Tasting Events

6 Fab Wines From H2G

Honest 2 Goodness – H2G for short – recently held their summer wine tasting event at their base in Glasnevin.  A contingent from the DNS Wine Club (for which I am chief bottle washer) was in attendance and we were entertained by a jazz band as we drank tasted.

Here are the top 3 whites and top 3 reds which piqued my interest:

Domaine de Valensac Chardonnay Vin de Pays d’Oc 2015 (13.5%, €14.95 at H2G)


Although lying much further south than Chardonnay’s spiritual home of Burgundy, being situated just 10 km from the Mediterranean means that Domaine de Valensac’s vineyards are well cooled by the sea influence.  Perfectly ripe fruit gives both citrus and tropical notes – definitely more like the Mâconnais than Chablis – but nicely balanced by acidity and texture.  No oak is used so it might surprise you if you don’t like the taste of “Chardonnay”.

Betomish Blanco Tarragona 2015 (11.0%, €15.95 at H2G)


Irish brothers Tom and Eoin Gallagher have created a modern wine brand aiming to offer well made wines that reflect their Catalan origins without being tied down by too much tradition.  At present their wines are just a white from Tarragona and a red from Priorat (see below), though they do have plans to increase their range.

The bulk of the white consists of 70% local favourite Macabeo, to which 20% Muscat (for aromas) and 10% Sauvignon Blanc (for freshness) are added.  The Muscat certainly comes through on the fragrant nose, while orange, grapefruit and lemon hit the palate.  It’s a well made wine that’s more than the sum of its parts, enjoyable to quaff on its own or pretty handy with dinner.

Mandrarossa Ciaca Bianca Fiano Sicilia 2015 (13.5%, €15.95 at H2G)

Mandrarossa Fiano

Fiano is probably most well regarded in Campania where it makes up at least 85% of the DOCG Fiano di Avellino, but it also performs well in Sicily.  It has come back into favour over the last decade or so as it has more character than many of the higher-yielding but more neutral grapes which are widespread in Italy (you know the ones I mean).

Mandrarassa’s vines are situated on the south west corner of Sicily, almost touching distance from Africa.  This is a 100% Fiano with aromas and flavours of all manner of citrus and mouth-watering stone fruit.  It’s the finest Fiano I’ve tasted to date!

Also check out the Mandrarossa Nero d’Avola if you like blueberries!

Cuarto Dominio Chento Reserva Malbec 2013 (14.0%, €21.95 at H2G)


This is undoubtedly a Malbec, but an elegant and perfumed one at that – I wonder if the vineyards are at a significant altitude?  More research required!  Although €6 more than its unoaked little brother, I found this to be the better value for money of the pair.  Plum, blackberry and blackcurrant are on show here, with a little cinnamon spice for extra interest.  Doesn’t have to be drunk with a steak, but probably will be!

BeTomish Tinto Priorat 2013 (14.5%, €23.50 at H2G)

BeTomish Crianza

The Gallaghers’ red is a blend of local and international grapes: 60% Garnacha, 20% Merlot, 10% Syrah and 10% Samso.  Priorat is one of the trendiest wine regions of Spain, but its wines can sometimes be very tight and unapproachable in their youth.  This is an open book of a wine – lots of dark black fruit and spice, but accessible and easy to like.  It’s not a frivolous wine, but has a very modern sensibility – a winner for me!

Corte Adami Valpolicella Superiore 2014 (13.5%, €21.95 at H2G)


A blend of local grapes Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella.  To receive the Superiore tag the wine has to be a minimum of 12.0% and spend a year in barrel.  Valpolicella wines are traditionally quite light (hence the qualifying alcohol level for Superiore is still fairly modest).  To boost the body and intensity of flavour, the producer of this wine actually dry some of the grapes for a short time before fermentation, as is done on a larger scale for Amarone.

However they got there, it works!  The nose had enticing spice aromas which follow through to the palate with ripe cherry and black fruits, plus a little vanilla.  This is probably the finest Valpolicella I’ve ever had!


You might also want to check out these previous articles on Honest 2 Goodness wines:





Frankly Wines Top 10 Sweet Wines of 2015

I love sweet wines, whether with dessert, instead of dessert, or at any time I fancy them. They can actually pair well with savoury dishes of many types, depending on their prominent flavours, richness, acidity and sugar levels.  For example, late harvest Gewurztraminer from Alsace is amazing with foie gras, and off dry to medium wines often work well with exotic Asian fare.

There are several methods of making sweet wines, the simplest being to leave the grapes on the vine while they continue to produce sugars, and harvest them later.  A further step is to allow noble rot (botrytis cinerea) to attack the grapes and dry them out, thereby concentrating the sugars.  Other traditions involve sun or air drying to reduce water levels.

Whichever way is used, balance is the key, particularly the balance between sugar and acidity.  This means that even lusciously sweet wines can avoid being cloying, which is usually a turn off.

Here are ten of the sweet wines which really impressed me in 2015:


10. Berton Riverina Botrytis Semillon 2013 (€9.99 (375ml), Aldi)


I first tried a Berton wine from Coonawarra, my favourite red wine region of the world.  It was perhaps a little less fruit forward than some from the area but had the most pronounced spearmint aromas that I’ve ever encountered in a wine (for the avoidance of doubt this is a positive for me!)

The Riverina area in the middle of New South Wales is an irrigated bulk wine producing region, and is where many of Australia’s inexpensive bottles (and boxes!) are produced. Due to humidity close to the major rivers it is also a source for excellent botrytis style stickies (as the locals call them), including the fabulous De Bortoli Noble One.

Semillon’s thin skins make it particularly susceptible to noble rot – which is why it is so successful in Sauternes and Barsac – and so it proves in Berton’s version.  I’m not going to claim that this has the intensity of Noble One but it does a damned good impression – and at a far lower price.  Amazing value for money!

9. Miguel Torres Vendimia Tardia “Nectaria” Botrytis Riesling 2009 (€19.99 (375ml) Sweeney’s of Glasnevin  and Carry Out Off-Licence in Ongar, Dublin 15)

2015-09-15 18.04.56

Familiarity with Spanish or another romance language reveals that this is a Late Harvest style, with the addition of Botrytis characters.  It was one of the stand out wines of the Chilean Wine Fair – though being different in a sea of Sauvignon, Carmenère and Cabernet probably helped.

As you may or may not know, Miguel Torres wines are the Chilean outpost of the Spanish Torres family’s operations, with quality and value both prominent.  The key to this wine is the streak of acidity cutting through the sweetness – the hallmark of a great Riesling dessert wine.  

8. San Felice Vin Santo 2007 (€19.49 (375ml) O’Briens)

Vin Santo

As someone who generally likes Italian wine and has a soft spot for sweet wines, I’ve nearly always been disappointed by Vin Santos I’ve tried. I don’t think my expectations were too high, it’s just that the oxidative (Sherry-like) notes dominated the other aspects of the wines.

This is different – perfectly balanced with lovely caramel and nut characters.  It’s made from widely grown grapes Trebbiano Toscano (75%) and Malvasia del Chianti (25%) which aren’t generally known for their character, but it’s the wine-making process that makes the difference.  Bunches of grapes are dried on mats to reduce water content then pressed as normal.  After fermentation the wine is aged five years in French barriques then a further year in bottle.   A real treat!

7. Le Must de Landiras Graves Supérieurs 2004 (Direct from Château)

Le Must de Landiras

White Graves – particularly those from the subregion of Pessac-Léognan – are in my opinion the most underappreciated of all Bordeaux wines.  Even less commonly known are the sweeter wines from the area – and to be honest the average wine drinker would be hard pressed to know when there’s often no mention of sweetness on the bottle, they are just “expected to know” that “Graves Supérieures” indicated higher sugar rather than higher quality.

Being close to Sauternes shouldn’t make the production of sweet wines a surprise, but then few people carry a map around in their head when tasting!

Simply put, this is probably the best sweet Graves I’ve ever had.  See this article for more details.

6. Longview Epitome Late Harvest Riesling 2013 (€16.99, O’Briens)

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Riesling in Australia is nearly always bone dry and dessert wines usually use Semillon for late harvest styles or Rhône varieties for fortifieds, but when done well they can be sensational.

This was such a hit at the O’Briens Autumn Press Tasting that two other of my fellow wine writers picked it out for recommendation, namely Richie Magnier writing as The Motley Cru and Suzi Redmond writing for The Taste.  Imagine the softness of honey with the fresh zip of lime at the same time – something of a riddle in your mouth, but so moreish!

5. De Trafford Straw Wine 2006 (€29.50 (375ml), Kinnegar Wines)

de trafford strawwinelabel00-1_m

In its home region of the Loire, Chenin Blanc comes in all different types of sweetness, with and without botrytis.  Its natural acidity makes it a fine grape for producing balanced sweet wines.

David Trafford picks the Chenin grapes for his straw wine at the same time as those for his dry white, but then has the bunches dried outside for three weeks before pressing. After a very long fermentation (the yeast takes a long time to get going in such a high sugar environment) the wine is matured in barriques for two years.

I had the good fortune to try this delicious wine with David Trafford himself over dinner at Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar – for a full report see here.  Apricot and especially honey notes give away the Chenin origins, and layers of sweetness remain framed by fresh acidity.


4. Pegasus Bay Waipara “Encore” Noble Riesling 2008 (~£25 (375ml) The Wine Society

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This is the gift that keeps on giving…I bought my wife a six pack of this wine a few years ago, as it was one we really enjoyed on our honeymoon tour of New Zealand, and she is so parsimonious that we haven’t finished them yet!

This is in a similar vein to the Epitome Riesling but has more botrytis character – giving a mushroom edge, which is much nicer than in sounds – and additional bottle age which has allowed more tangy, tropical fruit flavours to develop and resolve.  A truly wonderful wine.

See this article for more details.

3. José Maria da Fonseca “Alambre” ® DO Moscatel de Setúbal 2008 (€6.45, Portugal)

2015-06-20 13.23.19

I had been meaning to try a Moscatel de Setúbal since a former colleague from the area told me about it.  A holiday to the Algarve provided the perfect opportunity, and I found this beauty in the small supermarket attached to the holiday complex we stayed in – at the ridiculous price of €6.45!

Moscatel / Muscat / Moscato is one of the chief grapes used for dessert wine around the Mediterranean – and can make very dull wines.  This is by some margin the best I’ve tasted to date!   I’m sure most people would swear that toffee had been mixed in, the toffee flavours are so demonstrative.

See this article for more details.

2. Chateau Dereszla Tokaji 5 Puttonyos 2006 (€38.95 (500ml) The Corkscrew)

Château Dereszla Tokaji

Tokaji is one of the great sweet wines of the world – in fact it’s one of the great wines of the world full stop.  It’s usually a blend of a normal grapes and botrytised grapes in differing proportions, the actual blend being the main indicator of sweetness.

Apricot and marmalade are the first things which spring to mind on tasting this, though time has added toffee and caramel notes.  This is the sort of wine that I would happily take instead of dessert pretty much any time!

See this article for more details.


1. Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria 2013 (Liberty, from good wine merchants)

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I first came across this wine at Ely Wine Bar on my wife’s birthday a few years ago.  After a filling starter and main course neither of us had room for dessert, but fancied something sweet; Ely is a treat for winelovers as it has an unrivaled selection of wines by the glass, so like a kid in a sweetshop I ordered a flight of different sweeties for us to try:

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All four were lovely but it was the Ben Ryé which stood out.

At a later trade event put on by Liberty Wines, I noticed that this was one of their wines open for tasting.  With a room full of hardened trade pros (and myself) it was amusing to notice how many people just dropped by the sweet and fortified for a drop of this!

My mate Paddy Murphy of The Vine Inspiration also covered this wine.


Don’t forget to also check out Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz of 2015 and Top 10 Whites of 2015!








Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #01 – “Alambre” ® 2008

In with the Old, in with the New…

While on a family sun holiday in Portugal I tried several wines in the resort’s mini-supermercado, all of which were enjoyable and great value for money. Only one was good enough, and different enough, to make it into a suitcase for the return trip:

José Maria da Fonseca “Alambre” ® DO Moscatel de Setúbal 2008

Alambre Moscatel de Sétubal 2008
Alambre Moscatel de Setúbal 2008

Before opening I read a few interest notes on the box:

  • “Aged in oak barrels” – so expect some oxidative notes and / or darker colour
  • “Serve chilled” – makes sense for a sweeter wine
  • “This wine may become cloudy and throw a sediment” – hasn’t been over-filtered/fined, to help preserve flavour compounds.

Of course Muscat is one of the oldest extant grapes used today, especially in the Mediterranean. There are lots of different versions, often fortified in southern France as a Vin Doux Naturel. Sétubal is a peninsula close to Lisbon which has its own DO for Muscat – here called Muscatel.

When poured it had a gorgeous golden hue, akin to aged Cognac. The nose was toffee and caramel, good enough to just enjoy the aromas for their own sake. The higher alcohol was detectable on the nose, undoubtedly fortified, though not out of balance.

The toffee notes expanded onto the palate – every kind of toffee you could name – liqueur toffee, soft caramel, bonfire toffee. Soft and seductive, sweet but not cloying.
It has a long, long complex finish, quite astonishing.

This would be an amazing aperitif (with the proviso that you might want to skip dinner and keep on drinking it instead) or paired with a medium-sweet dessert. To be frank, I’d quite happily drink it on its own!

Think of this as a lighter version of Rutherglen Muscat – not as heavy nor as sweet. It’s probably the best Muscat variant I’ve ever tasted!

PS the price – less than €7 in Portugal!


Sunshine On A Rainy Day!

If there’s one thing you can guarantee in Ireland, it’s that the weather will change during the day.  It’s not quite the “Four Seasons In One Day” that Crowded House sang of – the climate here is generally too moderate for those extremes – but rain could arrive at any time.  Sat outside in the sun at the weekend, I pooh-poohed the rain symbol on my smartphone’s weather app…

My friend and fellow ex-pat Laurent holds a barbecue every year for his birthday in July, and it has now become something of an institution.  Despite the usual poor Irish summer he has been lucky with the weather for several years now.  This year it was mixed – but I didn’t get wet so I’m all right (Jacques).

As the hosts and majority of guests are French, the format follows French protocols which are quite different to a usual Irish (or English) barbecue:

  • It stretches out over five hours or so – much more civilised than wolfing down food
  • It always starts with the apéritif, including nibbles, and often sweet wine
  • There’s loads of red wine on the go all the time
  • High quality meat on the barbecue is going to be saignant!
  • Sparkling wine with dessert (works as long as it’s not too dry)

Below I’ve picked out some of the excellent wines we had this year:

 Pol Roger “Extra Cuvée de Réserve” Brut NV

Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve NV
Pol Roger “Extra Cuvée de Réserve” Brut NV

The blend is a third of each of the classic Champagne grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  There’s (citrus and red berry) fruit and flowers in there as you’d expect from the blend, but there’s also a delicious aroma of brioche from extended lees ageing that comes through nicely on the palate.

Pol Roger is still family owned and was famously the favourite tipple of Winston Churchill – they even named their prestige cuvée after him.  You might just be able to make out the royal warrant in the photo above – the British Queen drinks it too so we’re in exalted company.

The non-vintage (NV) is also available as an ultra-dry zero-dosage “Pure” and a sweeter demi-sec “Rich”.  I haven’t tried them but my money would be on the regular Brut being the best balanced.

Muscat à petits grains Passerillé Vin de Pay d’Oc 2004

Muscat à petits grains Passerillé 2004
Muscat à petits grains Passerillé 2004

The Muscat grape is one of the oldest continually grown wine grapes around, and flourishes around the Mediterranean in particular.  It’s also one of the few whose wine actually smells and tastes of grapes.  Due to its antiquity it has had plenty of opportunities to mutate, so there are now over two hundred different varieties of Muscat.  The main four varieties used for wine-making are:

  • Muscat blanc à petits grains
  • Muscat of Alexandria
  • Muscat of Hamburg (aka Black Muscat)
  • Muscat Ottonel

In the south of France it is often fortified to make a Vin Doux Naturel such as Muscat de Beaume de Venise, Muscat de Saint-Jean de Minervois and Muscat de Rivesaltes.

This is a different kettle of fish entirely.  Instead of fortifying the fermenting grape must to increase the sweetness and alcohol levels, the Passerillé method involves drying picked grapes on straw mats so that water evaporates remaining sugar and flavour is concentrated.  It’s sometimes known as straw wine due to the process.

Having a sweet wine as an apéritif is a very French thing to do – and this oak-aged beauty was something special.

Cave de Turckheim Riesling “Marnes et Calcaires” 2010

Cave de Turckheim Riesling "Marnes et Calcaires" 2010
Cave de Turckheim Riesling “Marnes et Calcaires” 2010

Probably the best co-operative in Alsace, the Cave de Turckheim has a fantastic range of varieties, quality levels and styles on offer.  The Terroirs range has different grape and soil combinations.  This is a Riesling grown on marl and limestone and shows beautiful lemon and grapefruit cossetted by a hint of sweetness on the finish.  Perfect for a warm day and great value.

The Main Event – Les Cotes de Boeuf

Côte de Boeuf
Les Côtes de Boeuf

This is the “before” picture – it was so tasty it didn’t stand a chance of being snapped “after” being cooked!  A côte de boeuf is basically a rib-eye on the bone, but cut really thick as you can see.  Just delicious!

 Domaine de Chazalis Coteaux de l’Ardèche 2010

Domaine de Chazalis Coteaux de l'Ardèche 2010
Domaine de Chazalis Coteaux de l’Ardèche 2010

This was probably my favourite red we tried at the barbie.  It’s made in northern Rhône which is the original Syrah homeland, but just to the west of the Côtes de Rhône appellation, hence it carries the IGP tag Côteaux de l’Ardèche.

Like many a St Joseph or Cornas, it’s a very savoury style – smoky bacon! – with dark black fruit and a twist of pepper.  This example from the warm year of 2010 is great to drink now but would happily keep on evolving for the next five to seven years at least.

Wolf Blass Yellow Label Shiraz 2011

Wolf Blass Yellow Label Shiraz 2011
Wolf Blass Yellow Label Shiraz 2011

It’s a while since I last had this so I was surprised that it wasn’t totally over the top alcohol wise – 13.5% is fairly modest for a South Australian Shiraz, even in these days of modest ABVs.  The flavours and mouthfeel are pretty much what you’d expect – concentrated black fruit with a touch of vanilla from the oak, and quite chewy but with very restrained tannins.  This isn’t going to evolve into something fabulously complex but it’s very pleasant drinking right now – and it was a bargain at a fiver from Asda.

 La Domelière Rasteau 2012

La Domelière Rasteau 2012
La Domelière Rasteau 2012

Rasteau has long been an Appellation Contrôllée for fortified wines, but was promoted to AOC for dry red wines in 2010 with effect from the 2009 vintage.  Prior to that it had been a VDQS (AOC in waiting) and was also allowed to be sold as Côte de Rhône Villages-Rasteau.

Now we’re in the southern Rhône it’s Grenache, not Syrah, that dominates.  Big, bold and fruity at 14.5%, this 2012 is still very tight, and although it’s very easy drinking it will be better still with a few more years.

 Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs NV

Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs NV
Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs NV

This is fab easy-drinking fizz.  The Special Reserve is a step up from the standard Lindauer range and so receives 24 months on the lees rather than the usual 15 – so it’s probably had more than many cheap Champagnes.

Being a Blanc de Blancs this is of course made from just white grapes, and it’s the classic Chardonnay of Champagne.  Lindauer source their grapes from Gisborne on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, an area noted for its Chardonnay.