Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and Syrah make up a good proportion of the reds I really enjoyed last year and will be looking to enjoy again soon:
10. Urlar Gladstone Pinot Noir 2014 (14.5%, RRP €23.95)
When it comes to New Zealand Pinot Noir a lot of the bottles available in Ireland are from Marlborough. Although some are very good, for me a lot of them are just a bit average. One alternative is to head for Central Otago’s bigger, bolder Pinots – but they often come with a serious price tag. Instead, why not head to one of the first Pinot producing areas in the country – Wairarapa at the bottom of the North Island. Martinborough is the most famous sub-region (particularly as it’s easier for us to pronounce), but Gladstone is also worth checking out. Urlar’s Pinot shows black fruit and spice but with savoury notes – none of the jam or cherry cola than can appear in Marlborough. It’s quite a powerful wine but well balanced and equally at home with dinner or on its own.
9. Dominio de la Vega Paraje Tournel Utiel-Requena Bobal 2014 (14.0%, RRP €23.95)
Neither the DO Utiel-Requena wine region nor the Bobal grape are particularly renowned, and the two are intertwined. The DO is in the province of Valencia in the east of Spain and has traditionally been known for its bulk wine, three quarters of which was made from Bobal. Some more quality conscious producers realised that careful viticulture, keeping yields low (the antithesis of bulk wine production!) and good treatment in the winery could allow Bobal’s hitherto hidden quality to shine through. I haven’t tasted many examples of Bobal but this was fantastic – a nice change from the standard Tempranilli, Garnacha and Monastrell. It’s aged for 12 months in new French oak barrels then 12 months in bottle before release. This is darker and more full bodied than many Spanish reds, full of blackcurrant and blueberry with hints of vanilla. The acidity keeps the fruit fresh and adds to the long finish.
8. Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2015 (13.0%, RRP €32.50)
Unlike some, I’m often wary of buying Crozes-Hermitage. Yes they can be good value, pleasant drinking, and often good with food, but rarely do they have the “wow factor” – so I’m more likely to trade up to a Saint-Joseph. However, here is one that does have the wow factor, or more accurately, the WOW FACTOR – it’s easily the best Crozes I’ve ever tried. It’s everything that Northern Rhone Syrah can be – intensely savoury, smoky and spicy, with juicy red and black fruits, black pepper and black olive. It’s still young at the moment with lots of tannin, but this is a wine to buy a dozen or two of and drink them over the next decade.
7. Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2004 (14.5%, RRP €35 for current releases)
Unless you’re very familiar with the Penfolds range, it’s not that obvious where each particular wine fits in to the hierarchy. Bin 28 just squeezes into the “Penfolds Collection”, the flagship range which goes all the way up to Grange, Bin 707 and Yattarna. I had no idea of this when I bought a few bottles of the 2004 vintage several years ago for €20, but the current RRP of €35 and the sheer quality of the wine make me believe it deserves its status. Intense black (and blue!) fruit are joined by black olive and liquorice notes.
6. Ziereisen Rhini Baden Spätburgunder 2011 (12.5%, RRP €49)
If you want to see how good German Pinot Noir can be, try this producer from the country’s warmest wine region, Baden. Compared to many other Spätburgunders this has more of everything – more fruit, more oak, more tannin and more body. That might not necessarily be a successful recipe but the quality of the fruit from the Rhini vineyard and gentle winemaking have resulted in a delicious, well-balanced wine. It’s far from cheap, but better value than many Burgundies of the same quality (and yes, it deserves to be spoken of in the same sentence).
5. Mourchon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014 (15.0%, RRP €50)
2017 was the year that I really rediscovered Châteauneuf-du-Pape. For casual drinkers that might be something of a surprise, as it’s a very well-known wine. However, negociants who buy the bottom of the barrel or the cheapest grapes in the appellation have done it a disservice – there’s lots of very average Châteauneuf out there which trades on the name. A few over the past several years have restored my faith and then the Big Rhône Tasting at Ely in November 2017 there was an abundance of great CNDP. This example from Mourchon impressed me without a stratospheric price. The blend is 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre and 10% Syrah which is a slight variation on the usual GSM order, but the extra Mourvèdre helps to add more backbone and darker fruit notes.
4. GD Vajra Bricco delle Viole Barolo 2013 (14.0%, RRP €83.99)
While many Barolos can be acidic, tannic and unapproachable in their youth, G.D. Vayra’s eschew that “playing hard to get” style. The Bricco delle Viole vineyard is 4.79 ha in total area and runs from 380m – 470m; the altitude makes for a long growing season so complex flavours can develop while preserving freshness. Although 14.0% abv this is not a heavy wine; it has body but is light enough to dance on the tongue. It shows typical rose and tar notes on the nose with raspberry and blackberry on the palate. Above all, it’s a smooth, complex but accessible wine.
3. Château-Gris Nuits-Saint-George 1er Cru “Château-Gris” Monopole 2015 (cask sample) (13.5%, RRP €73)
Château-Gris is part of the Albert Bichot portfolio and is a monopole appellation, i.e. a single producer owns the whole vineyard – and when the appellation is named after the producer that’s no surprise. Depending on the vintage the wine is matured for 12 – 15 months in oak, of which 25% is new; the oak was quite prominent on this cask sample but didn’t overpower the sweet red and black fruit. Some people cite red Burgundy as the holy grail of wine – this wine manages to be so good, powerful yet ethereal, that I’m starting to be a believer.
2. Ar.Pe.Pe. Valtellina Superiore Sassella Riserva “Rocce Rossa” 2007 (13.5%, RRP €76.95)
Valtellina in Lombardy is far less celebrated than Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco, yet its best producers can produce some very fine wines indeed. And fine is actually a very apt descriptor as the wines are lighter and more ethereal than their counterparts to the west. It’s not a case of which is better, but rather which one prefers or is in the mood for. This lovely Sassella from the Rocce Rossa vineyard was ten years old when tasted but was still in the earlier stages of development. Cherry and herbs were the key notes in a fabulous wine.
1. D’Arenberg Coppermine Road McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (14.5%, RRP ~€50 for current releases)
D’Arenberg is an iconic producer in McLaren Vale and this is one of their three icon wines – the other two being the celebrated Dead Arm Shiraz and the less well known Ironstone Pressings GSM blend. The 2002 was only the eighth release under this name, though d’Arenberg have been releasing fine Cabernet Sauvignon from their High Trellis vineyard for over four decades (winning the 1969 Jimmy Watson Trophy). I opened this wine at my birthday meal out with my wife and a couple of good friends – and it was stupendously good! Although somewhat mature at fifteen years old it was nowhere near over the hill. Tannins were gentle and round and the big smack of cassis had been joined by cedar and graphite notes – just a perfectly balanced, à point, wonderful wine.