Opinion, Tasting Events

Fine Time (Part 2 – France)

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

Note: these offers are in-store only, and for a short time.

Julien Brocard La Boissonneuse Chablis 2017 (13.0%, €28.45 down to €21.95)

CHABLIS-BOISSONNEUSE-JEAN-MARC-BROCARD

After studying engineering Julien Brocard joined the family firm in the 90s.  At first he concentrated on some special wines before eventually taking over the reins from his father.  Although he doesn’t necessarily use the term itself, he has followed the principle of Kaizen – continuous improvement in the vineyard, winery and onwards.

This is a very special wine indeed, and not just because it is from organic and biodynamically grown grapes – no easy thing in the northern climes of Chablis.  It’s simply the most accomplished and interesting Chablis I’ve ever tasted.  Yes it’s on offer in the Fine Wine Sale, but to be honest this is an absolute steal at its regular price.  There’s vibrant lemon and lime and a funkiness which I find really appealing.  The only reason for you not to buy this wine is to leave more for me!

Domaine des Sénéchaux Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2015 (14.5%, €43.95 down to €29.95 at O’Briens)

Domaine_des_Senechaux_CNDP

This wine has two prestigious  names behind it – Châteauneuf-du-Pape of course and the JM Cazes family of Lynch Bages fame.  Complexity comes through three distinct soil types: stony clay-limestone, deep sand and mollassic sandstone.  The assemblage is the traditional GSM blend, with 64% Grenache, 19% Syrah and 15% Mourvèdre plus a dash of Vaccarèse and Cinsault (2% together).  It’s a great example of CNDP which has some serious competition at €44, but is an absolute steal at €30!

Domaine L’Ostal Cazes Grand Vin Minervois La Livinière 2015 (14.5%, €23.95 down to €18.95 at O’Briens)

L Ostal Cazes Grand Vin

The Grand Vin of L’Ostal Cazes is probably my favourite wine of the JM Cazes family, especially when value for money comes into the equation.  It’s made in one of the top appellations of the Languedoc  – Minervois La Livinière – which has as few as 30 producers.  The blend is 90% Syrah plus 10% Grenache, all aged for 15 months in French oak barrels.  There’s no mistaking that this is predominantly Syrah based, though it’s richer and spicier than the northern Rhône’s reds.  This is the perfect wine for cold winter nights.

Gérard Bertrand Cigalus Rouge 2015 (14.5%, €38.95 down to €29.95 at O’Briens)

cigalus rouge 4

This is a premium cuvée from Gérard Bertrand, rugbyman (a word which works equally well in French as in Irish English) turned biodynamic winemaker.  The blend for Cigalus is (I hope you’re sitting down): Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache and Caladoc.  The last grape is a cross of Grenache and Malbec that is grown here and there in the Languedoc but is not generally permitted in AOC wines.  As this is an IGP there’s no issue!  Given the long list of grapes it’s no surprise that the wine is a mouthful, but in a good way – smooth and rich, it’s a very satisfying wine full of fruits of the forest.  Definitely one to quaff with a stew or a good book!

Château Phélan Ségur Saint-Estèphe Cru Bourgeois 2015 (13.5%, €70.00 down to €50.00)

Phelan Segur

Buy this wine, but don’t drink it.  I’m serious!  Well, sort of…I mean don’t drink it now, but lay it down out of sight and out of mind for several years before opening it.  You will reap the rewards.

With obvious Irish roots, Phélan Ségur is officially a Cru Bourgeois but is often talked about as being of Cru Classé…erm…class.  2015 was a great vintage in Bordeaux so this is definitely one to snap up if you can.  The blend is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 47% Merlot giving a mix of blackcurrant and plum with a structure that will stand it in good stead for the long haul.  Second wine Frank Phélan is worth its €39.95 so for a tenner more this is a bargain.

Also see my NZ & Aus picks in part 1

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Opinion, Tasting Events

Fine Time (Part 1 – NZ & Australia)

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

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

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

cloudy bay sauvignon blanc

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

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

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

man-o-war-dreadnought-syrah-2014

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

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

St-Hallett-Old-Block-Shiraz-2014

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

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

dArenberg Dead Arm Shiraz

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

Also see my French picks in part 2

Tasting Events

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitiness (part 1)

With apologies to Keats, autumn is the time when many light wines are forsaken and more substantial wines are poured in their stead, especially fruity and more generous reds.  Rhône Valley reds fit the bill perfectly!

This first part looks at some of the best northern Rhône reds, while part two will consider a selection from the southern Rhône.

Domaine Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2016 (13.0%, RRP €35.00 at SIYPS)

Domaine Graillot Crozes Hermitage

Crozes-Hermitage often lives in the shadow of Hermitage proper, both literally and quality wise.  There are often good value wines to be had but they can be disappointing compared to their big brother on the hill.  Domaine Graillot is an exception – an exceptional wine no matter how humble its origins.

This is a rich, dense, chewy wine full of black fruits, spice and tapenade savoury character.  It’s closer to a serious Saint-Joseph than any other Crozes I’ve tried!

Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin Côte Rôtie Champin Le Seigneur 2012 (13.0%, RRP €49.99 at JN Wine)

Gerin Cote Rotie

Côte Rôtie is the most northern of the northern Rhône’s eight crus and possibly the most famous.  It is also the origin of adding a dash of Viognier into Syrah to soften it and add floral aromas to the wine – a practice that has been followed in the new world, particularly South Africa.  Traditionally, the two grapes were planted together, then harvested and vinified together – extracting more from the Viognier skins than if they had been fermented as white wine and then blended in.

Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin was set up as recently as 1983 but the family has lived in Ampuis for six generations.  The first vines planted were in Côte Rôtie but the Domaine has since expanded beyond that appellation’s boundaries.  Champin Le Seigneur is the more affordable of Gerin’s Côte Rôtie wines, though obviously everything is relative!  With 5% Viognier added to the Syrah it has an ethereal quality – that indefinable lightness and sophistication that makes wine so special.

Cave de Tain “Grand Classique” Hermitage 2007 (13.0%, RRP €55.00 at O’Briens)

Cave de Tain Hermitage

From the only co-operative in Hermitage, this 2007 is absolutely à point, a perfect example of northern Rhône Syrah.  Relatively light, it still has some fine tannins and plenty of acidity – a fine structure.  There’s still plenty of fruit, too – both red and black – but also savoury notes which enhance its appeal.  Get yourself a thick piece of rib-eye steak and a super evening awaits.

Domaine Marc Sorrel “Le Gréal” Hermitage 1997 (13.0%, RRP €98.65 at Karwig Wines)

Marc Sorrel Hermitage

Those who have read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code book or seen the subsequent film may remember that “Le Gréal” is “The [Holy] Grail” which is possibly Marc Sorrel’s way of telling us that this wine is rather good – though more prosaically it is also a portmanteau of  Les Greffieux and Le Méal, two of the best plots from which grapes are sourced for this premium bottling.  Sorrel is a traditionalist, with mainly whole bunch fermentation in old oak, and his wines need some age before they are at their best.

The 1997 here has had plenty of time, but is still lively and has some years ahead of it.  10% Marsanne was added in the 1997 vintage (15% being the maximum per AOC regulations) which adds elegance.  There’s still power, but tempered by time, resulting in one of the smoothest wines known to man.

Tasting Events

Dream Sweets (Are Made Like This)

DNS Wine Club were recently treated to a sneak peak of the sweet wines shown to the Irish press.  The trio below were the standouts, but please remember – sweet wines are not just for dessert!

 

Château Rieussec Sauternes 2014 (14.0%, RRP €50.00 (375ml) at O’Briens)

Chateau Rieussec 2014 Half Bottle

We start with the smallest bottle and lowest abv yet highest price – and all these facts are related.  Sauternes is an expensive wine to produce, as botrytised grapes (shrivelled by noble rot) contain less juice than normal grapes, and picking them at optimum levels often requires several passes in the vineyard.

Château Rieussec is one of 11 Premiers Crus (just below the sole Premier Cru Supérieur of Château d’Yquem) established by the 1855 Classification.  It was bought by the Lafite branch of the Rothschilds in 1984 and benefitted from their marketing and distribution efforts, though (thankfully) pricing is still a fraction of Lafite-Rothschild’s Grand Vin.  A second sweet wine (Carmes de Rieussec) and a dry white (R de Rieussec) complete the range.

This 2014 is made from the traditional Sauternes blend of Sémillon (93%), Sauvignon Blanc (5%) and Muscadelle (2%) and is an exuberant delight for the senses.  Still very young, it has a highly perfumed nose of stone fruit, whisky marmalade and ginger.  The spice is somewhat muted on the palate at present, as apricot, peach and citrus dominate, wrapped in an envelope of sweetness that is cosseting but not cloying.  As one DNS member put it “this tastes of money” – it’s a fabulous, beautiful wine.

 

Gérard Bertrand Banyuls 2011 (16.0%, RRP €23.95 (750ml) at O’Briens)

 

Gerard Bertrand Banyuls

Along with Maury and Rivesaltes, Banyuls is one of the three Vin Doux Naturel producing areas in Roussillon, French Catalonia.  As with the VDNs produced throughout France, grape spirit is added early on during fermentation to kill the yeast, leaving plenty of sugar left in the juice – and plenty of alcohol too!  This is the same method as used in Porto, so the end result is not unlike Port.

Grenache is the king in these parts, not least because of the grape’s ability to produce high sugar levels and moderate tannin levels.  Bottling is relatively quick after mutage as Grenache is susceptible to unwanted oxidation if left in oak, but once under cork the wine can last for decades.

At 16.0% Gérard Bertrand’s Banyuls comes in at around the same as some Californian and Italian wines – and tastes lighter than the vintage Port it was tried against.  Grenache Gris supports the mainstay Grenache Noir and adds elegance.  Fruit is the key here, both dried and fresh, with a little tannin and acidity supporting the show.  This would be superb with some fruit cake but perfect for contemplation on its own.

 

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny NV (19.0%, €24.95 (750ml) at O’Briens)

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny

Most of us don’t associate fortified wines with Australia, but for the majority of the twentieth century locally produced “port” and “sherry” dominated the market.  Once dry table wines had taken off, the Grenache and Shiraz vines that were the source of grapes for fortifieds were still used to some extent, but as varieties they fell behind Cabernet Sauvignon in the fashion stakes, so many older vines were sadly ripped up and replaced.  Thankfully, some still survive and make brilliant port style wines – though of course they can’t be labelled as such in the EU – and are the highlight of many winelovers’ discoveries on visiting Australian cellar doors.

This is a rare example which is available up here – in Ireland at least.  Produced by the ever-excellent Geoff Schrapel at Bethany in the Barossa, it is a blend of late harvested Grenache and Shiraz, aged together in old oak casks for an average of ten years before bottling.  As with tawny Port, this gives a lighter – almost brown – colour to the wine, with dried fruit and nutty flavours.  This is a delightful drink, especially in the coming darker months, and has more flavour than most Ports at this price.

Make Mine A Double, Opinion

A Pair to Stock Up On! [Make Mine a Double #36]

Ahead of the O’Briens Wines annual wine sale (30th Aug to 23rd Sept) I’ve taken the opportunity to check in with a couple of my favourites from their range.

Astrolabe Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.5%, €22.45 down to €16.95 at O’Briens)

Astrolabe Awatere Sauvignon Blanc

The Awatere Valley and regular Province Sauvignon Blancs from Astrolabe have been firm favourites of mine for close to a decade now.  The Province is a great all-rounder while the Awatere is more subtle, refined and food friendly.

I’m not one of those Marlborough Savvy haterz, but one of the downsides to such an aromatic and expressive wine is that it can overpower any delicate dishes it is paired with.  Awatere is the answer!  Instead of the typical tropical fruit notes we are greeted instead by light citrus, flowers and herbs.  It’s recognisably Marlborough but doesn’t have the usual overt fruitiness which is often perceived as sweetness – even if the wine is actually dry.  Treat yourself to an elegant Sauvignon!

Gaia Estate Santorini Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2016 (13.0%, €24.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)

Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment

This is another perennial favourite of mine from – in my not so humble opinion – the best white wine region in Greece, Santorini – which happens to be a collapsed volcanic caldera in the Aegean.  Assyrtiko is the king of grapes here, and Gaia do a straight up version called Monograph which is a great introduction to the variety (and is a total steal at the current price of €11.95).

However, the Wild Ferment is on another level entirely.  A quick sniff after opening is enough for the wine to start showing its colours – fermentation with indigenous yeast gives it a wonderfully funky and exotic nose (not dissimilar from Kevin Judd’s Greywacke Wild Sauvignon).  This continues onto the palate where it’s joined by fresh lime and lemon.  This is a wine that deserves a BIG glass for extended swirling, or even decanting for half an hour before serving.  Perfect with mushroom risotto.

 

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

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Value Reds of 2017

Here are ten of the reds which impressed me in 2017 and represent fantastic value for money:

10. Bodegas Salentein Portillo Pinot Noir 2014 (14.2%, RRP €12.99)

portillo-pinotnoir

An unusual grape for Argentina, Pinot Noir is much more often seen on the western side of the Andes, but this is a remarkably drinkable example from Bodegas Salentein. Although it’s their entry level Pinot, it has plenty of upfront but elegant fruit, and is nicely balanced – quaffable without being either jammy or thin.  There’s more complexity further up the range but this is the ideal mid-week quaffer!

9. Loggia Della Luna Morellino di Scansano 2014 (13.5%, RRP €15.00)

 

Loggia Della Luna Morellino di Scansano

This Tuscan treat is predominantly Sangiovesi and comes from the Maremma region of coastal Tuscany.  Morellino is (yet another) synonym for Sangiovesi with differing stories over the origins of its name.  However, given the prominent cherry flavours and high acidity I think the story of it being named after the morello cherry is the most likely.  This isn’t a hugely complex wine but is more likeable than many lower priced Chiantis so it gets a firm thumbs up from me.  Would make a great party wine that you’re not afraid to drink yourself!

8. Viña Chocálan Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (14.5%, €13.95)

chocalan cab-sauv

Chilean Cab Sauv is something of a commodity nowadays, so it’s nice to find one that stands out from the crowd for its intensity of flavour and balance.  In addition to cassis so vibrant that you can almost feel the individual blackcurrants popping in your mouth, this wine also offers the cedarwood and pencil shaving that are more often associated with left bank Bordeaux.

7. Castaño “Hécula” Yecla Monastrell 2015 (14.0%, RRP €16.99)

 

Hecula

This was one of the standout value wines at Liberty’s 15th anniversary portfolio tasting.  Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre, aka Mataro) is a grape which needs plenty of heat – and gets it in south east Spain – but crucially this is grown at altitude so the vines get to rest at night and acidity is preserved.  This has some structure behind the big and bold fruit but can happily serve as a tipple on its own.

6. Frères Laffitte Le Petit Gascoûn Rouge 2016 (12.5%, RRP €13.50)

petit gascoun rouge

Yes the label is cute, but the wine is pretty nice as well – an easy drinking Tannat-dominated blend which is surprisingly quaffable (or “smashable” in modern parlance).  The lighter alcohol also suggests that this would make a great picnic wine in the warmer months – it’s exactly the wine to have on hand in case of an impromptu barbecue.

5. Casa De La Ermita Lunatico 2015 (14.0%, RRP €18.99)

Lunatico

Another Spanish Monastrell shows that there is lots of good value wine being made from the grape – and Spain is one of the few European countries with a climate hot enough for it to fully ripen.  12 months ageing in French oak adds structure to blueberries and blackberries.

4. Pagos de Labarca AEX Rioja 2011 (14.5%, RRP €22.99)

Pagos-De-Labarca_Rioja

Rioja wines are generally easy to like, but, on reflection, not all of them are easy to admire – some have have too much wood at the expense of fruit, some have a big bang of strawberry fruit from Tempranillo but not much else, and some are just plain weird.  As with most European wines, the region is most talked about but the producer is key to what’s in the glass.  This is one of the most accomplished and well rounded Riojas I have tasted at any price – wonderfully rich red fruit with delightful vanilla in support.  As an aside, it was also given the stamp of approval from DNS Wineclub!

3. Fog Mountain California Merlot 2015 (13.5%, RRP €20.95)

Fog Mtn Merlot NV-corkcap

It’s sometimes said that Sideways killed California Merlot (and gave a big boost to Pinot Noir).  There’s an element of truth in that statement as the trajectory of the grapes’ sales moved in opposite directions, but the reality is that it was the poorer Merlot wines which lost out, leaving the good stuff behind.  The name of this wine alludes to the cooler sites from which the grapes are sourced helping to preserve acidity and balance.  The presence of 14% Petit Sirah in the blend adds a touch of backbone and complexity.

2. Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Rouge 2016 (11.5%, RRP €23)

montcy

The assemblage of this wine – 60% Pinot Noir, 35% Gamay and 5% Malbec – would rarely be found anywhere else but the Loire.  It’s made with minimal intervention from organic grapes, resulting in a light but fruity red which tastes more alive than almost any other wine.  It’s like having freshly squeezed orange juice after a glass of squash!

1. Château Tayet Cuvée Prestige Bordeaux Supérieur 2010 (13.0%, RRP €23.00)

de-mour-bordeaux-2010-chateau-tayet-cuvee-prestige

I had sung the praises of the contrasting 2009 and 2011 vintages of this wine during the year (with my personal preference being for the 2009), but on tasting the 2010 at SPIT Festival I found that put those both in the shade.  It’s a rare thing that Bordeaux is classed as good value nowadays, but this bottling from the De Mour group is the most superior Supérieur around!

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Value Whites of 2017

2017 was another fantastic year of wine and I’ve been lucky to taste a great many superb wines.  For the first time, this year my Top 10s include Value Whites and Value Reds as lower priced wines often lie in the shadow of their more expensive counterparts.  Even so, there were many wines I had to leave off these lists.  Let me know what your favourites were in the comments!

10.  Gaia Monograph Assyrtiko 2016 (13.0%, RRP €14.95)

Gaia Monograph Assyrtiko

Whereas the big brother Wild Ferment Assyrtiko comes from the variety’s home in Santorini, the Monograph is sourced from Nemea which is also well known for its red wines, particularly Agiorgitiko.  The Monograph is a cleaner, straight-up style without any wild yeast or barrel-fermentation characters, but is a true expression of the grape itself.

9. Vale da Capucha VR Lisboa Fossil Branco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €18.00)

Fossil

If ever there was a wine which added weight to the theory of soil types directly affecting wine taste, this is it, the very mineral “Fossil” made from vines grown on limestone on the coast just north of Lisbon.  Local grapes Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires combine to give floral aromas with a palate of soft white fruit with a wide streak of minerality.  Refreshing to sip on its own, this also make a great match for seafood.

8. Callia “Alta” Pinot Grigio 2016 (13.5%, RRP 12.99)

Pinot Grigio

My general dislike of disinterest in Pinot Grigio is well documented, though it does have a few exceptions.  And any wine that gets included on one of my top 10 lists must be exceptional – and this is!  It has recognisable Grigio qualities (indeed some which make it as far as being Pinot Gris-like) but without the diluteness and general lack of flavour that much of the mass-produced Italian swill exhibits.  Lovely drinking.

7. Château Martinolles Limoux Vieilles Vignes 2015 (13.5%, RRP €15.00)

Martinolles Limoux Vieilles Vignes

Although Burgundy is thought to be the birthplace of Chardonnay and is still its spiritual home, the prestige of the region means that value for money is often better sought elsewhere.  Normally that would be in the New World, but Limoux in the Languedoc is an alternative closer to home.  As it’s in the south of France we tend to think of the Languedoc as being very warm and only good for bulk wine, but excellence is being rediscovered and cooler subregions are making some great wine.  There’s a fair bit of oak here but actually more creamy lees character .  Cracking Chardy for the money!

6. Domaine Eloy Saint-Véran 2016 (13.0%, RRP €14.99)

Domaine Eloy Saint Veran

Saint-Véran is one of my go-to Burgundy appellations.  Of course the producer still makes a big difference, but my experience has been generally very positive with this Mâconnais area across the board, despite a reasonable price tag (for Burgundy!)  This was full of peach and pear with a slight nuttiness to it.  Given a big thumbs up by DNS Wineclub!

5. Viña Leyda Falaris Hill Chardonnay 2015 (14.0%, RRP €16.95)

leyda-falaris-chardonnay_1

For me this single vineyard Chardonnay represents even better value for money than its slightly less expensive counterpart, Leyda’s Reserva Chardonnay.  The fruit is ripe but still fresh, and sitting on a nice cushion of oak (25% new).  This isn’t the Chardonnay to convert haters, or even those sitting on the fence, but those who like it will love it.

4. Loosen Dr L Riesling 2015 (8.5%, RRP €14.00)

Dr L Mosel Riesling 2015

Riesling is perhaps the one grape that separates dabblers in wine from true wine lovers, though it’s rarely seen in supermarkets, so it’s at the multiples and independents where Riesling has a loving home.  The current fashion for Riesling is to be dry, which can mean austere when acidity is very high.  The Mosel tradition is to leave a fair bit of residual sugar to balance the acidity, for the entry level wines at least.  Dr Loosen makes the archetype, with the sugar and acidity combining to reinforce the zesty fruitiness.  Such a delicious wine that can be drunk at any time.

3. Vía Arxéntea Monterrei 2016 (14.0%, RRP €14.95)

Vía Arxéntea Treixadura Godello Monterrei

Treixadura and Godello share equal billing on this beauty from Galicia’s smallest DO, Monterrei.  It’s something of an enigma with tropical fruit, smokiness, minerality and freshness all rolled together.  You might enjoy dissecting its elements at your leisure, but the reality is that this delicious blend is a quaffer’s delight!

2. Mandrarossa “Ciaca Bianca” Fiano Sicilia 2016 (13.5%, RRP €15.95)

mandrarossa fiano ciaca bianca sicilia

Fiano is one of the newly rediscovered grapes that are starting to get a lot of notice.  Of course, they never went away – investment in modern winemaking equipment and a search for the new came together with some lovely clean, unoaked, well-crafted wines.  Compared to the other Fianos I have tried, however, this is something of an outlier – it just has so much flavour!  I got this as a present for my Marlborough Sauvignon-loving sister in law and she sang its praises.  This is a must-try wine.

1. Paul Ginglinger Alsace Pinot Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP €18.50)

Paul Ginglinger Pinot Blanc

And so it is.  What else could top my Top 10 value wines, if not a wine from my favourite white wine region of the world and one that is made with an undervalued grape: Alsace Pinot Blanc.  This is an unoaked example but is still pithy, with some nice texture.  It shows a nice array of fruit, from soft apple and pear through to refreshing citrus.  A remarkable wine for not that much money!.

 

 

 

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #10 – Kerri Judge [Guest Post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

Kerri Judge is the Marketing Manager of Febvre, an importer who has been a stalwart of the Irish wine trade for over 50 years and who represent a few of my favourite producers. 


valdemar_gran_reservaOne of my favourites at Christmas is from the family owned estate of Bodegas Valdemar in Rioja.  Their Conde Valdemar Gran Reserva 2008 is rich and so very smooth.  Lovely dark brambly fruits with a touch of vanilla and spice with soft tannins.

A perfect glass on its own, with a piece of hard cheese like Hegarty’s Cheddar or with a melt in your mouth piece of fillet beef sliced thinly with a drizzle of olive oil and salt.  Also, great I found with leftover Turkey and Ham fried up the day after Christmas with a bit of stuffing.

Conde Valdemar Gran Reserva 2008 (13.5%):  on promotion this Christmas at €20 (usually €32) in O’Briens and Independent Off-Licences.

 


Warre's Optima 10I always have a bottle of the Warre’s Otima 10 year old Tawny Port in the fridge at Christmas.  A glass of Otima watching It’s a Wonderful Life with a bowl of walnuts and the fire lit on Christmas Eve is my idea of Christmas!

Think a rich fruit cake – dried fruits, orange peel, caramel and honey flavours with a toasty finish and great length. Chilling the Otima cuts the taste of Alcohol and enhances the fruit flavours.

Warre’s Otima 10 year old Tawny Port (20.0%):  available at around €28 (50cl bottle) at Independent Off-Licences and selected SuperValu Stores.

 


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #5 – Joe Coyle [Guest Post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

Joe Coyle is Head of Sales for Liberty Wines Ireland, a wine importer with an impressive portfolio with great coverage of Italy, NZ and Australia in particular.


At Christmas I like to serve a mix of tried-and-tested favourites alongside new wines that have excited me through the year.

CH Brut reserveA firm favourite that I always go back to is the dangerously drinkable Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve.  Charles Heidsieck is one of the most awarded Champagne houses, and it’s not hard to see why.  With at least five years on the lees and 40% reserve wines in the blend, their flagship Brut Réserve is rich and complex.

The nose is characterised by complex pastry aromas, with an opulent combination of ripe apricot, mango and greengages, dried fruits, pistachio and almond.  The palate begins with a silky-smooth sensation, developing into ripe fleshy apricot, melon and enticing plum pastry notes and delicate spice.

There is perfect balance of freshness and generosity.  Plus, the story of Charles Heidsieck, the original Champagne Charlie, includes Atlantic crossings, American high society, Mississippi swamp jails, political intrigue and financial windfalls.  It never fails to entertain!


Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Red 2014This year, my most exciting discoveries have come from Portugal.  Like Liberty Wines’ traditional stronghold in Italy, Portugal has dozens of native grape varieties to explore, from Alvarinho and Loureira in Vinho Verde through the Touriga Nacional based wines in the Douro and Dao to the intriguingly minerally white wines made from Enruzado in Dão.

The flavour profiles of these native grapes varieties are as diverse and exciting in Portugal as they are in Italy.   Perhaps it is this affinity, or just a search for originality and diversity, that drew us to Portugal. I’ll be serving Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro Tinto 2015 with dinner this year, its juicy red berry notes and subtle vanilla making it the perfect match with Christmas turkey.

 

 

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV: available at around €65 at O’Briens and independent wine merchants.

Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro Tinto 2015: available at around €19.99 at J.J. O’Driscoll Cork, Clontarf Wines. Wine Online


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tasting Events

Top 10 White Wine Bargains from O’Briens

After another successful O’Briens Wine Fair, I find myself with the usual predicament of too many good wines to recommend.  I have therefore picked my 10 favourite whites listed at €15.00 or under – before any promotional offers.

Examining the list shows that:

  • Several varieties are repeated: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Colombard and (unoaked) Chardonnay
  • Several places are repeated: Chile, the Loire and Gascony

From which you could draw certain conclusions:

  • Obviously, there’s a link between variety and place!
  • Certain varieties are better for making good yet inexpensive wines
  • Oak is a significant cost so is seldom used for the least expensive wines

Here are the ten wines:

Domaine Duffour Côtes de Gascogne 2016 (12.0%, €11.45 or 2 for €20 during summer at O’Briens)

Duffour

From the land of d’Artagnan (and Dogtanian as well, for all I know) come probably the best value white wines of France – Côtes de Gascogne of south west France.  Nicolas Duffour is a big fan of local star Colombard which gives ripe melon flavours; Ugni Blanc (more commonly distilled into Cognac or Armagnac) adds freshness while Gros Manseng (well-established in Jurançon) gives complexity.  Summer in a glass!

Viña Chocálan Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.5%, €13.95 at O’Briens)

chocalan

This wine is so grassy that you might wonder if you have face-planted into a pile of mown grass.  It’s fresh and linear, with a juicy citrus finish.  Tasted blind I would probably have guessed it hailed from the Loire Valley, perhaps a Touraine, but this is actually from a family run winery in Chile’s Maipo Valley.

Famille Bougrier Les Hauts Lieux Chenin Blanc 2015 (12.0%, €13.95 down to €10.95 for May at O’Briens)

Bougrier-Chenin-Blanc

The Bougrier Family make several Loire wines (their Sauvignon Blanc was just 45 cents too much to make it into this article) labelled as Vin de France, giving them flexibility over grape sourcing and varietal labelling.  I found the Chenin just off dry, emphasizing the ripe stone and pip fruit, with the acidity keeping it fresh.  So drinkable!

Viña Leyda Chardonnay Reserva 2014 (14.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)

Leyda-Chardonnay-Reserva

This Chardonnay is unoaked but is not a lean-Chablis like wine (the 14.0% alcohol might have been a clue).   Viña Leyda are based in the Leyda Valley (no surprise there) and so are close enough to benefit from cooling coastal breezes – these help extend the growing season and help to increase intensity of flavour while maintaining aromatics.  This is a great example of ripe but unoaked Chardonnay, full of tropical fruits and citrus.

Domaine Langlois-Château Saumur Blanc 2014 (12.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)

Domaine-Langlois-Chateau-Saumur-Blanc

The Maison des Vins de Saumur is one of my favourite places to taste wine in France – it has close to a hundred wines of all types from the Anjou-Saumur sub-region of the Loire. The white wine of Saumur itself are unfairly overlooked in favour of Vouvray and other appellations for white and Saumur’s own reds and rosés.  Of course this is Chenin Blanc and its perfect balance of acidity and fruit sweetness makes it a great drink to sip on a nice sunny day.

Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (13.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)

Los-Vascos-Sauvignon-Blanc_1

Los Vascos is a project of the Lafite branch of the Rothschild family, sourcing wines from both Argentina and Chile.  This Chilean Sauvignon is very racy and less exuberantly aromatic compared to many – it’s probably closer to a Touraine Sauvignon or even a Chablis than most Savvies (Marlborough it ain’t!) Appealing mineral notes would make it a great accompaniment for oysters or other shellfish.

Hijos de Alberto Gutiérrez Monasterio de Palazuelos Rueda Verdejo 2016 (13.0%, €13.95 down to €10.95 for May at O’Briens)

rueda

Rueda and its Verdejo is often overlooked in favour of Albariño and Godello from north west Spain.  And that’s ok with me as Rueda wines are consistently good quality and good value for money.  This one has lovely melon and citrus notes, so soft and approachable that you will be pouring a second glass quickly!

Boatshed Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (13.0%, €14.95 down to €11.95 for May at O’Briens)

Boat-Shed-Sauvignon-Blanc

Different Sauvignons from Marlborough offer flavours from a wide spectrum, but often concentrating on one part of it.  This seems to have nearly all of them!  There’s tropical and green fruit such as passionfruit, grapefruit, gooseberry and pineapple, but also green pepper and asparagus notes.  Compared to – say – the Los Vascos Sauvignon, it’s probably the other end of the spectrum – a wine great for quaffing on its own.

Producteurs Plaimont Labyrinthe de Cassaigne Côtes de Gascogne 2015 (11.5%, €13.95 down to €9.95 for May at O’Briens)

labyrinthe

This is a single estate Côtes de Gascogne from the north of the area, close to Condom (make your own jokes please).  Tropical fruit from Colombard and Gros Manseng make this a real Vin de Plaisir – and fairly light in alcohol at 11.5%.  Good value for money at €14, great value at €10!

Los Vascos Chardonnay 2015 (14.0%, €14.95 at O’Briens)

Los-Vascos-Chardonnay

Like its sister Sauvignon above, this unoaked Chardonnay has a great deal of minerality which make it ideal for shellfish and other seafood.  It does have more body, however; enough to almost give it the feel of an oaked wine, though not the flavour.  The finish is zesty citrus and stays with you for quite some time.