out of salads and send back a G&T that someone has stupidly infected with cucumber.  However, I have now become a convert of cucumber and mint soup – it was served in a mini tea cup on the side and was just divine!

De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012 & Sijnn White 2012

De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012
De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012
Sijnn White 2012
Sijnn White 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chenin Blanc is a versatile grape, capable of playing several different roles, though always with its trademark high acidity.  Personally, I prefer it when it has either (1) a bit of oak, (2) a bit of age or (3) a bit of sugar; without these it can be too simple or too harsh for my taste.

David Trafford has been making Chenin for twenty years.  As with all his wines only wild yeast is used for his De Trafford Chenin, and then around 15% is matured in new oak barrels.  Bingo!  The oak adds a bit of roundness and texture, but it’s not an overtly oaky wine – it’s still fresh.  Malolactic fermentation is blocked by adding a dash of sulphur and the low cellar temperature.

The Sijnn White is also Chenin based, but as well as 20% oak maturation, it also has another trick up its sleeve: Viognier!  Around 16% of the blend is Viognier which gives stunning aromatics and a tempting texture.  I now have to add a fourth type of Chenin to my list!

Guinea fowl, green asparagus, black bacon, carbonara jus

Guinea fowl main course
Guinea fowl main course

There were no weird surprises here as I’m a fan of guinea fowl.  It was tasty and succulent, with lots of additional interesting flavours from the accompaniments. Asparagus and green beans provided a contrast against the richness of the meat.

De Trafford Elevation 393 2010 & Sijnn 2010

De Trafford Elevation 393 2010
De Trafford Elevation 393 2010
Sijnn Red 2010
Sijnn Red 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For many attendees I expect this was the main (vinous) event of the evening.

Elevation is De Trafford’s flagship red.  As the 2010 is such an approachable, ripe style it has been released ahead of the 2009 which needs more time to mellow out.  This is partially due to the blend of the 2010 which was a third each of Cab Sauv, Merlot and Shiraz – there is usually a higher proportion of Cabernet in the blend which makes it a little more austere.

Although definitely fruity, the Elevation had more of a savoury aspect than many Australian Cabernet blends, for example.  South Africa really does straddle the boundaries of Old and New World.

The Sijnn Red was an altogether different blend, mainly a cross between the Rhône and the Douro: Syrah 41%; Touriga Nacional 27%; Mourvèdre 18%; Trincadeira 10%; Cabernet Sauvignon 4%.  And funnily enough, both of these influences were apparent in the finished blend – the spice, blackberry and blueberry of the Rhône were joined by the plum and prune of the Douro.  It’s quite a big wine, but totally delicious.

A fantastic wine geek fact that David gave us was that Mourvèdre needs more vine age than most other varieties before it begins producing quality fruit in reasonable quantities.

Rooibos tea custard tart, guava sorbet

Rooibos tea custard tart dessert
Rooibos tea custard tart dessert

This was so tasty that I barely managed to take a snap before wolfing it down!  You may recognise rooibos as a South African speciality – it’s a herbal tea, though often taken with milk and sugar down there.

De Trafford Straw Wine 2006

De Trafford Straw Wine 2006
De Trafford Straw Wine 2006

This might be something of a mystery for many – a straw wine?  The name is a translation of Vin de Paille – pronounced “van de pie” – which is the French term for this style of dessert wine.

It starts as 100% Chenin Blanc grapes, picked at normal ripeness.  The grapes are then dried outside on mats for three weeks, partially in the shade and partially in the sun.  The must takes a whole year to ferment, followed by two years maturation in 225L barriques (60% French and 40% American).

The finished product has a high 230 g/L of residual sugar, but with a streak of Chenin acidity it remains balanced and far from cloying.

Thanks to David, Eilis, Morgan, Stephen, Patrick and all the staff at Stanley’s for a wonderful evening!

Tasting Events

Five go Crazy in Keshk

Dublin isn’t overwhelmed with BYO restaurants, particularly those that don’t charge corkage, but of those that do let you bring in your own wine, many are southern and/or eastern Mediterranean-themed.  Of course this makes sense when those areas have high numbers of practising Muslims who don’t drink alcohol, and don’t want to profit from selling it, but are happy for you to drink with their food.

Among the best of those BYOs is Keshk Café Restaurant, just by the Canal on Dublin’s southside.  So what better place for five like-minded wine bloggers to meet up for food, drinks and a natter!

Keshk Café
Keshk Café

The food was lovely and may have been inadvertently on the healthy side, with fresh salads and grilled meat.  I will leave further description of the food to others, but below are the wines we tasted.  As co-ordinator I suggested two criteria for each diner’s choice of wine:

1) A retail price of between €20 and €30 (after a few years of duty rises this is now the sweetspot for wine in Ireland)

2) The wine should be a favourite or something the person fancied trying (all grapes and all regions allowed!)

Codorniú Anna Blanc de Noirs NV (€10, Madrid Airport)

Cordoniu Anna Blanc de Noirs NV
Cordoniu Anna Blanc de Noirs NV

Along with Frexinet, Cordoniu is one of two big Cava houses who dominate sales volumes.  Every year they pump out hectolitres of ordinary fizz, which is exactly the sort of thing that I avoid.  You know the stuff I mean – and it’s undercut in the UK and Ireland by even less expensive supermarket own-label pap.  This race to compete on cost and not quality has done significant damage to the Cava brand, so obtaining a fair price for a well-made one is difficult.

Thankfully a few well-made ones do find their way over here, even if it’s just a chance purchase at Madrid Airport.  This is a 100% Blanc de Noirs made from Pinot Noir, one of the two main black grapes of Champagne.  Of course being a DO Cava it is made in the traditional method, though the regulations for Cava are not as strict as those for the Champenois.

Given its constituent variety there was no surprise to find lovely red fruit, primarily strawberry and raspberry, but there was also stone fruit such as apricot, and even lees characters which confirm that this is a level above everyday Cava.

Anna is very well put together and something I will look out for in future.

Setz Easy To Drink Grüner Veltliner 2013 (€18, Honest 2 Goodness)

Setz Easy Drinking Grüner Veltliner
Setz Easy Drinking Grüner Veltliner 2013

The alcohol of 11.0% gives you a good clue as to the style of this Groovy – light quaffing material.  The wino who brought this is a big fan of the variety, especially after attending a 100% varietal tasting last year (which I covered here).  It’s not the type of wine to win lots of Parker Points or Wines Of The Year Awards but it’s just very pleasant to drink.

I have a feeling this will be seeing a lot more glasses in the summer months.

Jean Chartron AOP Rully “Montmorin” 2012 (€30 down to €20, The Corkscrew)

Jean Chartron AOP Rully “Montmorin” 2012
Jean Chartron AOP Rully “Montmorin” 2012

Well that’s one way of hitting both ends of the suggested price range!  Rully is one of the better communes on the Côte Chalonnaise, the section of Burgundy in between The Côte d’Or and the Mâconnais.   This was amazing complexity for such a young wine.  To be honest if I’d tasted that blind I’d have guessed at something north of €40 from the Côte de Beaune.

The producer Jean Charton is based in Puligny-Montrachet but also produces whites in Chassagne-Montrachet, Saint-Aubin, Rully and the generic Burgundy appellation.

There was a definite vanilla and toast influence from oak, but not the full butterscotch sauce experience.  I’m guessing that quite a bit of the creaminess came from lees stirring rather than extended ageing in barrel.  Monsieur Colm from the Corkscrew says they have experienced a little more bottle variation than normal, but most of them ZING!

Meyer-Fonné AOP Alsace Gewurztraminer Réserve 2013 (€22.95, The Corkscrew)

Meyer-Fonné AOP Alsace Gewurztraminer Réserve 2013
Meyer-Fonné AOP Alsace Gewurztraminer Réserve 2013

This is one of my favourite Alsace producers with a fantastic range.  My lubricated French came out with the term “correct” which is a handy shorthand for a wine that accurately reflects its ingredients and origins, and is well made, but is somewhat prosaic, nothing that makes you go “Wow”.

Yours truly in the tasting room at Meyer-Fonné
Yours truly in the tasting room at Meyer-Fonné

This Gewurz was off dry, with the variety’s typical lychees and flowers, plus some spicy ginger.  It would probably have shone more with spicier food; given where we were eating there was a good chance of some heat, but I think we made conservative food choices when it actually came to ordering so we’d be able to give all the wines an even chance.

Château Musar Bekaa Valley 2003

Château Musar Bekaa Valley 2003
Château Musar Bekaa Valley 2003

In a Mediterranean restaurant, what would be more fitting than a true Mediterranean wine?  From the some-time war zone of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon comes a wine which is full of contradictions:

  • It’s an alcoholic product from a country with a good number of Muslims.
  • It’s made with Bordeaux’s flagship grape Cabernet Sauvignon and the southern Rhône’s Cinsault, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Grenache. The proportions change from vintage to vintage.
  • On the nose there’s a big whiff of nail polish remover, a sign of Volatile Acidity which is considered a major fault in wine.
  • After that there’s a fair dose of farmyard, to be polite, or horseshit, to be less polite. This is another fault caused by the pernicious strain of yeast Brettanomyces, called Brett for short.

Yet it works!  And boy does it work!

This bottle had been double decanted which gave it a real chance to shine.  At 12 years from vintage it’s still a callow youth, with plenty of years ahead of it.

Domaine Coursodon AOP Saint Joseph “L’Olivaie” 2012 (€40, Wine Workshop)

Domaine Coursodon AOP Saint Joseph “L’Olivaie”
Domaine Coursodon AOP Saint Joseph “L’Olivaie”

For this cuvée maturation is shared between demi-muids (20% new) and pièces (0% new).  Although not specifically parcellaire, the components of this cuvée come mainly from St Jean de Muzols and the vines average over 60 years in age.

A lovely wine showing poise and potential but not yet unfurling its wings.  Brooding dark black fruit and a twist of black pepper meet on the palate.  Saint Joseph is rapidly becoming my go-to appellation in the northern Rhône

A couple of hours decanting would have shown it at its current best.  I’d love to try this again with more sympathetic treatment (and earlier in the evening!)

Carlo Gentili Chianti DOCG Riserva 2010

Carlo Gentili Chianti DOCG Riserva 2010
Carlo Gentili Chianti DOCG Riserva 2010

Just a random Chianti which I had lying around at home.  It was the seventh bottle of the evening.  It had great aromas of Chianti which followed through to the palate – fantastic Chianti flavour.  For further info have a look here.

 

Tasting Events

Five of the best Reds from Sweeney’s Wine Fair

I’ve already picked out five whites from the Sweeney’s Wine Fair that really impressed me, so now it’s turn for my selection of reds.  But first a brief introduction of the people behind the name:

Finian Sweeney, proprietor
Finian Sweeney, proprietor, after winning another award
Kevin (R) about to host the Wines of the Year Award & glamourous guest Tara (L)
Kevin (R) about to host the Wines of the Year Award & glamourous guest Tara (L)
Lynda (with a "y") enjoying dessert at a food & wine matching meal, the last night of the Sweeney's Learn About Wine Course
Lynda (with a “y”) enjoying dessert at a food & wine matching meal, the last night of the Sweeney’s Learn About Wine Course

Apparently, for those who like that sort of thing, Sweeney’s also have a great range of artisan cheese from Sheridan’s cheesemonger.

So now for the reds:

5 Vigneti Del Salento I Muri IGT Puglia 2012 (Liberty Wines, €15.95, 2 for €28.00)

Vigneti Del Salento I Muri IGT Puglia 2012
Vigneti Del Salento I Muri IGT Puglia 2012

Grape: Negroamaro

A favourite with Sweeney’s staff and customers alike for a few years, I Muri hails from the heel of Italy – the beautiful region of Puglia. The most important local grape is Negroamaro, literally translated as “black and bitter”, and while this wine is listed as a 100% varietal Negroamaro it shows no bitterness. It does have black – blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, with a savoury edge but a polished finish.

4 Herdade de Rocim “Rocim” VR Alentejano 2010 (Grace Campbell Wines, €19.00)

Herdade de Rocim “Rocim” VR Alentejano 2010
Herdade de Rocim “Rocim” VR Alentejano 2010

Grapes: Aragonez / Alicante Bouchet / Others

Aragonez is the Portuguese name for the grape known as Tempranillo in Spain (well, in Rioja at least).  Alicante Bouchet is a teinturier, the term for a (very rare) type of grape with red flesh, so both the skin and flesh give colour to a wine.

Do you remember the scene in the film Ratatouille where restaurant critic Anton Ego tastes the eponymous dish and is instantly transported to his childhood?  Tasting Herdade de Rocim gave me exactly the same sensation, except I was magically transported to a summer barbecue, drinking wine.  I think it’s a sign.

3 Marchese Antinori “Marchese” Riserva DOCG Chianti Classico 2006 (Findlater WSG, €28.00)

Marchese Antinori “Marchese” Riserva DOCG Chianti Classico 2006
Marchese Antinori “Marchese” Riserva DOCG Chianti Classico 2006

Grape: Sangiovese

Check out the vintage!  The current release is 2011, so it’s quite rare to see older vintages on the shelves, even in a good independent wine merchants, but this is entirely deliberate; Finian bought several cases of this when it was released and has kept it in bond to be released when ready.  And boy, is it ready!

It has all the hallmarks of good Chianti Classico – liquorice, tobacco, acidity, tannin, black cherry – but the extra years maturing have seen them knit into a smooth, harmonious whole.  I think it’s now closer in style to its big brother Badia a Passignano, which still remains the smoothest Chianti I’ve experienced.

Hearsay at the Wine Fair suggested I might be in the minority liking this bottle (it’s not the first time and certainly won’t be the last time I’m in a minority); reflection has led me to believe that some people who are used to drinking young Chianti prefer, or at least expect, the components mentioned above to stand out individually.  If that is more to your taste then I suggest trying the 2011 Marchese, reviewed here.

2 Torres “Celeste” Crianza DOCa Ribera del Duero 2011 (Findlater WSG, €20.00, 2 for €34.00)

Torres “Celeste” Crianza DOCa Ribera del Duero
Torres “Celeste” Crianza DOCa Ribera del Duero

Grape: Tempranillo

While also in the north of Spain and often using the same grapes as Rioja, Ribera del Duero isn’t a clone of its more famous counterpart. For a long time only the renowned Vega Sicilia made wines drunk elsewhere in Spain, never mind exported. Now the region’s reputation is on the up, with national heavyweights such as Torres joining the ranks of local producers.

Tempranillo here is usually known as Tinto Fino, and often has support from Bordeaux grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. However, even on its own it can show darker fruit than in Rioja.

Celeste has a nice name and a pretty bottle, but the contents surpass both of them. Bright red and black fruit are offset by creamy vanilla from the oak. It has wild strawberries rather than the poly-tunnel farmed ones that cheap Rioja can have, with blackberry and cherry riding shotgun. It’s a serious wine, yet it’s a fun wine.

1 Domaine Treloar “Le Ciel Vide” AC Cotes de Roussillon 2012 (Distinctive Drinks, €16.00)

Domaine Treloar “Le Ciel Vide” AC Cotes de Roussillon
Domaine Treloar “Le Ciel Vide” AC Cotes de Roussillon

Grapes: Syrah (45%) / Grenache (40%) / Mourvèdre (15%)

This wine is a rockstar – it stood out as the best wine of any colour from the whole tasting as it was just so interesting and funky.  Lots of fresh berry fruit is accompanied by smoke, earthiness and just a hint of farmyard.

Looking into the story of the Domaine is fascinating – it deserves a full post all to itself. The name of the wine is a direct translation of “Empty Sky”, a Bruce Springsteen song, which evoke memories of 9/11 for the owners who were working just one block away when the planes hit.

The blend of this wine has changed every year depending on the grapes available locally and how each variety fared in a particular harvest:

Le Ciel Vide blend by year, measured in litres of bottled wine
Le Ciel Vide blend by year, measured in litres of bottled wine

I love the complete honesty of co-owner Jonathan Hesford when discussing the first two vintages of this wine (2008 and 2009):

I’m not sure how these wines will age. They have the potential to develop even more fragrant aromas but don’t have the tannin structure of my other red wines.

His honesty is as refreshing as his wines!