Make Mine A Double, Opinion

Right Bank 2014s [Make Mine a Double #42]

As any good sci-fi geek knows, 42 is Deep Thought’s Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, and so it’s fitting that the theme of this 42nd edition of Make Mine a Double is Bordeaux, probably the most important wine region in the world (and definitely the most self-important).  Bordeaux was the first wine region I got to know reasonably well and remains the reference for many other country’s red wines.

These two wines are both from the Merlot-dominated right bank, where Cabernet Sauvignon is nearly always a minor player – if it plays a part at all – and Cabernet Franc can play a great supporting role.  Saint Emilion is the star appellation on the right bank, with Pomerol less famous but home to the legendary Château Petrus.  Fronsac is less well known still, but often offers great value.  These two wines are both from the very good but not amazing 2014 vintage – Red Bordeaux 2014s are rated 8/10 by Berry Brothers & Rudd and 7/10 by The Wine Society.

Disclosure: both bottles were kindly provided as samples, but opinions remain my own

Château Clos du Roy Fronsac 2014 (14.0%, €29.95 down to €22.95 at O’Briens)

Chateau Clos du Roy Fronsac 2014

The name of this producer translates literally as the Castle of the King’s Walled Garden.  Horticulture aside for a moment, this is a blend of 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc.

The nose is tremendous, with dark fruit (plums, blackcurrants, blackberries), chocolate and spices.  The fruit is very ripe on the palate – this is a powerful wine.  Fine grained tannins give a satisfying dry edge to the finish.  Although still quite young this is drinking magnificently now.  At the reduced price it would be worth buying a few and seeing how it evolves over the next decade.

Château Franc-Maillet Pomerol 2014 (13.5%, €42.95 down to €34.35 at O’Briens)

Chateau Franc-Maillet 2014

You might just be able to make out “Depuis 1919” on the bottle shot above, as it was started by a soldier returning from the First World War.  It has been in the same family since, who now make wines in Pomerol (plus satellite AOC Lalande de Pomerol), and Saint-Emilion (plus one of the four satellite AOCs, Montagne-Saint-Emilion.)  The blend is 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc.

The nose is spicy and smoky with red and black fruits.  On the palate there is a whole variety of red (red cherry, raspberry, cranberry) and black (plum, black cherry and blackberry) fruits.  There are also some subtle vanilla notes from maturation in barrique and ripe tannins.

Conclusion

In my opinion these are two excellent wines that do a great job of representing their appellations and right bank Bordeaux in general.  There’s little to chose between them in quality; it’s more a question of a slight difference in style between the power and spice of the Fronsac and the elegance, cherry and vanilla of the Pomerol.  Both for me please!

 

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

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Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz 2019

My interest in good and great bubbly is well known, so there are some crackers in my Top 10 Fizz this year.  It’s dominated by Champagnes, which reflects both my preferences and the wines that I’ve been able to taste in the last year or so – but try as many as you can and make your mind up for yourself:

10. Champagne Beaumont des Crayères Fleur Blanche 2009

Beaumont des Crayeres Fleur Blanche

12.0%, RRP €47.00.  Distributed by O’Briens.

Co-operative Beaumont des Crayères’ regular bottle is their Grande Réserve NV which is a very acceptable bottle itself, but this vintage Blanc de Blancs is a whole new level.  For non-francophones, the name “Fleur Blanche” simply translates as “White Flower” which both hints at its composition and evokes its aromas.  The palate shows evidence of extended lees ageing with lovely toasted brioche topped by citrus and stone fruit.  2009 is a very good vintage so this is something that you could lay down and enjoy a bottle every so often over the next decade.

9. Champagne Laherte Frères Extra Brut “Ultradition” NV

laherte freres champagne nv

12.5%, RRP €53.00.  Distributed by GrapeCircus.  Also see related article here.

This Champagne is part of the Pinot Meunier comeback (more on which later) – the region’s third grape variety is somewhat unloved as it doesn’t have the cachet of the big two – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – nor, according to many, the same ageing potential.  However, Meunier has plenty of character of its own which can really shine through when it’s done properly as in the hands of the Laherte brothers.  The nose evokes flowers but the palate has both red and citrus fruit plus some nice leesy notes.

8. Champagne Leclerc-Briant Brut Réserve NV

leclerc briant brut reserve

12.0%, RRP €62.00.  Distributed by Nomad Wines.  Also see related article here.

Another Meunier dominated non vintage Champagne with an extra brut dosage, this is a lively, fruity little number that tastes fresh rather than dry – it has lots of red fruit but they tend towards redcurrant and even cranberry, a sign of zippy acidity.  Depending on your personal preferences, this could be laid down for several years for it to round out and develop more complexity with bottle age – or just enjoy right now!

7. Champagne Salon Cuvée “S” Le Mesnil 2007

Salon 2007

12.0%, RRP €530.  Distributed by Pembroke Wines.

Salon is something of a legend in Champagne circles, but amongst regular and even enthusiast wine drinkers it is not well known – mainly down to the very small production volumes and minimal advertising (oh yes, and the price).  All the grapes are sourced from one of the Côte des Blancs’ best Grand Cru villages, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.  It’s a special enough place that master blenders Krug released their first single vineyard Champagne from there: Krug Clos Le Mesnil.  Salon only produce a single, vintage wine and then only in very good years; 2007 is only the 38th release since the first in 1921, and the 2008 is only going to be released in magnum format (form an orderly queue please).  So how is the 2007?  Intense, bready, taut, young…almost raw in fact.  But the inherent splendour can be guessed at – if you are prepared to wait a while then break open the piggy bank and stash a bottle or two.

6. Arcari + Danesi Franciacorta “Dosaggio Zero” 2013

franciacorta dosaggio zero arcari danesi

12.5%, RRP €60.  Distributed by GrapeCircus. Also see related article here.

This is the best Franciacorta I have tasted by a country mile.  It has no dosage but doesn’t need one – there’s loads of juicy fruit sweetness without any extra sugar.  Talking of which, Arcari + Danesi don’t even use sugar or the second alcoholic fermentation, but rather grape juice from their own harvest.  If you’ve been underwhelmed by the Franciacortas available where you are (and I was) then this shows you how good they can be.

5. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée MV

picture 86377

12.5%, RRP €61.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

More and more English sparkling wines are coming to the market each year and the overall quality keeps getting higher, but for me Nyetimber are still top of the pops.  So how do they stay ahead of the chasing pack?  A relentless drive to improve has made their Classic Cuvée better with each subsequent release.  Is there a ceiling?  I don’t know, but it will be fun finding out!

4. Champagne Alfred Gratien Cuvée Paradis NV

Champagne Cuvee Paradis Brut Alfred Gratien

12.0%, RRP £125.00 (magnum).  Distributed in the UK by The Wine Society.

Alfred Gratien doesn’t receive the kudos that some of the big houses do, but their no-nonsense Champagnes have plenty of fans.  This is a magnum of their top offering; with several years post-disgorgement it’s on the mature side (which is a good thing) but has plenty of years left (also a good thing).  I’ve tried it twice in the past 18 months and it was even better the second time.  If you can get your hands on some, do!

3. Champagne Gosset Grand Millésime 2004

Gosset Grand Millesime 2004

12.0%, RRP €95. Distributed in Ireland by Mackenway and in the UK by BBR.

The oldest extant Champagne house, Gosset was founded in 1584 – before Champagne wines were even sparkling.  They have a fantastic range, with the Petite Douceur Extra Dry Rosé and Blanc de Blancs also being big favourites of mine.  I’ve  been lucky to try the Grand Millésime 2004 several times recently and it’s truly magnificent – such finesse and complexity.  It’s even found a fan in my dad who doesn’t normally bother with anything sparkling.  The blend is 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir, neither of which go through malolactic fermentation, preserving freshness. A minimum of six years’ ageing on lees before disgorgement is not as long as some prestige cuvées but helps to generate lots of interesting creamy, nutty and fruity notes.  A real treat!

2. Champagne R&L Legras Cuvée Exceptionelle Saint-Vincent 1996

r-l-legras-saint-vincent-blanc-de-blancs-grand-cru-brut

12.0%.  Distributed in the UK by BBR.  Also see related article here.

While this is also a treat, it’s not for everyone as it is quite mature in style (apparently, some people don’t like mature Champagne – what gives?).  But I bloody love it!  From the  village of Chouilly, this is 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay.  Quite tight and structured on release, a dozen or so additional years of bottle ageing have added layers of spice and baked apple onto the citrus and brioche framework.  This is mature but far from tired, so don’t be in a hurry to drink it.

1. Champagne Dom Pérignon P2 2000

Dom Pérignon 2000 P2

12.5%, RRP €420.  Distributed in Ireland by Edward Dillon; retailed by SIYPS.

Even people quite familiar with Dom Pérignon – it is the best selling luxury cuvée, after all – might not be aware of the house’s P2 and P3 Oenothèque releases.  The “standard” or “regular” (how inadequate those words sound!) Dom Pérignon 2000 was released in 2008 after disgorgement the previous year, so after six or so years on the lees.  Some of the wines were held back and aged on lees for an additional nine years, apparently the wine’s second peak (or “Plenitude“).  The result is not just more autolytic notes, but it’s a turbocharged Dom Pérignon, with nuts, cream, coffee, honey….the list goes on, as it stands as one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted (of any type).  Yes, it’s just over double the price of the current release of DP, (around €200) but it’s not that much more than the DP Rosé which I think it is far better than.  If you get chance to taste this, you must.

 


The Frankly Wines 2019 Top 10s:

  • Top 10 Whites
  • Top 10 Fizz
  • Top 10 Reds
  • Top 10 Sweet
  • Top 10 Value Whites
  • Top 10 Value Reds
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Ireland
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Alsace

 

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites 2019

It’s awards season, with the Golden Globes and Oscars over it’s now time for the Frankly Wines Top Tens.  So here we go, kicking off with 10 fantastic white wines that I have really enjoyed in the past 12 months, and you should try to get hold of if you haven’t already:

10. Luigi Baudana “Dragon” Langhe Bianco 2017

Luigi Baudana Dragon

14.0%, RRP €23.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

This wine could well have topped the list on the Frankly Wines Top Ten Value Whites, such is the bang you get for your buck, bitcoin, or other currency of choice, but for me it’s just a great wine full stop.  To stand out amongst the Langhe’s great reds is a great achievement.

9. Chalk Hill McLaren Vale Fiano 2017

Chalk Hill Fiano

12.0%, RRP €21.95.  Distributed by Tindal Wine Merchants.  Also see related article here.

McLaren Vale is one of the key Australian regions where Italian varieties are being treated seriously, not just as a novelty but as a serious alternative to international (i.e. French) varieties.  Mandrarossa’s Sicilian Fiano was a revelation when I first tried it a few years ago, but Chalk Hill have pushed the bar even higher.  Try this tropical citrus beauty and you will become a convert too.

8. Ovum Wines Oregon Big Salt 2017

ovum big salt

12.9%, RRP €33.95.  Distributed by Le Caveau.  Also see related article here.

In my notes below I state that there are no Alsace wines in my Top 10 whites this year, and while that is true it does not preclude Alsace-style whites from elsewhere.  The long, cool growing season of Oregon’s coast is perfect for aromatic varieties: Muscat, Riesling and Gewurztraminer combine elegantly to make Oregon’s very own Gentil.

7. Domaine Marc Sorrel Hermitage Blanc “Les Rocoules” 1999

domaine-marc-sorrel-hermitage-les-rocoules-white

14.5%, RRP €98.45.  Distributed by Karwig Wines.

Producers who make wine in Hermitage number less than a score so it is something of a rarity (especially compared to Crozes-Hermitage); the whites are rarer still.  They can be made from any combination of Marsanne and Roussanne, with the former usually dominant or alone.  Marc Sorrel is a modest man who makes wines that aren’t flashy, but very long-lived and interesting.  This is from a single plot called Les Rocoules; it is intensely aromatic with herbs, elderflower and honeysuckle on the nose.  The palate is a little drier than expected but reflects the herbs and honey notes of the nose.  It’s round and savoury – obviously well developed at twenty years old – with an interesting tang and even some crisp green vegetal notes.  White Hermitage is rare enough, but to try a two decade old single vineyard wine is a real treat.

6. Au Bon Climat “Wild Boy” Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2017

au bon climat wild boy chardonnay

13.5%, RRP €39.95.  Distributed by Berry Bros & Rudd.  Also see related article here.

Jim Clendenen is rightly a legend of Californian wine, particularly those made from Burgundian varieties, so it’s fitting that a god-like portrait appears on the front label of this wine.  This wine has a slightly different sensibility to ABC’s regular bottlings, best summed up by the legend (in the other sense) at the bottom of the label:

Instructions to winemaker: I said “Hey dude, Make a wine on the Wild Side”

5. Domaine Stéphane Ogier Viognier de Rosine 2016

Viognier de Rosine

12.5%, RRP €31.95.  Distributed by Tindal Wine Merchants.

Viognier almost disappeared in the 20th Century, with just a small amount left in Condrieu.  It is now planted in many parts of the Rhône and further afield in California, Australia and elsewhere.  This wine is from the northern Rhône but outside the boundaries of the Appellation Controllée areas, making it an IGP.  Such is the quality of the terroir at Rosine and the wines made there, that I reckon it might well gain an AOC of its own in the future.  This is textbook Viognier, full of rich apricot, peach and pineapple fruits, and better than many more expensive Condrieus.

4. L.A.S. Vino Margaret River Chardonnay 2016

LAS Vino MR Chardonnay

13.5%, RRP €59.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

When we think of “natural” or “low intervention” wines we often think of the new wave of winemakers in Europe who have rejected the use of excessive chemicals in the vineyard and reverted back to their grandfathers’ methods.  In my eyes, Australia didn’t have the same issues, partly due to a drier climate and partly due to a more technical approach in bigger vineyards.  However, the focus on making wines that are consistent (vintage indifferent) and technically correct (starbright, clean, no trace of brett or VA) has sometimes encouraged wines which are lacking in character.

This Margaret River Chardonnay has character for days!

3. Rafael Palacios Valdeorras “As Sortes” 2016 

As Sortes

14.0%, RRP €46.00.  Distributed by Vinostito.

From the famous Palacios Spanish winemaking family, Rafael Palacios is the “God of Godello”, based in Valdeorras, Galicia.  He takes the grape to heights that have to be tasted to be believed, with low yields from seven plots totalling only 4.6 hectares and judicious use of oak.  There is tropical , soft stone and citrus fruit, all elegantly framed by a mineral, saline streak.  This is the type of wine which appeals to lovers of Chardonnay and Albariño alike.

2. Domaine JB Ponsot Rully “En Bas de Vauvry” 2016

jean-baptiste ponsot rully

13.0%, RRP €29.90.  Distributed by Nomad Wines.  Also see related article here.

Rully is on the rise – as land in the Côte Chalonnaise is significantly cheaper than the Cote d’Or (for now, at least) more vineyards there are getting serious attention and investment.  If you want excellent white Burgundy without a second mortgage, this is for you.

1. Julien Brocard La Boissonneuse Chablis 2017

CHABLIS-BOISSONNEUSE-JEAN-MARC-BROCARD

13.0%, RRP €28.45.  Distributed by O’Briens.  Also see related article here.

When whittling down my longlists to get to the shortlists of ten wines, quality considerations are paramount – balance, concentration and complexity, for example. This wine has all those, plus something else – it redefines how good a certain type of wine can be – in this case AOC Chablis.  There’s a long established hierarchy in Chablis with Petit Chablis at the bottom, then Chablis, a multitude of Chablis Premiers Crus with the seven (or eight, depending on who you ask) Grands Crus at the top – but this wine’s vast array of aromas and flavours show that, with care and dedication, anything is possible.

The bar for AOC Chablis has been significantly raised. The rest of Chablis – it’s over to you!

 


As this is the first of my Top 10s to be published, I first ought to mention a few obvious things:

  1. The timing of the articles is better in the first quarter of the new year rather than racing to get them all done at the end of a year, hence no 2018 edition.
  2. There will be no Alsace wines in the “Top 10 Whites” or “Top 10 Value Whites” categories – but do not adjust your sets, Alsace wines will have their own dedicated pieces.
  3. These lists are entirely subjective and are based on my personal opinions of the wines I’ve tasted, not an inclusive list of the best wines in the world (funnily enough I didn’t get sent any DRC or Bordeaux First Growth samples this year), so if you think there are obvious errors or omissions then please feel free to write about your own favourites on your own blog.

 

The Frankly Wines 2019 Top 10s:

  • Top 10 Whites
  • Top 10 Fizz
  • Top 10 Reds
  • Top 10 Sweet
  • Top 10 Value Whites
  • Top 10 Value Reds
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Ireland
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Alsace
Book Review, Tasting Events

DNS host Wilson on Wine (Part 2)

How does the 2019 edition of Wilson on Wine compare to the first from 2015?  Well it’s a different colour for a start, but the changes have been subtle improvements with each edition.  The indices in the back are very helpful, so you can look up particular wines or see which wines are listed from your favourite wine merchants.  For the first time there’s a natural wine section – wines that can be a little different so might not suit the unprepared – but what better way to prepare than having someone recommend a few!

Wilson On Wine 2019

Part 1 looked at the wines we tasted that were particularly good value for money; now we look at some which were just exceedingly good:

Granzamy Brut Champagne NV (12.0%, RRP €34.95 at O’Briens)

granzamy brut-nv champagne

This Champagne has a few unusual facets considering its distribution through a multiple retailer:

  1. It’s a “Grower Champagne”, i.e. the grapes used are the producer’s own rather than being bought in (see this post on Champagne types for more background).
  2. It’s made from 100% Pinot Meunier, the third Champagne grape which is often unfairly looked down upon.
  3. It’s totally delicious!!

Granzamy fully deserves its normal price of €34.95 but is sometime on promotion at €5 or even €10 less, making it an absolute steal.  When Champagnes are discounted this low they aren’t usually that nice, but this is an exception.  Looks out for promotions and fill your boots!

Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2016 (13.0%, RRP €24.95 at O’Briens)

gaia assyrtiko wild ferment

Gaia’s Wild Ferment Assyrtiko is a regular on Frankly Wines and the 2016 vintage is now singing sweetly.  It manages to reflect both its volcanic and maritime origins with thrilling acidity and soft stone fruit.  As always, the Wild Ferment makes itself known through an attractive funkiness on the nose.  The simpler little brother Monograph gives a good introduction to the grape, but this is still one of the finest examples I’ve tried.

Stonier Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%, RRP €26.95 at O’Briens)

stonier mornington peninsula chardonnay

The Mornington Peninsula is one of the most southerly wine regions in mainland Australia, giving cool conditions which are great for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  For me, this wine is the proof that natural wine is not the only way to make good wine.  I do like plenty of wines which are considered natural, but judicious intervention in terms of wine making choices can add interest, without artificial chemicals in the vineyard or winery.  The grapes are sourced from different sites around the region, and then around half (from the coolest sites) are allowed to go through malolactic fermentation which softens and rounds the wine.  Some oak is used in various formats, but only 15% is new.

With its struck match reductive funky nose and fleshy citrus mouthfeel, this is the sort of wine that would have a €60+ price tag on it if it was from Burgundy!

Weingut Rabl Grüner Veltliner Käferberg 2015 (13.5%, RRP €24.95 at O’Briens)

rabl gruner kaferberg

I like “regular” Grüners, whether from Austria, New Zealand or elsewhere, but special ones like this make a really good ambassador for the grape.  It has texture, richness and a depth of flavour that place “Beetle Mountain” ahead of the rest.  For Alsace fans this has quite a lot in common with a superior Pinot Gris (perhaps one from Kaefferkopf which is “Beetle Head”).  I’d be very interested to see how this develops over the next half decade or so, but to be honest it’s so delicious now I don’t think I’d be able to keep my hands off it!

Domaine Tempier Bandol Rouge 2014 (14.5%, RRP €39.95 at Karwig Wines)

domaine tempier bandol rouge

Bandol is one of the most famous Provence AOCs and Domaine Tempier have been a leading producer since the nineteenth century.  Red, white and rosé are produced, but here we focus on the red, Mourvèdre dominated but augmented by a little Grenache and Cinsault.  Bandol is the only place in France with enough sun and heat to properly ripen Mourvèdre, and boy does it show – there are intensely concentrated black and red berries bursting out of the glass, and lifted, spicy aromatics.  This is a wine which could last decades but is already really special.

 

 

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

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!