Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 4)

So far we have looked at the northern Crus (part 1), Châteauneuf-du-Pape (part 2) and other southern Crus (part 3).  Now it’s the turn of wines from the regional Côtes du Rhône appellation plus one of the stars of Ventoux, not a cru as such but one of the best of the other AOCs in the Rhône.

Domaine André Brunel “Cuvée Sommelongue” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (14.0%, RRP €18.30 at Karwig Wines)

Andre Brunel CDR cuvee sommelongue

It would be very rare for a wine drinker to have not had a bottle of Rhône, and it’s close to a certainty that they have tried an AOC Côtes du Rhône.  The reason is simple – 48% of the whole region’s production has that AOC with a further 11% being Côtes du Rhône-Villages [2016 vintage: source: http://www.rhone-wines.com/en/en-chiffre].

What would be unusual, however, would be for that drinker to have tried a CDR with five or six years of age – most are very approachable in their youth and so are enjoyed when young.  Just because a wine can be enjoyed young doesn’t mean that it should be – and this is the perfect example of a CDR that has benefitted from ageing.

This tastes quite different from the exuberantly fruity young CDRs; primary fresh fruit has mellowed and the herbal garrigue notes are more prominent.  This Cuvée Sommelongue would be perfect with a hearty stew, and adding a dash or two as you make it would be highly appropriate!

Domaine Roche-Audran “César” Côtes du Rhône 2012 (15.0%, RRP €22.95 at Baggot Street Wines)

Domaine Roche-Audran Cesar CDR

Just like buses, there seem to be no 2012 CDRs and then two come along together!  This shows that well made wines can age gracefully, despite a modest appellation.  I say gracefully, but César is a bit of a bruiser – with 15.0% abv it has as much power as Greyskull.  You don’t need to be He-Man to drink it though – this biodynamic beauty has lots of lovely red fruit and herbal notes from 100% Grenache grapes.  If it’s cold outside, pop the cork and warm yourself up!

Château Pesquié “Quintessence” Ventoux 2015 (13.5%, RRP €27.95 at Searsons)

Pesquie Quintessence

René & Odette Bastide bought Château Pesquié in the early 1970s, around the same time that the Côtes du Ventoux appellation was created (it dropped the “Côtes du” from 30th November 2008).  They replanted much of the vineyards while still selling their grapes to the local co-operative.  A decade or so later their daughter Edith and her husband Paul Chaudière joined the family firm and took up oenology seriously.  Together they built a winery and started producing Château Pesquié wines from the 1990 vintage – including Quintessence which was (and remains) a statement of quality for the region.

The slopes of Mont Ventoux provide much needed cool air to the area, thus making Syrah a key variety down here as it is in the north.  Quintessence is 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache, full of dark black fruit and savoury tapenade.  Although drinking nicely now, it has the structure and acidity to age for several decades – if you can manage not to touch it!

Château Pesquié “Artemia” Ventoux 2014 (14.5%, RRP €46.50)

Pesquie Artemia

Edith and Paul Chaudière’s sons Alex and Fred became the next generation to join the family wine business, bringing additional enthusiasm and know-how.  Artemia became the new flagship wine, the combination of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah from two individual low-yielding old vine single vineyards.  Maturation is 18 months in oak, split half and half between new and used barrels.

Given the blend, Artemia is more fruit forward and less obviously structured than Quintessence – more elegant and more approachable, though still with an intense concentration of fruit.  The oak is well integrated and adds a little gravitas.  This is a very different expression of Ventoux from its sibling, and preference between the two is very much down to personal preference.  My own….I’ll take both please!

 

 

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Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 3)

After the serious Syrahs of the northern Rhône in part 1 and the famous wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in part 2, we now turn to some of the other prestigious Crus of the southern Rhône.

Domaine Brusset “La Bastide” Rasteau 2015 (13.5%, RRP €23.95 at Mitchell & Son)

Domaine Brusset La Bastide Rasteau

While Rasteau has been an AOC for Grenache-based Vin Doux Naturel since the 1943 vintage, its dry reds were only promoted up from Côtes du Rhône Villages-Rasteau from the 2009 vintage onwards.

For all my opening talk of autumn, this is a wine that would be perfect(ly) at home on a cold winter’s day.  It’s a thick, chewy blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre with a fair dose of new oak, full of ripe black fruits and toasty spices.  This style of wine would be too full-on and heavy in summer, but it’s a perfect comfort-wine for autumn into winter.

Alain Jaume “Grande Garrigue” Vacqueras 2014 (14.5%, RRP €24.00 at Mitchell & Son)

Alain Jaume Grand Garrigue Vacqueras

Garrigues” is a wonderful word which means a number of interlinked things: firstly, it’s a type of limestone-based landscape, typical of parts of the Mediterranean coast; secondly, it refers to the low-growing plants and bushes often found on such a terrain; thirdly, it is used as a wine descriptor for notes that conjure up the herbs such as rosemary, lavender and thyme which are found on garrigue.

This bottle is a typical Rhône GSM blend, with 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre.  Supple and viscous in the mouth, it dances over the tongue and belies its 14.5% abv.  Black fruits are accompanied by fragrant herbal and liquorice notes.  A really delicious wine.

Montirius La Tour Gigondas 2015 (13.5%, RRP €27.50 at Baggot Street Wines)

Montirius Gigondas La Tour

Gigondas is generally regarded as the second most prestigious southern Cru – after Châteauneuf-du-Pape but ahead of Vacqueras.  Of course, it’s the wine not the appellation that counts, and biodynamic outfit Montirius have really struck gold with their “young vines” cuvée (if 35 years can be said to be young!)  The wine is named “La Tour” after one of the parcels the grapes are sourced from and it has a zero oak regime, being fermented and aged in concrete tanks before bottling.  Those who are a fan of oak won’t miss it though, as it’s a soft and cossetting wine.  Fresh strawberries and raspberries really stand out, with a shake of exotic spice.  At this price it’s amazing value for money!

Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux “Cuvée Doucinello” Vacqueras 2014 (14.5%, RRP €32.00 at Searson’s)

Domaine le Sang des Cailloux

This is Serge Férgioule’s main red cuvée (the other being the old vine “Cuvée Lopy”) which confusingly and charmingly rotates in name between his three daughters – so other vintages could also be Cuvée Floureto or Cuvée Azalaïs.  Whatever the name happens to be, the blend is 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah  and the remaining 10% a mix of Carignan, Mourvèdre and Cinsault.  The vines are between 35 and 40 years old and are farmed biodynamically.  Serge (and his son) have a hands-off approach in the winery, preferring to do the hard work in the vineyard and then let the fruit speak for itself.  The 2014 is soft, powerful and fresh – beautifully balanced and very drinkable.

Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 2)

Part 1 covered some fantastic northern Rhône reds to try this autumn.  Now we move onto the most famous appellation of the Rhône – and possibly the whole of France – Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Although aspects of quality are built in to the AOC rules, it doesn’t mean the wines are always great – some negotiants have released wines which aren’t balanced and do the CNDP name little good – they are usually found in discount supermarkets.  Thankfully there are quality conscious producers who make outstanding wines that show why Châteauneuf is held in such high regard.

Mas Saint-Louis Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 (14.0%, RRP €36.00 at Searsons)

chateauneuf-du-pape mas saint louis

Tasted among its peers this wine stands out for its lightness and elegance rather than its power – in fact its appellation would be a surprise to many as it is perhaps more like a Pommard than a typical blockbuster CNDP.  The blend here is 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah and the remaining 15% a mix of Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Picpoul Noir.

Red and black fruits abound, but it is the beguiling manner of their delivery which is so compelling.  With a touch of spice and a long finish, this is the Châteauneuf that you will want to keep as a secret!

Domaine Roche-Audran Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012 (14.0%, RRP €49.00 at 64 Wine)

Roche Audran Chateauneuf du pape

Domaine Roche-Audran was set up as recently as 1998, but began biodynamic practices soon after in 2006.  They have three distinct terroirs, and it’s the third of a hectare in Châteauneuf-du-Pape which concerns us here, described as “molassic sand covered with round pebbles originating from the river Rhône”.  Sand loses heat quickly so the vines get something of a rest at night, helping to preserve acidity and delicacy.

Quite unusually for CNDP the Roche-Audran vineyard is 100% Grenache – it’s only due to the sandy soil that it doesn’t become over-ripe and over-alcoholic.  The vines are 60 years of age and cropped at 28 hl/ha.

The result is a gentle, enticing, inviting and seductive wine.  It slips down the throat and demands another glass be consumed.  Although the alcohol is not that high for the area it’s an intoxicating wine.

Domaine André Brunel “Les Cailloux” Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2013 (14.0%, RRP €45.55 at Karwig Wines)

Andre Brunel CNDP Les Cailloux

“Cailloux” are river-rounded stones, not quite as big as the famous “galets” pudding stones of the area, but serving a similar function of maintaining easy drainage and thus keeping the vines on their toes.

The Brunel family have been making wine in the area since the 17th century, but things were put on a more serious footing in 1954 when Lucien Brunel set up the Les Cailloux label.  His son André took over in 1971 and expanded the family’s holdings into other Rhône areas, but also introducing several innovations – he among was the first in CNDP to do away with chemicals in the vineyard and also created the super-premium “Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire”.  André’s son Fabrice joined in 2012 to keep the family tradition going.

Les Cailloux Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre; my tasting notes for this wine are compact and bijou – bloody amazing!  It’s smooth and fluid, a real pleasure to drink and it doesn’t bash you over the head!

Domaine de Mourchon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 (15.0%, RRP €39.00)

Mourchon CNDP

Situated just outside the beautiful village of Séguret, Domaine de Mourchon has vines around the winery and in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Their flagship wine is 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre and 10% Syrah – a slight re-ordering of the typical GSM blend.  The vines range from 60 to 80 years old and are planted on sandy soils and in “le Crau” lieu-dit.  Maturation is for 12 months split between demi-muid 600L barrels (70%) and concrete tanks (30%).

This is an amazingly perfumed wine – one that you hesitate to taste as it would interrupt your appreciation of the aromas – but once you have tasted you delight in its lithe red fruit and exotic spices.  The stated alcohol is fairly punchy at 15%, but it never stands out as the wine wears it very well.  Such a fine wine!

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.

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)

2015-10-13-21-55-22

(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)

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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: